Long-term test: Introducing the Mercedes-Benz A 200
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Mercedes-Benz has reasserted itself with a new range of entry-level hatchbacks, including the A 200 model, which was the inaugural AA/Driven Car of the Year.
It has done this by equipping the small hatch models with technology and equipment that, until these models arrived, were available only on high-end models.
But that superior class-leading innovation has overshadowed other reasons the A-Class models are capturing new customers to the brand — the A-Class is fun to drive.
Some of the A-Class predecessor models turned out to be lemons, and it was not until the last A-Class turned up that the brand had the car to launch a successful assault on the competitive and crowded hatchback sector.
It is an important sector to win. Once buyers are converted to a new brand, they are more easily persuaded to stick with it. In the case of the A-Class, younger buyers are more likely to graduate through the rest of the model range if they enjoy owning the small hatchback models.
Although it is early days, sales during the last few months suggest this time Mercedes has the timing and the model mix right.
So far, around 70 per cent of A-Class buyers are new to Mercedes-Benz.
Driven has had an A 200 on long-term loan to find out why the new model is so popular, and to judge whether the hype around the technology on board was justified.
The A 200 was the first of what will ultimately be a five-member A-Class family of models available here.
It has been joined by the entry-level A 180 model, and its more powerful and better-specced sibling, the A 250.
The three mainstream models will be joined later this year by two sportier AMG models, the A 35, and the even- gnarlier A 45 hot hatch.
A sedan version of the C-Class is also on the horizon.
But back to our long-term A 200, launched here in September.
It looks great in mountain grey metallic paint, with titanium grey pearl and black lugano leather interior.
It is powered by a 1332cc four cylinder direct injection turbocharged engine.
Initially it came as something of a shock that it would be powered by such a small unit. However our six weeks’ living with the car has allayed fears on that score.
It is a free-revving engine that puts out 120kW of power and 250Nm of torque. It is coupled with a 7-speed DCT automatic transmission which is smooth, efficient and functions without hesitations.
The steering is direct and has plenty of feel, and the stop/start function operates so efficiently that there is little or no temptation to disable it.
Improved styling and a major overhaul of the cabin with high-class materials and the glass screen across two thirds of the dashboard, all help lift the A-Class well above what went before.
We will concentrate on the improvement in connectivity and other aspects of the Hey Mercedes MBUX ( Mercedes-Benz User Experience) system in the next report on our long-termer.
Our long-termer came with a full range of optional extras, pushing its price well above the entry-level $50,000 mark of the previous A-Class models. But the $2900 premium over the previous baseline model is good value, given the advances on offer.
While the A 200 list price is $60,900, our long-term car came with the $1190 metallic paint, 19-inch AMG multi-spoke alloy wheels ($1390), the seat comfort package ($1290), AMG Exclusive package ($3190), Vision package ($2490) and the Sports package ($1990) — pushing the RRP to $72,440.
MERCEDES-BENZ A 200
Pros: Most advanced tech in this segment, along with major improvement to the cabin
Cons: Tight legroom in the rear seats