Better than a C-Class? We drive the new Mercedes A-Class sedan
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For a supposedly dying segment, Mercedes-Benz do seem to invest a lot of energy into the world of sedans.
There are a few things to consider here, of course. The largest decline in sedan sales is felt towards the bottom end; those buying in the mainstream pool seem to be moving towards compact SUVs over sedans due to perceived practicality benefits. Luxury sedans on the other hand, it seems, are still thriving.
The addition of a new sedan to the domestic Mercedes-Benz line-up — the A-Class — is further evidence of such.
The pint-sized model launched to New Zealand earlier this week. And, given that we awarded its hatchback sibling with our AA Driven New Zealand Car of the Year crown last year, it was only fair that we join the press fray and take the sedan for an early first drive.
The compact four-door sits below the C-Class and the CLA. To prevent at least some of the inevitable sibling rivalry, the upcoming CLA (which lands in New Zealand later this year) has grown half a size. Nevertheless, it'll be interesting to see whether the two still relatively similar-size vehicles coexist.
The A-Class sedan gains 130mm of length over the hatch, all of which is devoted to the trunk. While overall height increases by 6mm, wheelbase and mechanicals from the firewall forwards are unchanged between the two body styles.
Other changes from hatch to sedan include the more laid back 'Comfort Seats' in the front of the sedan, which sit in place of the pseudo buckets offered in the hatch. Those aforementioned millimeters added to the sedan's rear subsequently result in a larger boot space; 430L, compared to the hatchback's 380L.
Speaking of the cabin, the A-Class sedan comes with a next-gen dashboard layout that should be well familiar to Driven readers. Almost identical from hatchback to sedan, it represents a layout and tech level that will soon populate all of Mercedes-Benz's line-up.
We've written exhaustively about how much we enjoy the premium look and feel, from the effectiveness of the MBUX infotainment system (yes, the one that talks to you) and the clarity of the two huge 10.25-inch screens, down to things like the surprisingly intuitive swipe buttons on the flanking spokes of the steering wheel and the variety of materials.
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The similarities between sedan and hatch mean that, above all else, the defying factors that'll push buyers one way or the other are design and price.
The sedan is approximately $2000 more expensive than the hatchback across the board. Pricing on the entry level A 180 starts at $57,700, with features like 'Artico' faux leather, the dual screens fitted with MBUX, and Active Parking Assistance as standard.
The A 200 following at $62,900, which adds things like bigger 18-inch wheels, driver's seat lumbar support, adaptive high beams, and wireless charging. While the country's first A 180s won't land here until November, the A 200 is available from today.
Two other models will be on offer by the end of the year — the A 250 and the scintillating A 35 — but local pricing for both is yet to be confirmed.
Oh, there is one other tiny detail to mention ... each model comes with a different engine option.
Well, maybe 'different' is the wrong word. The A 180 and A 200 utilise the same turbocharged 1.3-litre four-cylinder base, but they're tuned differently. The cheapest model offers 100kW/200Nm, and the somewhat hungrier A 200 offers 120kW/250Nm.
The A 250, meanwhile, brings 165kW/350Nm from a turbocharged 2.0-litre and the A 35 sets the party alight with a tweaked version of the same 2.0-litre M260 engine — 225kW/400Nm sent to all four wheels.
An A 45 sedan, while tantalizing in theory as a true Audi RS3 rival, hasn't been confirmed.
For the launch, we started at Mercedes-Benz HQ in soggy, cold Auckland before setting off on a healthy jaunt to soggy, cold Raglan — a mixture of motorway and traditional Kiwi in-the-sticks back-roads.
The drive up Raglan was undertaken in a near-standard silver A 200, optioned with the $1990 AMG Sports Package (which AMG 5-spoke wheels, a handsome wee bodykit, and more) and $1122 Seat Comfort Package (heated electronically adjustable memory front seats). And, for the drive back, we traded up to a white A 200 configured with both the AMG Sports Package and the AMG Exclusive Package.
The latter is the most compelling optional package for the A-Class sedan for those concerned with performance. For $3190, it trades the car's standard torsion beam with a multi-link rear end and adaptive damping. Wild two-tone red and black upholstery is also part of the deal.
We're already quite familiar with the 1.3-litre that powers the A 200. But even so, it continues to impress. For such a small-capacity unit, the wide torque availability and instant power it offers the driver is just as impressive now as it did when we first sampled it last August.
It runs out of puff a touch at the top end (something we'd encounter repeatedly on various passing lanes). But for a mainstream, 'not the fast one' kind of engine, it's still one of the best out there.
On our drive down, we scored an indicated motorway economy of 4.7L/100km. Once we opened things up a little on the back-roads that number naturally increased — but only to 6.8L/100km (for reference, Mercedes claims economy of 5.7L/100km combined).
Clambering into the (errr ... formerly) white A 200 optioned with the AMG Exclusive Package, the big consideration was whether the mechanical differences underneath would make a difference to the car's cornering habits.
When equipped with standard suspension, the A-Class sedan is good fun. To nitpick, the amount of movement during quick cornering was somewhat surprising given how firm the suspension feels in traditional use. But, those partial to the odd weekend hoon on roads like these are probably more likely to welcome the trait than not anyway.
Sadly, between hopping out of the first A 200 and into the second, conditions changed. A spray of water meant greasy surfaces and an increase in traffic meant less opportunity to 'have a go'.
Nonetheless, it did feel like the more composed car of the two. Mid-corner bumps had much less of an impact — soaked up effectively by the adaptive dampers.
Either that, or the added confidence was the placebo effect was talking. Hmmm.
Not that those queuing up to buy the A-Class sedan are primarily doing so out of a burning desire for handling perfection. While they wouldn't disclose sales expectations or specific percentage split between hatchback and sedan, Mercedes-Benz New Zealand did say that the two models are likely to attract a different kind of buyer.
The sedan, I'd expect, is likely to attract an older audience perhaps more concerned with practicality. And, on top of the larger boot, the sedan also seems to offer a little bit of extra room in the back seats.
It's still a tight squeeze (especially if you love a good pie like most journos). Rear leg-room and knee room could be a bit better, but headroom in the back of the sedan seems to be a better bet than in the hatch. That's a surprise, given its comparatively sloped roof-line.
Perhaps the real point here is what it's like to sit in the front.
Cruising back to Mercedes-Benz HQ, I couldn't help but wonder how many potential C-Class sedan and CLA owners would be lured into the little A-Class sedan. Sprawled out in the front seat, looking across the impressive dashboard, the thought of splurging the extra for a C-Class seemed a difficult sell.
The A-Class's main compromises — rear leg-room, fairly significant tyre roar, and maybe a little bit less brand cache — seem insignificant next to that cabin and the bottom line.
Interesting times for sure. Who said the sedan was dead?