Bigger is better? Mercedes A250 driven, ahead of NZ launch
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Proof of the credentials of the new Mercedes-Benz A200 as a worthy AA Driven New Zealand Car of the Year finalist can be found in the effects that it has had on the premium hatchback segment since its arrival in August.
The A200 has blitzed its way to become the segment’s top-seller in just a few months. Now comes the sequel to that uber-successful debut. Cue the arrival of the new A250 4matic, offering more power, more force, and more slippery-road grip for an extra spend of just $3000 over the A200.
This new 2-litre model broadens the appeal of the new-generation A-class, and is potentially a more lethal competitor to the offerings of rival marques than its 1.3-litre precursor. And Daimler hasn’t even reached third gear yet in this premium-hatch assault. Early next year, the A180 arrives to provide a lower entry point to the new range. That’ll be followed by an A-class saloon for those like a good boot, and a mild-AMG version, the A35 AMG, with both set to reach our shores in 2019.
The grand finale will be a new A45 AMG replacement in 2020 — likely to feature a handmade version of the current model’s high-perf 2-litre engine, and continue to set new power and torque benchmarks for the hot-hatch genre.
This measured roll-out of new A-class models must feel like slow torture for the sellers of other luxo-hatches. However, for buyers who prefer a well-executed premium hatchback over the large mainstream-branded SUV that they can buy for similar money, it must be like watching a compelling serial TV drama.
As mentioned, the $63,900 A250 costs just three grand more than its smaller-motored sibling, and the premium buys more hardware than just the wider-diameter pistons and elongated engine block cylinders that provide the extra 700cc. For the A250 also has an extra driveshaft and reactive multi-plate clutch to drive the rear wheels at times when the grip of the front tyres loosens on the road. Another key hardware upgrade is the use of multi-link, independently sprung rear suspension instead of the A200’s lower-rent semi-independent torsion-beam set-up.
The A250’s increased engine capacity and turbo-boost liberates an extra 45kW of power and 100Nm of torque over the 120kW/250Nm A200, taking the maximum engine outputs to 165kW and 350Nm. Sprinting from 0-100km/h takes just 6.6 seconds.
Both models share the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and it combines the efficiency of a manual transmission with the convenience of an automatic. Naturally, the heavier A250 sucks more fuel through its directly injected combustion chambers, and it records a 6.6L/100km lab test result over the Australian Design Rule city/highway driving simulation instead of the A200’s 5.7L.
With more firepower under the bonnet, and the adaptive all-wheel-drive driveline transferring it to the road, the A250 arguably has more rounded attributes than the 1.3 A-class. The key to the success of the earlier-arriving new A-car is the stylish upgrade to the interior. With the A250 you enjoy the same artful design, same intuitive access to what could have been a highly bewildering array of features, same thoughtful consideration of the ergonomic placement of the controls. Same clever “Hey Mercedes” voice-activated interface to provide verbal command of the communication, infotainment, and comfort settings.
There’s now a more engaging driving experience as well as all the bits, bytes, bells, whistles, and the polished tailoring that enables the human to interact with them.
As with the A200, the new A250 comes loaded with stuff as standard, but holds back highly desirable items as options. You get LED headlights but the trick multi-beam LEDs cost extra (in a $2490 Vision package that includes a 360-degree camera and panoramic sunroof), you get the fully independent rear end but the adaptive damping that completes the handling prowess of the car on bumpy New Zealand back roads is optional.
A lot of $30K+ mainstream hatchbacks supply adaptive cruise control at no extra cost, but Mercedes charges $1790 for a package that increases driver assistance and includes the brand’s well-developed distronic system that is Mercedes’ high-tech version of adaptive cruise.
“This effectively turns the A-class into an S-class,” says Mercedes product planner, Jerry Stamoulis.
This means that motorways can be negotiated semi-autonomously, the car doing all the maintenance of lane monitoring, lane-keeping, and distances to other traffic at the speed selected by the driver. If driver’s hands leave the steering wheel for more than 25 seconds, the Mercedes sounds a warning that’ll confirm that this isn’t a fully autonomous car (yet). Lane changes can be performed by the fully assisted A-class after the human at the wheel does no more than operate the indicator stalk.
All this is so impressive and enticing, that many buyers will feel tempted to tick every option box on the order sheet for the A250 4matic. Personally, we wouldn’t be able to leave showroom without the $3190 AMG Exclusive package, that adds the adaptive electronic dampers to the rear suspension, gives the option of 64 ambient interior lighting colours, cloaks the seats in the Lugano leather upholstery, and expands the climate control settings.
The trouble is, you can tick this box only if you’ve selected the $1990 AMG Line package (15mm lower body on sports suspension, more supportive seat bolsters, brushed-alloy interior inserts, different 18in wheels etc.) and the $1290 Seat Comfort package (full electric adjustment and seat heaters, and passenger-side mirrors that dip when you select reverse).
Consider the adaptive dampers to be a driving pleasure/safety trap set by Mercedes to get you selecting more options. For a $70,370 A250 when equipped with the adaptive dampers (and the other optional bits required to get them) is definitely a more secure handling car.
That said, don’t get the impression that the analogue dampers turn the standard A250 4matic into a cornering dunce. Any A250 is a brilliant point-and-squirt country road weapon, and silently soaks up most of surface imperfections.
Such is the performance of the A250 4matic that it makes a great starting point for the two 2-litre AMG-branded models destined to follow.
So much so, that we wouldn’t be waiting for those extra-hot hatchbacks if it were our money. Queueing to spend a further $20k-$30k makes no sense when there’s an A-class model already available that’s this good.