The latest tech, the lithest looks and low pricing put rivals such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series on the back foot. The first local launch is for the A250 Sport; a hot hatch that has been fettled by the AMG performance crew for handling but doesn’t have the manic performance bent of the full-house A45 AMG A-Class.
This is where the A250 Sport really makes ground. A $49,900 price includes bi-xenon headlamps, a reversing camera, parking assist software and a panoramic sunroof. BMW’s 125i is $49,177 but misses out on all of the above. Optioning them starts to get scary - bi-xenons are $2040, a camera costs $900, park assist is $675 … It’s another $4000 to specify the eight-speed dual-clutch auto to compete with the Merc’s seven-speed self-shifter.
The Audi A3 quattro costs $53,400 and comes with a six-speed dual-clutch auto. A sunroof adds $2650, the park assist is $850 and bi-xenons are $1950 for a package that includes satnav. Options for the A250 Sport include a $2990 Comand pack that adds a bigger screen with satnav, voice control and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system; a $2490 Exclusive pack with leather upholstery, electric and heated front seats and a dual-zone airconditioning with vents for the rear passengers..
Merc says it is chasing the “young at heart” with the A-Class and the technology reflects that. It earns the full suite of traditional safety software along with the latest iPhone integration to make the car an office on very potent wheels. The A250 Sport will reverse parallel-park and then drive the car out of the bay if driver competence isn’t capable of the task. Clever trick -- but if you need that level of assistance, hand in the licence. The mechanics are a front-driving turbo 2.0-litre engine good for 155kW/350Nm, running through one of the best-calibrated twin-clutch transmissions in the business.
The court of public opinion voted in favour of keeping the concept A-Class’s diamond grille and it earns its first appearance on the A250 Sport. The multi-faceted design translates into a stand-out look against its more conservative competition. It’s the same with the interior lighting - open the door and the glowing Mercedes-Benz lettering in the sill is brand reinforcement and feelgood-factor in one.
The dash is A3-esque in quality and attention to detail and the faux carbon weave and alloy-trimmed circular vents give it a more youthful feel. Ultimately it isn’t as slick as a top-range C-Class but at this price the car exudes more than a sniff of the premium features buyers covet in an entry-level prestige badge.
The front seats are grippy, well-bolstered and easy to get comfy in, even if they’re not power adjustable. Rear space is restricted to two adults but Mercedes Australia deliberately took the higher-cost sports seats with a contoured-back to improved rear legroom and my 170cm frame has a reassuring gap to the roof.
ANCAP hasn’t crash-tested an A-Class but sister outfit EuroNCAP gave it top marks, despite Euro models not having the pre-safe accident preparation software that’s standard here, along with nine airbags, an attention assist warning and Merc’s “Collision Prevention Assist” software that flashes and chimes a warning and primes the brakes according to the speed and distance if the driver is approaching a car ahead too quickly.
The car is also built on the B-Class platform, which still holds the record for top marks with the Australian crash-test authority. Top-shelf gear, like adaptive cruise control, blind spot and lane-keeping assist, is a $2490 “Driving Assistance” option across the range.
The A250 Sport looks, feels and smells like a Merc, will monster most hot hatches and is priced to offend its prestige - and many mainstream - rivals. Off-the-line acceleration is brisk - officially 6.6 seconds - but it’s the back roads-reality of tight corners and shorter straights where premium hatch excels. The seven-speed auto that was short-shifting every cog in the default economy mode to help come close to the claimed 6.6-litre fuel economy has an rapid response to accelerator pressure and hangs on to gears up to the redline.
The hand of AMG can be felt through all five wheels, with both the suspension and steering tweaked by the go-fast gurus. Some will complain about the resultant jitteriness over small corrugations on the 18-inch low profile (40 series) rubber. I’ll forgive the comfort against cornering trade-off - that’s why there’s a Sports tag appended to the A250 name - when the urban harshness progresses into an absorbing ride with braille-like handling feel as the pace picks up.
Stability control intervention is barely perceptible unless the driver has lost the plot, at which point it will brake a wheel with enough force to be felt. Back seat passengers cop a bit more bounce and tyre noise on coarse surfaces but they’ll survive an interstate run unless they measure up well north of 180cm. If that’s the case, Mercedes has this new B-Class …
There is no better premium performance vehicle for $50,000. Carsguide’s Paul Gover says the yet-to-arrive VW Golf VII is also a game-changer but the GTI will need to be wickedly quick, given the Merc’s inherent equipment edge and the indefinable mystique attached owning a three-pointed star. Bring on the AMG A45.
Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport
Price: from $49,490
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