Volkswagen Golf R 2014 review: snapshot
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The sporty A-Class hatch brings flair and driving enjoyment but adds a practical touch.
Every time I turn around there seems to be another hot hatch heading for the driveway.
This week it's the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. But it's not the stove-hot A45 AMG that burps, belches and backfires like the world's worst dinner guest.
Instead it's the more liveable A250 Sport 4Matic. It follows the Mini Clubman into the Tick garage and faces a bar set high by its German rival.
Granted the Clubman is a wagon and the A-sport is a hatch but there is some crossover and they both play — the right word — in a showroom sector where people are looking for something that's practical while delivering on flair and driving enjoyment.
In the case of the latest A-Class, I'm driving the surprise showroom champion.
The A250 is most popular with baby Benz buyers, even though its $53,500 starting price is well beyond the $37,200 for the basic A180. It doesn't have the impact of the A45 but that lifts the starting sticker to $77,900.
The most welcome addition is adaptive damping, which smooths the ride and provides a range of driving modes.
The reasons are obvious in the wider updates done on the A-Class range, the styling and packaging and the upscale finishing in the cabin, including carbon-fibre trim, leather seats with power adjustment and bright red highlights on the likes of the air vents.
In the 2016 version of the A250, the most welcome addition is adaptive damping, which smooths the ride and provides a range of driving modes.
There is also what Benz describes as "comprehensive smartphone integration" with Apple CarPlay and one of the best Bluetooth connections to date. Add 18-inch alloys, LED headlamps, keyless starting, a giant sunroof and ambient lighting with 12 cabin colours.
For a start, I'd order the car without the sunroof unless I lived in Melbourne because it can make the cabin over-hot in summer. And a dozen colours seem excessive when other cars I've driven lately, including the new Skoda Superb, do very well with only three.
But I like the AMG connections, especially the body styling parts, the sporty wheels and — most importantly — the ride control setup. The driver's selections go from smooth to sporty and, as the mood strikes me, I try all of them on different roads.
The best news is that the basic comfort setting removes the bounce and jiggle of the original A-Class, providing a much more liveable feel on nasty roads. The car also seems more compliant when accelerating away from the lights, or when I hit an unexpected bump or pothole.
The engine has character, with a couple of sporty barks through the exhaust
A couple of "mouse" clicks add yet more grip and a tauter feel but it's never as extreme as in the A45.
The engine has character, with a couple of sporty barks through the exhaust that come without waking the neighbourhood (as you do when you're attacking in an A45) and its 350Nm of peak torque is great for overtaking.
The benchmark sprint time of 6.3 seconds is plenty fast enough and I note better than the claimed 6.7L/100km consumption for a lot of my time in the car. The double-clutch auto works well to keep things moving — without resorting to paddle-shifters — and can also be tweaked in the driver settings to match your mood and the road.
In front of the driver, there is much to like: the dashboard layout and the clear tablet display, the big digital speedometer and the efficient automatic aircon. The cabin, for me, is a bit cave-like but Benz responds that it is "intimate".
I'm less happy about outward vision and the A-Class definitely needs its rear-view camera. I prefer to turn my head to check for hazards in a car park but the pinched-in tail means I have to rely on the camera.
The turning circle could be trimmer and the boot could be bigger — it only just fits the gear of three people and fitting the youngster's BMX bike into the car means split-folding the rear seat followed by some jiggling around.
On the safety front, the changes are only minor so there should be no change to the five-star ANCAP rating. The 25,000km interval for annual servicing earns plaudits.
The A250 is not as raunchy and rewarding as the A45 when you want to go quick but it's far more liveable and I can easily see why it's selling so well.
It works fine for me and the price is good for what you get. There is never much doubt about it — another Benz gets The Tick.
|A180||1.6L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$24,990 – 35,000||2016 Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2016 A180 Pricing and Specs|
|A45 AMG||2.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$51,998 – 63,800||2016 Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2016 A45 AMG Pricing and Specs|
|A180 BE||1.6L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO||$20,790 – 26,290||2016 Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2016 A180 BE Pricing and Specs|
|A200 CDI||2.1L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO||$25,080 – 31,020||2016 Mercedes-Benz A-Class 2016 A200 CDI Pricing and Specs|