Mercedes-Benz A-Class VS Tesla Model S
- Ride comfort
- So-so warranty
- Okay only rear headroom
- Tight rear door apertures
Tesla Model S
- Rocketship speed
- Clean interior design
- Ever-improving proposition
- Sadly, it's not a sports car
- It's a lot of money
- Lack of convenient charging
Meet the world’s most aerodynamically efficient passenger car. Mercedes-Benz says the drag co-efficient for this new sedan version of its fourth-generation A-Class is the lowest ever measured for a passenger vehicle.
Which is quite a claim, but you only have to look at it to see how much work has gone into marrying good looks with slippery aero performance.
Tesla Model S
If you have even a passing interest in the Tesla Model S, you'll have seen the endless internet videos where someone has lined up a Ferrari, Lamborghini, or another fast exotic car you could name, to race against it.
There's a long build-up, usually involving men who can't operate a baseball cap, a drag strip and idiotic words in the headline like "destroys" or "rips", or whatever. There's usually a bunch of honking bros with bad haircuts watching on, already planning their next viral video where they set a perfectly good mobile phone on fire.
It's facile and idiotic and doesn't give you any real clue as to the depth of whatever supercar it has "humiliated" or, just as importantly, the depth of the Model S and its spectacular engineering.
So, I won't be spending the next thousand words building up to the conclusion that the Model S P100D with Ludicrous Mode is up there with the world's fastest production cars from 0-100km/h, because I'll tell you now that it is, and it does it in a claimed 2.7 seconds.
Now that's out of the way, there's quite a bit more to the Model S than a "broken" Nissan GT-R owner weeping into their bento box.
Mercedes-Benz knows its way around a sedan, and this A-Class is a well-equipped, comfortable and efficient city-sized four-door.
But more than that, to my eyes anyway, it’s a perfect example of restrained form matching aero function with beautiful results.
Would your preference be an A-Class with a hatch or a boot? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Tesla Model S8.3/10
I spoke to a friend who bought a Model S before one had even hit the ground here in Australia. He chuckled when I told him how much this car cost but then said something I'd already suspected. "My mates who own a P100D would never drop that kind of money on a normal car. Buying a Tesla is like buying shares in the company, you're buying into the future."
And that's kind of the point. A $300,000 Audi RS7 (fully-loaded, obviously) is a bit slower in a straight line, looks just as good, is extremely well-built and emits noises that make people like me go as weak at the knees (just as the Model S' acceleration does). And would probably win a 10 lap race with the Tesla around Mount Panorama.
The Tesla is the future of cars. It may still be decades before the internal combustion engine is gone, but Tesla buyers are getting the jump, and today the Model S is the best car in which to make that leap.
Does the Tesla have the spark you need or do old-fashioned hydrocarbons still light your fire?
A global carmaker can’t hold its head up in public without a formal design strategy, and Mercedes-Benz uses ‘Sensual Purity’ as a guiding principle in developing the look and feel of its current models. It may sound airy-fairy, but I for one reckon it’s accurate in describing the A-Class sedan.
The overall form is flowing and minimalist, the major exception being a hard character line running down the side of the car from the trailing edge of the angular LED headlights and along the top of the doors to link with the tail-lights.
A rear-biased glasshouse emphasises the length of the bonnet, at the same time delivering a broad, muscular stance with short overhangs front and rear.
Ultra-fine panel gaps, careful sealing around the headlights and curved strakes either side of the bonnet keep the look clean and simple, not to mention super-slippery.
The interior has been styled to within an inch of its life, the dash dominated by the slick twin 10.25-inch widescreen ‘MBUX’ display covering instruments, ventilation, media and vehicle settings.
Five signature, turbine-style air vents (three in the centre, and one at each edge) lift the dash’s visual interest, and the quality of fit and finish is top-shelf.
