2016 Mercedes-Benz A-Class review | first drive

22 January 2016
 by 
, CarsGuide

Facelifts are a bit of a tricky business. On the one hand, they can offer up real cosmetic enhancements; on the other, you end up with Donatella Versace and a legitimate reason to donate your retinas.

For the most part, however, facelifts are an answer to looking a little tired and a little long in the tooth.

So it goes with the updated A-Class; renewed competition from sources as varied as BMW, Volkswagen and even Mini has made a few areas of the pretty little hatch feel older than – and even outshined by – its competitors.

Then, of course, there was Audi's ultimate insult in the RS3, a hot hatch that outstripped even the mighty, AMG-powered A 45 in terms of sheer brawn.

Clearly, Mercedes felt it was high time to get out the scalpel.

From the outset, it's clear the little Merc's surgery isn't purely cosmetic; the real work has gone on behind the scenes, especially towards the top end of the range.

The A 45 now boasts 280 logic-defying kilowatts from its tiny 2.0-litre engine, restoring Mercedes' place as the hyper hatch king – at least in terms of brute force.

But it doesn't stop there for the manic mini-Merc, with a clever locking differential now available for the front axle to improve on its already formidable all-wheel-drive system.

The second-tier – if not second-fiddle – A 250 now comes as standard with the same all-wheel-drive setup as its AMG big brother, minus the option of a race-ready front differential.

The extra weight in the A 250 is offset by a five-kilowatt power bump – bringing the total to an even 160kW – but it's the extra grip and stability that should prove the biggest draw card to the already exceptionally popular model.

A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is still standard across the range and, unfortunately, there's still no chance that a manual gearbox will ever be more than a pipe dream.

However, since its launch in 2013, Mercedes has smoothed over the rougher aspects of the A-Class's gearbox, offering a more responsive, faster-shifting unit in the updated model.

As well as a mechanical overhaul, the updated A-Class also debuts a range of new tech as standard fitment, such as the introduction of user-selectable driving modes across the range.

Mercedes' so-called 'Dynamic Select' function allows drivers to tailor the engine, gearbox, suspension, steering and even the strength of the air conditioning to suit their driving style and fuel-saving ambitions.

The A 45 gets its own unique AMG-style selector, offering four pre-programmed options that range from AMG's approximation of comfort all the way up to full race mode.

There's also a fifth, do-it-yourself mode, which lets you modify each setting individually, letting you mix and match soft suspension with full-on throttle response, should you choose. And you should.

Mercedes has ensured the A-Class will continue to grace the far end of a waiting list, well into the future

Inside the cabin, previously optional tech like satnav, blind spot detection and keyless ignition are now standard across the range, as is a reversing camera.

The excellent COMAND system with the Harman/Kardon stereo is a pricey, $3000 option on all but the A 45, but offers a raft of media connectivity and a large, iPad-style display to warrant its asking price.

There are a few subtle cosmetic tweaks to the front and rear bumpers, but Mercedes has had the good sense to leave well enough alone, relying instead on mechanical and technological improvements.

The A-Class's fundamental weaknesses are unchanged, of course – the gorgeous sloping roofline translates to a tight back seat, for instance – but its previous shortcomings have done little to stem Australia's voracious demand so far.

And, with a few well-placed nips and tucks, Mercedes has ensured the A-Class will continue to grace the far end of a waiting list, well into the future.

Verdict 

Mid-life facelifts are often little more than window dressing on an old and creaky house. With improvements to the way these baby Benzes drive, steer and react, as well as how they interact with the driver, the updated A-Class is anything but botched.

At a glance

Price from: $37,200 to $77,900
Warranty: 3-yr/unlimited kilometres
Capped servicing: Yes
Service interval: 12 months/20,000km
Safety: Five stars
Engines: 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol, 90kW/200Nm (A 180) 115kW/250Nm (A 200); 2.1-litre turbo four-cylinder diesel, 100kW/300Nm (A 200 d); 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol, 160kW/350Nm (A 250) 280kW/475Nm (A 45 AMG)
Transmissions: 7-spd dual-clutch auto, FWD (A 180, 200 and 200d) and AWD (A 250 and A 45 AMG)

Click here for more 2016 Mercedes-Benz A-Class price and spec info

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