Why Gareth Butterfield thinks the new small Mercedes is a class act
CONSIDERING the entire A Class model history, this new version appears to tread a very similar path to its predecessor, which was a huge departure from the first A Class.
And while the second generation of the model line transformed the baby Merc from ungainly city car to a plush family hatchback, you’d be forgiven for thinking the third generation introduces nothing newer than a mild facelift. But it is a leap forward in plenty of ways.
For a kick-off, it sits on an entirely new platform which gives the A Class a longer wheelbase and a body that’s 12cm longer overall. The suspension is also better, and the only gearbox option is the brilliant seven-speed automatic.
You can’t help but drawing a sharp intake of breath when you first set eyes on the dashboard. Whether you find it attractive or not will be up to you, but it certainly looks different.
Essentially, there’s a huge slab of curved dashboard with a giant cinema screen running across a good two-thirds of the surface. In top models this screen, actually split into two 10.25 inch displays, each with a very high resolution and completely “personalisable”.
In short, it’s absolutely brilliant. It moves the game on completely when it comes to infotainment screens. Personally, I’ve never liked touch-screens but this system can also be controlled by a centrally-mounted trackpad or tiny trackpads on the steering wheel. There’s also a decent quantity of physical buttons too, which is nice to see.
This new approach to controlling just about everything the car does, from its mood-lighting to the massaging seats, is so good it will hopefully set the pace for every manufacturer. Its highlights and strengths are too abundant to list, but one of my favourite features is the “Hey Mercedes” voice system, which shamelessly copies Apple’s Siri system.
So it’s a personal assistant which can be asked just about anything. For example, ask it “Hey Mercedes, what’s the weather like at our destination?” And you’ll get a forecast. “How many miles are left in the tank?” Will also give you a measure of your remaining fuel in miles to go. It’s brilliant and every car should have one.
But there’s plenty of other things to like about the A Class. It’s comfortable, rides well on its new suspension and the engines are economical, as long as you steer clear of the two-litre turbo lump in the A250 – which, incidentally, is a peach and will please the sporty driver.
Sadly, the driving experience doesn’t match up to the sporty engine. And in all versions the new A Class is built for comfort rather than thrills – but, that said, this will be a benefit to many people, especially long-distance commuters.
The only other niggle is the price. Ownership starts at just over £22,000 but you’re bound to be tempted by some of the tasty options, or maybe even a better engine, and the price rises very quickly. That said, it stacks up well against its competition and it is honestly a more interesting prospect than current rivals from BMW and Mercedes.
There’s due to be a hotter, 300bhp+ version which should be a stonker and you can bet there’ll be a hybrid version along soon, so it’s early days but it’s a very promising start.
This newcomer is by far the best yet, so expect to see plenty of them on the road.