Tesla Model S7/10
The Model S is definitely the looker of the three Tesla models on sale (the Model 3 might be some way from release, but you can reserve one and it's... weird-looking). With a slinky, Jaguar XF/Audi A7 roofline and low-slung stance, it looks the business. Like the X, the detailing of the car's surfacing and panel gaps aren't where other $200,000+ cars are, but it has improved a lot over the last couple of years.
The styling is quite sparse, really. Teslas look like computer renders in real life, especially in white, with little in the way of jewellery or detailed design elements. And that's probably the idea. It's a cleaner design than when first launched, with a simpler, flatter snout that brings out the headlights better.
The cabin has improved even more than the exterior. It's still the same minimalist design, but it fits together much more tightly than it used to. The 17.0-inch portrait screen is still there in its central but skewed-to-the-driver position and is now up to version 8. It's an impressive interface, covering off the vast majority of functions in the car, and is mostly easy to use. The responsiveness is key to its usability. If it was underpowered, you'd quickly start demanding real buttons.
At a bit over 4.5m long, a fraction under 1.8m wide, and close to 1.5m tall the A-Class sedan is 130mm longer and 6.0mm higher than the hatch version.
The A-Class sedan driver is presented with the same sleek widescreen display as found in the hatch, and storage runs to two cupholders in the centre console, a lidded bin/armrest between the seats (including twin USB ports), decent door pockets with room for bottles and a medium-size glove box.
In a swap to the rear, sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my (183cm) position, I enjoyed adequate knee and headroom, although stretching up a to a straight-back position led to a scalp to headlining interface.
In the A 200 a centre fold-down armrest incorporates two cupholders, again there are generous pockets in the doors with room for bottles, and adjustable ventilation outlets are set into the back of the front centre console. Always a plus.
There are three belted positions across the rear, but the adults using them for anything other than short journeys will have to be good friends and flexible. Best for two grown-ups, and three kids will be fine.
One snag is the size of the rear door aperture. Okay for taller people on the way in, but a limb-unfolding gymnastic exercise on exit.
But of course the reason we’re all here is the boot, and the sedan’s extra length translates to an additional 60 litres of luggage space for a total cargo volume of 430 litres (VDA).
Extra space is one thing, but usability is another. The benefit of a hatch is a large opening that allows bulky stuff to find a home, and Merc has pushed the sedan’s boot aperture to just under a metre across and there’s half a metre between the base of the rear window and the lower edge of the boot lid.
That’s made a big difference and access is good, with the rear seats folding 40/20/40 to add extra flexibility and volume. There are also tie-down hooks at each corner of the floor (a luggage net is included) and a netted pocket behind the passenger side wheel tub (with 12-volt outlet).
At the time of writing Mercedes-Benz wasn’t quoting towing specifications, and don’t bother looking for a spare wheel, the tyres are run-flats.
Tesla Model S8/10
The Model S is a rare car in this class in that it has an almost completely flat floor, meaning rear seat passengers don't have to negotiate a transmission tunnel. The two motors run physically independently of each other so there's no crankshaft to get in the way.
The floor is thicker than a normal car, it's like a big skateboard underneath. That means your knees are up higher, which might cause numb bum on a long trip. The rear seats are comfortable enough, but middle seat occupants might feel like the outboard passengers are falling into them.
The view out isn't too bad given the rising window line, and if you've got the big two piece sunroof (without cover, irritatingly... ), it's quite airy out back. And hot (with the sunroof), but you do get rear air-con vents.
The boot is an eminently sensible 744 litres with the seats up and 1795 with the seats down, although the floor doesn't fold flat. While it's a big boot, it's relatively shallow so your suitcases go in on their sides. Up in the front boot (or froot) there's another 150 litres, so you can pack a lot in to the Model S. And with all that torque, when you do load it up, the extra kilos barely make a dent on the performance.
Price and features
The A-Class sedan is launching with two variants, the A 200 at $49,400, before on-road costs, and an entry-level A 180, arriving in August 2019 at $44,900.
