Audi A3 2016 review
Chris Riley road tests and reviews the Audi A3 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its international launch in Germany.
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The problem with building a business around the whims of old people is that, inevitably, all of your customers die. No sooner have you settled Sir into his new S-Class, for example, than Sir’s tearful kids are back to trade it in for a handful of Pokémon and a hoverboard.
Nobody understands this more than the folks at Mercedes-Benz. In 2012, a US-based research firm profiled the average Merc buyer and found them to be a worrying 52 years old (several years older than the average Audi or BMW buyer).
And so Mercedes took a gamble on the all-new A-Class, which hit Australia in 2013. Gone was the practical, boxy thing that looked like it was constructed using Jenga blocks and that was no more likely to attract young people to the brand than if they’d replaced the infotainment screen with a pair of bocce balls. In its place was a bold new model, headlined by the monstrous A45 AMG.
That new A-Class was the first salvo in Merc’s battle to win the hearts and wallets of a younger demographic. Four years later, and it seems the war is won. According to Mercedes-Benz Australia, 75 per cent of A-Class customers are stepping into the brand for the first time, with the average buyer aged in their early-30s.
The A-Class underwent the lightest of makeovers earlier this year, which focused on in-car technology and connectivity while boosting each variant’s standard kit.
A200 buyers won’t feel like they’re driving a cut-price ‘Benz.
The A200 petrol (also available as a diesel) we’ve tested here sits above the base A180, and beneath the A250 Sport and bananas A45 AMG in the Australian A-Class line-up.
Making a premium brand’s entry-level hatchback look like anything other than a premium brand’s entry-level hatchback isn't easy, but A200 buyers won’t feel like they’re driving a cut-price ‘Benz.
Outside, the sporting intent that moth-flamed the youth in the first place is still there, with its hunkered-down stance and sharp body creases that lead to a massive Mercedes badge perched on the vehicle’s pouting grille (one of seven – SEVEN - visible three-point stars on the exterior of the A200). New for this update is an apparently “arrow-shaped” bumper, along with a rearranged rear end that houses twin, trapezoid exhaust pipes. While you’d need the Hubble to spot the changes from a distance, they don’t detract from an already-strong design.
Inside, the 'Benz is busier than you might expect, with five chunky, silver-rimmed air vents across the dash, with the air-con control, infotainment set-up and a bigger, standard-across-the-range 8.0-inch screen all centred in the middle. But its appointments are all top class, from the soft-touch faux-carbon fibre dash insert to the sea of (man-made) leather that lines just about every touch point.
While it’s a terrific looking package overall, there are some quirks: as part of the 2016 update, all A-Class vehicles (including the A200) scored keyless, push-button start. Except they still come with the same key that looks like it should be inserted somewhere. Weird. More vexing, though, are the chunky B-pillars that separate the front and rear windows which can make it difficult to spot oncoming traffic when pulling out of a driveway.
Our test car was also fitted with the AMG Line pack, with headline acts that include different (though the same size at 18-inch) alloys, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and what Mercedes describes as AMG body styling. There are some additions under the body, too. But more on that in a moment.
Though the term “for a hatchback” sounds suspiciously like the kind of qualifier terrible people use when saying things like “I don’t want to sound racist, but…”, the A200 does feel surprisingly spacious inside. For a hatchback.
While the sloping roof line does limit rear headroom, my first backseat passenger was quick to compliment the amount of space (though leg room is heavily dependent on the height of the front-seat passengers). Still, you’ll fit four full-size humans in the cabin with ease.
Going five-up, however, is probably best avoided – a point acknowledged by the Mercedes design team, who have fitted a handy table/drink holder seat divider that pulls down from middle seat’s back rest. With the divider deployed, the A200’s cup holder count sits at four, with room for water bottles in the seat pockets, too.
The boot provides 341 litres of cargo space, while the 60:40 split rear seats increase its load-lugging prospects considerably.
The price has jumped by $1,000 to $42,800, which Mercedes justifies with standard inclusions like the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto-equipped 8.0-inch infotainment screen, satellite navigation, reversing camera and Merc’s quite excellent Dynamic Select that offers four configurable driving modes.
Other standouts in the standard equipment list include 18-inch alloys, power mirrors and sports seats equipped with four-way lumbar support.
The AMG Line pack fitted to our test car is a $1,490 option, which, along with the special wheels, interior niceties and altered looks, includes lowered sports suspension and quicker steering.
While the A200 shares its 1.6-litre turbocharged engine with the entry-level A180, it’s been tweaked to produce 115kW at 5,300rpm and 250Nm from 1250rpm, fed through a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic gearbox complete with wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
It’s a smooth, sweet combination that offers more than enough power to push the A200 through traffic, with the littlest Merc clipping 100km/h in a claimed 7.8secs and pushing on to a top speed of 224km/h.
Equipped with a (cumbersome at times) stop-start system, the A200 sips a claimed/official 6.1-litres per hundred kilometres combined, though the trip computer reported mid-Eights in real-world testing (admittedly with some fairly spirited driving).
Merc’s Dynamic Select also includes an Eco mode, which dulls throttle response, makes gear shifts occur earlier and ensures the car’s climate-control systems are running at their most efficient. And it makes the driving experience exactly as fun as you think it would.
While destined to play second-fiddle to the more powerful vehicles in the range, the A200 is more than the Jan Brady of the A-Class family. But its most smile-inducing feature is also the source of its only major criticism.
The A200 will easily dispose of more challenging roads.
In the A200’s natural, urban environment, the power delivery is smooth and the gear changes largely seamless. There’s even an ever-so-slightly intoxicating soundtrack that accompanies heavy acceleration, which includes a faint bark as you change gears.
Leave the city, though, and you’ll find the A200 will easily dispose of more challenging roads. Its 115kW and 250Nm aren’t going to produce ‘Ring lap times, but at no stage does it feel underpowered. In fact, the engine and gearbox are paired so seamlessly there always seems to be a ready supply of power on demand that only begins to fade as you really push it. There’s more fun to be had by switching driving modes from Comfort to Sport, which makes the steering heavier, the acceleration more urgent and the seven-speed ‘box more willing to hold gears.
The drawback, though, is that its everyday ride comfort feels compromised in pursuit of that athleticism. The (optional) sports suspension picks and sticks through corners, but thumps over the all-too-regular potholes that plague Australia’s road network. Even the most comfortable of drive modes (the aptly named Comfort) can be interrupted by an unexpected bump in the road, which arrives in the cabin with a sometimes surprising force. It’s not a deal breaker, and on smooth road surfaces the A200 floats, but it’s worth mentioning.
The entire A-Class range scores an excellent suite of safety tech as standard, including nine airbags, a reversing camera, blind-spot monitoring, collision warning with AEB and parking sensors at the front and rear.
The A-Class range scored a five-star ANCAP safety rating when crash tested in 2013.
The A-Class range is covered by Mercedes-Benz's three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and all but the A45 AMG demand servicing every 12 months or 25,000 kilometres. The A200’s capped-price servicing schedule will set you back $1,980 in total for the three required services during the warranty period.
The outgoing A200 was always a tempting proposition, and the 2016 update has done nothing to dent that appeal. Tech inclusions like Apple CarPlay/Android Auto will strike yet another chord with its target market, and with 2,766 sales to August this year (compared to the Audi A1’s 1,192 and the BMW 1 Series’ 1,623), it proves it pays to be down with the kids.
|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|