First drive: small Mercedes-Benz A200 debuts with big tech
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Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatchbacks have come of age, transforming into a more sophisticated — even intelligent — premium compact range of models.
The new A-200 hatch now on sale is fitted with some of the most sophisticated technical equipment available in any new vehicle.
It is a huge improvement on what was already New Zealand’s top-selling premium hatchback, even though it has been on the market for six years.
The new range is being introduced with the A-200 hatchback, powered by a new and more efficient 1.3-litre petrol engine, operating in conjunction with a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.
Fitted with a widescreen dashboard and functions that had, until now, been found only on top-end luxury models, the A-200 is selling for $60,900.
After driving two of the new models in Melbourne this week, we can confirm they are a major step up from the previous models.
They are more comfortable, and the interiors have a more up-market luxury feel.
The new cars are slightly longer, wider and sleeker than their predecessors, with the changes improving visibility while also providing more space inside.
It is easier to get in and out of the rear doors, and there is more leg room for rear-seat passengers.
Technology introduced in the latest top-of-the-range S Class models earlier this year, has already cascaded down to the entry-level A-Class hatches.
There are comfort and sport driving modes fitted as standard, and the ability to set the car up to suit the individual driver.
The new cars are important for Mercedes-Benz New Zealand, because 70 per cent of those buying the previous model were new to the brand.
General manager Ben Giffin said the A-Class had broadened the marque’s reach, attracting more women and younger buyers in particular to the brand.
It was the first time Mercedes had been able to offer its entry-level model for just under $50,000.
“The ability for us to showcase the technology and safety equipment in a small compact car sort of revolutionises the compact segment of the market,” he told Driven.
The high-tech and high level of connectivity of the A-Class would appeal to tech-savvy younger buyers, quick to adopt and use these features.
The A-200 model is leading the new A-Class charge in the New Zealand market. Later this year it will be joined by a sportier A-45 AMG model with 4-Matic all-wheel drive.
There will also be an entry-level A-180 hatch available, and early next year there’ll be a sedan version of the A-Class.
Giffin said it spoke volumes for the strength of the model being replaced that it remained the best-selling premium hatch, despite it having been in the market for six years.
However, the new model could be configured to suit the needs of not only individual buyers, but could be set up to suit the needs of each family member.
The cars take voice recognition technology to new levels, with the Mercedes-Benz User Experience system. At the ‘Hey Mercedes’ command, the system will load a destination into the sat nav without the need to type it in. The radio station can be changed on voice command alone.
Mercedes describes its MBUX system as an “intelligent voice control with natural language comprehension feature, activated by the keywords ‘Hey Mercedes’.” This supports many infotainment functions, including destination input, phone calls, music selection, and writing and hearing messages.
So simple and effective is the system that you have to catch yourself thanking it for delivering so effectively — it is, after all, just a machine.
Inside the A-Class, the dashboard is dominated by the double screen (2 x 10.25-inch digital screens), and a row of turbine-like round vents.
The overall effect is stunningly effective, especially when coupled with the leather seats.
What you don’t see is the depth of new technology lurking within the touch screens, including the adaptive nature of the MBUX system.
Along with other systems, which can be activated by voice command, touch pads on the steering wheel, or the touch screen, the A-Class adapts to
the driver’s needs as it becomes more familiar with where and how it is driven.
The 1.3-litre A-200 hatch engine produces 120kW of power and 250Nm of torque, and Mercedes says it delivered a combined fuel economy figure of 5.7 litres per 100km.
Any thought that the engine might be too small is blown away by an early drive. It travels from 0-100km/h in 8 seconds — .3 seconds faster than the model it replaces, which had a 1.6-litre engine.
New standard equipment not seen before in previous A-Class models include:
●New 18 inch aero alloy wheels
●MBUX multimedia system with two 10.25" digital screens and touchscreen central display with NTG 6 MB Navigation.
●Standard LED headlights with adaptive high beam assist, keyless start and wireless charging.
Nine air bags ( front, pelvis, side and window bags for driver and front passenger, side bags for rear occupants and knee bag for driver), active brake assist with semi-autonomous braking function, active parking assist, including Parktronic, active lane keep assist, blind spot assist with exit warning, traffic sign assist and reversing camera.
Timing and information about other models in the A-Class range, including the entry-level A 180, and the A 250, will be available later this year.
Optional packages will add adaptive highbeam and multibeam headlamps, panoramic glass electric sunroof, 360-degree camera, and Burmester surround sound system including 12 premium soundspeakers (including one subwoofer), external nine-channel Class-DDSP amplifier (featuring high-end DSP sound optimisation) and surround sound with a total output of 590W.
Mercedes-Benz NZ sold about 300 A-Class models last year, and believes with additional models becoming available by the middle of next year, that target should be exceeded.