We’ll cover active and passive safety tech in the safety section, but above and beyond that standard equipment for the A 180 runs to 17-inch alloy wheels, ‘Artico’ faux leather upholstery, the ‘MBUX’ widescreen cockpit display (two 10.25-inch digital screens), auto LED headlights and DRLs, keyless entry and start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, climate-control, sat nav, multi-function sports steering wheel, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, ‘Active Parking Assist’ (with ultrasonic proximity sensors front and rear), tinted glass, plus nine-speaker, 225W audio with digital radio, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The A200 steps up to 18-inch alloy rims, and adds a dual exhaust system, four-way electrical adjustment for the driver’s seat (with lumbar support), a folding rear armrest (with twin cupholders), adaptive high-beam assist, and a wireless device charging bay.
Tesla Model S8/10
Tesla is basically a technology company - well, a battery company - that makes cars, so the features and options reflect that. It's a gadget-laden five-door hatch powered exclusively by electricity and seemingly full of things that will drain the batteries quickly.
If you view the car's price purely through its standard features list and the cost of options, you're missing the point. If it had a 3.0-litre turbo six, there's no way you'd pay this kind of money for the Model S. But it doesn't have that, it has a bleeding edge battery pack and propulsion system.
The Model S can be had for as little as $118,652 for the 60 offering 400km range, rear-wheel drive, and 5.8s 0-100km/h (but move quickly, Tesla has just axed this model), or as much as this P100D which starts at $250,582.
Standard are a seven-speaker stereo, leather-like trim, 19-inch alloys, reversing camera, 17.0-inch touchscreen, keyless entry and start, forward collision warning, digital dashboard, electric front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, internet connectivity via included SIM card, power mirrors and windows and air suspension.
Our P100D came with 21-inch grey 'Turbine' wheels ($6800), panoramic roof ($2300) multi-coat pearl paint (white, $2300) and carbon-fibre interior trim bits for $1500, as well as a carbon lip spoiler for another $1500.
We also had the 11-speaker audio upgrade (with neodymium magnets, don't you know) for $3800 and the 'Subzero Weather Package' (seat heaters, heated steering wheel, wiper blade defrosters and washer nozzle heaters) and on-board high-power charger (speeds up charging with the 'Tesla Wall Connector', $2300).
There was also 'Enhanced Autopilot' ($7600) and 'Full Self-Driving Capability' ($4600). The former is meant for highway running, and comes with four cameras (up from one) and 12 ultrasonic sensors around the car, as well as upgraded processing power to run it all.
The full self-driving is meant for around town. The idea is you punch in a destination, or speak to the computer or passive-aggressively stay silent, which triggers the car to check your calendar and take you to the address in the appointment. Part of the extra cost of that is yet more cameras (up to eight), more sensors, and more number-crunching power.
We would love to tell you how all that worked, but being Tesla 'Hardware 2', it's not ready yet. While these features are being fleet-tested by 1000 cars in the US, your car will run it all in "shadow mode" for data and behaviour validation. One day you'll go to your car and a software update will be ready to download and install the functionality.
Unusually, you can retrofit both of these features for about $1500 more (each) than if you order them up-front. That's very cool and Tesla is probably the only car company in the world that will let you do it.
The 17.0-inch screen's software is regularly updated, like a mobile phone's. Also like a mobile is the sometimes less successful update, in this case the slightly bewildering and difficult-to-use music interface that is very keen for you to make a selection with voice commands, but not ones that go through your phone.
A 'Premium Upgrades' package adds the overkill of a 'Bioweapon Defense (sic) Mode' that knocks out 99.97 per cent of exhaust particulates and other contaminants, using two activated carbon air filters for other nasties like NO2 and hydrocarbon exhaust fumes.
