The A200 ticks all the boxes in the prestige small hatch class by not having as many boxes to tick. This isn’t a battle about the quickest car - that’s the domain of the A250/A45 AMG duo. It is a battle about price and features, to the point where potential top-end Golf owners will cross-shop with the baby Benz.
And as the newest car on the lot, Mercedes has the edge, especially when it also channels the tactile feedback of a BMW 1 Series with the build quality and interior refinement of Audi’s A3. Add to that the badge snobbery of owning a three-pointed star and getting stock may be the biggest problem Mercedes Benz has.
The A200 is predicted to be the volume seller at a starting price of $40,900. The car is fitted with a 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine that hits 100km/h 8.3 seconds after stomping the accelerator and comes with Bluetooth streaming, a reversing camera, self-parking software, cruise control, auto lights and wipers and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Audi’s A3 1.4TFSI is slightly dearer at $41,200; Beemer’s 116i is slightly cheaper at $39,690. Neither of these is as quick or fitted with as much standard gear.
The engine is good without being sensational. It uses 5.8L/100km to put it on a par with the Audi and BMW powerplants and the dual-clutch auto rolls through the gears with silicon smoothness. It is inside where Mercedes takes the lead.
Self-parking software is standard as is a reversing camera and front/rear parking sensors. There are a range of “packs”, the dearest being a Command set-up that adds a bigger touchscreen with satnav, voice control and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system and digital radio.
Chasing younger buyers needs a fresh approach and Mercedes has gone to town on the design of the A-Class. It’s a stylish car that will earn looks in traffic, especially for the early adopters.
The high sill line means young kids won’t get to see much in the back and the C-pillars are chunky enough to warrant a second glance in the mirrors before changing lanes. The interior channels SLS aspirations with the circular air vents and carbon-fibre weave across the dash and the switchgear is typically top end.
ANCAP has yet to officially rate the A-class but the family oriented B-Class is based on the same platform and is the safety car the crash-test body has reviewed. Nine airbags are standard, along with a rear-end crash avoidance system, drowsiness detection software and the Pre-Safe setup that primes the car if it determines an accident is about to happen.
Taut suspension gives the A200 a firmer ride than the Audi and big potholes will be felt in the cabin. That’s the trade-off for having feedback and roadholding to match the rear-drive BMW. A full road test will be needed to see whether the compromise works in daily urban driving but given it’s aimed at younger buyers, I can’t see it being a deal-breaker.
The seven-speed auto takes a second to fire up from standstill. Get going and it shifts gears with the speed of a Tour de France frontrunner, while the turbo engine provides the steroids to keep its nose in front of the competition.
It’s no rocket but a low eight-second sprint time ensures it won’t disgrace itself against bigger capacity opponents. The 341-litre boot is good without being class-leading and will easily cope with a couple of bags or the weekly shopping.
The new A-Class puts Mercedes-Benz on the front foot in the prestige compact hatch class. The firm ride suits the sporty look and the standard gear makes the Mercedes best in show for value.
Price: from $40,900
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service interval: 12 months/25,000km
Crash rating: Not tested (five-star EuroNCAP)
Safety: 9 airbags, ABS with EBD, TC, ESC, collision prevention assist
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder, 115kW/250Nm
Transmission: 7-speed auto, FWD
Dimensions: 4.29m (L), 1.78m (W), 1.43m (H)
Thirst: 6.1L/100km (95RON), 141g/km CO2