It seems that the iconic German brand Mercedes-Benz can do no wrong when it comes to maintaining its excellent public image.
Once seen only as a maker of large, expensive, very upmarket saloons, Mercedes first of all moved to midsize sedans with a vehicle now called the C-Class. Despite dire predictions the brand image remained as high as ever. The move into the 4WD and SUV field with the M-Class (made in the USA of all places) was less controversial, again the public was willing to accept the change in Mercedes’ thinking without blinking.
Then came the biggest movement of all, Mercedes-Benz introduced a small city car called the A-Class. Not only did it have front-wheel drive, but also a price tag that wasn’t much higher than that of topline models from marques like VW, Mazda and Honda. Was this a scandal? Did traditional buyers of large, expensive, very upmarket Mercedes saloons desert the company? Nope, the brand continued on its profit-making, buyer-gathering course.
As it moved its centre of gravity down into the relatively affordable field, Mercedes-Benz also moved from pure upmarket luxury to sporting performance, with the AMG division scoring big marks in sales. Indeed, Australia is number one in AMG global sales on a per capita basis.
So when Mercedes-Benz Australia discovered that close to 50 per cent of pre-orders for its all-new A-Class were for the A250 Sport, which had design involvement from AMG, it decided to put on a special media event for A250 Sport a couple of weeks ahead of the launch of the rest of the A-Class models.
With a smile on our faces a small group of motoring journos has just stepped out of the little Merc hotshots. With up to 165kW of power and 350Nm of torque from the four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine and the ability to accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 6.6 seconds was it any wonder?
Throttle response is better than average for a turbo engine and once it is on song the engine not only sounds great but also provides virtually instant acceleration. Handling is superb for a front drive car and it’s possible to get a fair bit of throttle control in the A250 when you push it hard. There’s some torque steer and even axle tramp if you’re brutal in your driving, but that’s all part of the fun in a car like this.
With a recommended price of $49,990 the Mercedes A250 Sport doesn’t cost a lot more than the high-performance variants of cars from Ford, Renault, Subaru and Volkswagen. Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport is due to go on sale in early March at the same time as the rest of the all-new A-Class range.
Obviously if you’re driving a performance car with Sport on its badges you will want to tell the world about it. So the A250 has a grille with a fascinating design that has an almost surreal look in the way it circles the Mercedes three-pointed star. There’s a body kit to set off the 18-inch AMG alloy wheels and lowered suspension.
There are numerous touches of racing red, with details in the front splitter, rear diffuser and brake callipers, as well as inside the car in areas such as the surrounds of the ventilation outlets. The latter sit in a dash made sportier by pseudo carbon fibre. Dark privacy glass in the rear area give a luxury touch, the design of the sports seats and the leather trimmed steering wheel works nicely.
Frankly, though we could do without the giant panoramic sunroof; not only does it add weight high up in the body, it also reduces rear seat headroom to the extent that some adults may not be comfortable back there. Which is a pity because the rear legroom is quite generous for a car of this size. Conversely, the high waistline makes it difficult for young kids to see out of the back seats.
If the Mercedes A250 Sport sounds great, just wait till the A45 AMG arrives later in the year. With all-wheel drive and a predicted power output on the high side of 200 kW it should be really special. Expect a price tag of around $80,000.
Mercedes-Benz A-Class A250
Price: from $49,990
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Service interval: 12 months/25,000km
Crash rating: 5-star (EuroNCAP)
Safety: 9 airbags, ABS with hill hold, TC, ESP, Pre-Safe, Attention Assist, Collision Prevention Assist
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo 4-cyl, 155kW/350Nm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, FWD
Dimensions: 4.29m (L), 1.78m (W), 1.43m (H)
Spare: Inflation kit
Thirst: 6.6L/100km, 152g/km CO2
Price: from $49,177
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo 4-cyl, 160kW/310Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic, RWD
Thirst: 6.6L/100km, 154g/km CO2
Audi A3 Quattro
Price: from $53,400
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 147kW/280Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, AWD
Thirst: 7.6L/100km, 180/km CO2