LED turning lights and fog lights, real leather on the armrests, steering wheel and lower dashboard (if you also have leather seating), nappa leather and Alcantara on the dashboard, soft LED interior lighting, power tailgate and backlit door handles for $5300. Thankfully, the silly self-opening front doors in the Model X's pack aren't in this little lot.
Grand total? $297,792. On the road in, say, NSW... $313,013. Youch.
Engine & trans
Both models are powered by the same 1.3-litre (M282) direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the hatch, the A180 tuned to deliver 100kW (at 5500rpm) and 200Nm (at 1460rpm), with the A 200 bumping that up to 120kW (at 5500rpm) and 250Nm (at 1620rpm).
Tesla Model S10/10
The P100D ships with two electric motors fed by a huge battery pack which triples as the bulk of the chassis and a super-strong crash structure. It's also shared with the Model X SUV.
Combined power output is 568kW with more of it out the back rather than up front. Torque is quoted at 1000Nm, but it's likely more than that. Claimed 0-100km/h time is a mildly unbelievable 2.7 seconds, with a further two-tenths to be shaved off when you press and hold Ludicrous Mode and accept a warning that you'll wear the car out faster if you use it.
With 'Ludicrous Mode' comes not just software but a higher capacity fuse that allows more power to be drawn from the batteries for longer to provide the searing acceleration.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 5.7L/100km for both models, with a CO2 emissions figure of 130g/km.
Over roughly 250km of open highway driving on the launch program the A 200’s on-board computer coughed up a figure of 6.3L/100km. So, the real-world highway cycle figure is higher than the claimed combined number. Which is a miss, but not a massive one, and fuel-efficiency is still pretty impressive.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 43 litres of it (plus a 5.0-litre reserve) to fill the tank.
Tesla Model S10/10
Zippo. Obviously with the new rules for Tesla Superchargers, it's not as cheap to own and run a Tesla as it was before (from January 2017, all new orders don't get free juice after the first 400kWh), but if you charge it at home (and can get away with it), it'll probably be cheaper than using Tesla's chargers. If you look, there's a company offering $1 per day charging for electric cars.
If I'd charged the car to 100 percent rather than the 80 percent recommended by Tesla for most charges (past that mark, the charge rate drops and the software has to slow to a trickle, doling out the electrons to the different cells), I would have managed just over 400km on the charge.
Three things stand out on first meeting with the A-Class sedan – ride comfort, steering feel, and road noise, or rather the lack of it.
The ‘biggest’ compliment you can pay a small car is that it rides like a bigger one, and behind the A 200’s wheel you’d swear the wheelbase was appreciably longer than the 2.7 metres it actually measures.
Over long undulations, even higher frequency bumps and ruts, the A-Class remains stable and composed thanks to a thoroughly sorted (strut front, torsion beam rear) suspension, with beautifully progressive damping a particular highlight.
Electromechanically-assisted steering points accurately and delivers good road feel without any undue vibration. And despite the A-Class launch drive loop covering typically coarse-chip bitumen roads through rural Victoria, overall noise levels remained impressively low.
Acceleration is brisk rather than properly sharp, but in the A 200 there’s more than enough oomph to keep things on the boil for easy highway cruising and overtaking.
With maximum torque available from just above 1600rpm, and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission keeping revs in the sweet spot, the A 200 breezes through the cut and thrust of city traffic, too.
Auto shifts are smooth and quick, with manual changes via the wheel-mounted paddles adding even more direct access to your ratio of choice. And the bonus is no sign of the slow-speed shuntiness sometimes exhibited by dual-clutch autos, especially in twisting, three-point parking manoeuvres.
Special call-out for the cruise control which responds to adjustments quickly (including 10km/h jumps up or down with a firm press of the thumb) and rapidly retards downhill speeds.
Several unbroken hours in the front seat couldn’t generate a twinge of discomfort, the brakes are strong, and over-shoulder visibility is marginally better than in the hatch (not that it’s a weakness in the latter).
Add the sleek and intuitive multimedia system, high-quality audio, plus excellent ergonomics and you have a neatly resolved compact sedan that’s easy to use in the city and suburbs, keeping solid road-tripping ability up its sleeve as well.
Tesla Model S7/10
The first time I drove a Model S, I enjoyed the acceleration and the silence of the electric motor (this was back in the Dark Ages when even the P90 only had one motor). And that has remained, with the air suspension providing a firm but comfortable ride despite the P100D's 21-inch rims and very low profile tyres. Electric motoring in any electric car is addictive.
Much progress has been made (yes, I'm getting to the acceleration, stay with me) in the way it drives. The earlier cars felt too computer gamey, with little feel through the wheel or the seat of your pants. The steering is better, especially in Sport mode, but not a lot gets through the air suspension, so it takes a while to build confidence in the chassis.
On the freeway (look, you can read ahead if you must) it's amazingly quiet, with just a bit of a rustling around the mirrors. Well, of course it's quiet, it's electric. For chassis and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) squashers, not having the marvellous engine noise means much harder work to dull the other noises you just don't hear when there's an internal combustion engine.
And there's the acceleration. As the driver, you obviously know it's quick. Mash the throttle and the response is instant, the horizon closing in on you like you're attached by a very stretched and immensely strong bungee strap that's just been released. The way cars disappear in your rear vision mirror is hilarious.
It's more fun as a passenger, though. The Model X elicited whooping and laughing, but the P100D's extra 0.6s-worth of acceleration over the P90D, delivered with a truckload more G-force, equals silence. One woman said she was glad I'd caught her before dinner rather than after, before bursting forth with a range of expletives. One passenger became quite emotional, almost crying. And not just because they were stuck in a car with me.
Think automotive safety and Mercedes-Benz will be one of the first names to pop into your mind, and the A 180 offers in impressive suite of active features including ABS, BA, EBD, stability and traction controls, a reversing camera (with dynamic guidelines), ‘Active Brake Assist’ (Merc-speak for AEB), ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Blind Spot Assist’, ‘Cross-wind Assist’, ‘Lane Keep Assist’, a tyre pressure warning system, the ‘Pre-Safe’ accident anticipatory system, and ‘Traffic Sign Assist’. The A 200 adds ‘Adaptive Highbeam Assist’.
If all that fails to prevent an impact you’ll be protected by nine airbags (front, pelvis and window for driver and front passenger, side airbags for rear seat occupants and a driver’s knee bag), and the ‘Active Bonnet’ automatically tilts to minimise pedestrian injuries.
The A-Class was awarded a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2018, and for smaller occupants there are three child restraint/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
Tesla Model S8/10
The Model S comes with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, three ISOFIX points, rollover sensors, emergency power disconnect. Additionally, when the software arrives, you'll have full AEB (ours was limited), self-driving and an ultra-clever active cruise that'll change lanes and overtake if the car you're following falls below your set speed.
The Model S scored five ANCAP stars, the maximum available, in April 2015 via the sharing arrangement with EuroNCAP.
That lags behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz Road Care assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an ‘Up-front’ or ‘Pay-as-you-go’ basis.
Pre-payment delivers a $500 saving with the first three A-Class services set at a total of $2050, compared to $2550 PAYG. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase.
Tesla Model S8/10
Tesla offers a four-year/80,000km warranty with a parallel eight year/unlimited kilometre warranty for the battery and drive units. Roadside assist applies for the four year warranty period.
Tesla offers two maintenance plans, three and four years in length. The three year plan costs $2100 and the four year $3175. Paying for the services individually over the same period will cost $2300 and $3425 respectively. That includes a wheel alignment (if needed), but it isn't particularly cheap when compared with 'normal' luxury cars.
Your first 400kW/h of recharging is free using Tesla's supercharger network, so that would be four full charges from empty (which you wouldn't do, obviously), or about 1600km worth. After that, it's 35c per kWh or $35 for a full charge.