An extrovert Merc
Posted on: 22nd Aug 2012
Forget everything you thought you knew about the Mercedes A-Class. This is a whole new idiom. Where the old A-Class was all about space efficiency, clever engineering innovation and a focus on buttoned-down safety, the latest model is a good deal more extrovert.
While some might suggest that in the battle for the premium compact car, Mercedes' vision lost out to that of BMW and Audi and the three-pointed star is now playing catch up, that's not how it feels from behind the wheel.
The 136bhp A200 CDI is the sportier of the two diesel models Mercedes brings to the country, the other being the efficiency-minded 109bhp A180 CDI. 'Sporty' and 'A-Class' might be a word combination that will take a bit of getting used to, but you'll need to rapidly acclimatise. These are going to be going fast.
I'm pedalling this A200 CDI for all I'm worth through the foothills of the Julian Alps in Slovenia, struggling to hang onto the back of a 211bhp A250 petrol model that's being driven in a spirited fashion. As we enter another switchback, I'm amazed by how much grip the front end develops. In the old A-Class, a corner entry at these sorts of speeds would just result in terminal understeer and the stability control system getting a good workout. Not this time. I'm actually having fun.
There's plenty of instant punch out of the corner too, the engine making 300Nm of torque between 1,600 and 3,000rpm. The bald figures reckon on 9.3 seconds to 62mph, which sounds so-so. On the right road, an A200 CDI will feel a good deal sprightlier than that.
The steering takes a little getting used to, being quite high geared yet not overly feel some, but after a few miles you'll have a lot of faith in the sheer grip of the A-Class. The ride isn't bad. I'm driving the car in Sport trim and it's chatty without ever feeling harsh. The brakes are great, the six-speed manual gearbox is OK but the star of this show is the seven-speed 7G-DCT twin-clutch paddle shift. It's a £1,500 option but you really ought to indulge.
Design and Build
The A-Class has abandoned the 'one-box' shape of its predecessor for a more conventional two-box hatchback design, but it's packed with interesting styling features. The eye is immediately drawn to the upsweeping feature lines on the car's flanks which gives shape and tension to the profile.
Even the entry-level models have a stance and attitude that looks sporting, and the upper specification cars look seriously purposeful. There's a decent amount of space inside, although the focus has clearly been on improving perceived quality and offering a sportier feel.
All trim elements have been given an electroplated finish, resulting in real metal surfaces with a "cool touch" effect. The instrument panel is divided into a wing profile-type upper section and a solid lower section. Perhaps the most interesting design touch is what looks like an iPad sitting on the upper part of the centre console but which is in fact an integrated touch-screen system.
It'll sync seamlessly with an iPhone and expect Android connectivity to follow in due course. The instrument cluster comprises two large round instruments, each of them with a small round instrument set within it.
The 3-spoke steering wheel comes with twelve function buttons and an electroplated bezel. It all feels beautifully built, in stark contrast to the first A-Class.
Market and Model
The A200 CDI is offered in two trim levels and with the choice of manual or twin-clutch sequential transmissions. Prices start at just over £23,000 for the manual model in Sport trim. Go for that same car in AMG Sport guise and you can add another £1,250 to the asking price.
The Sport model comes equipped with a silver twin lamella grille with chrome highlights, comfort suspension, cruise control, 17-inch bi-colour alloy wheels, a perforated Nappa leather steering wheel, ARTICO synthetic leather trim with contrasting stitching, sports seats in fabric and ARTICO checker design, rain sensors, ambient lighting and an Audio 20 stereo system.
The AMG Sport offers a Dynamic Handling package with sports suspension, drilled disc brakes, AMG body styling, 18-inch AMG alloys, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, Alcantara trim parts with red stitching and sports seats in ARTICO and Dinamica trim.
Cost of Ownership
The A200 CDI scores some great cost of ownership figures. Choose the car with the 7G-DCT gearbox and in Sport trim and it emits just 114g/km of carbon dioxide. It'll also manage to return 65.7mpg on the combined cycle.
I didn't manage to replicate this figure on my pedal to the metal run across the Slovenian Alps but I'm still absolutely befuddled that it's still registering 40 something miles per gallon. The figures suggest a joyless eco-mobile. The seat of the pants tells you something quite different about the A200 CDI.
Much of that is down to features such as a class best 0.26 drag coefficient figure, a standard fit start/stop system to save you fuel in traffic and the inherent efficiency of that 1,796cc turbo diesel four. Residual values will clearly hinge on quite how enthusiastic you get with the options list, but the same goes for BMW and Audi rivals. I'd be prepared to bet that in three years time, this A200 CDI will hold onto at least 50 per cent of its new value.
The Mercedes A200 CDI is an accomplished all-rounder. It's cool in a different way to the old A-Class. It's not as sporty to drive as a BMW 1 Series but it's not that far off and that might come as a surprise to many. The interior is slickly presented, with a lovely balance between minimalism and decoration. The engine is gutsy and responsive yet offers decent refinement and quite brilliant economy and emissions figures.
So where's the catch? The fact that you'll need at least £23,000 to get yourself on the first rung of A200 CDI ownership and that the car works really well with the optional 7G-DCT sequential transmission means you can easily end up dropping some serious coin on what remains a supermini-sized car. If you can afford for that not to be an over-riding concern, the A 200 CDI is a car that offers much and demands little. I suspect this one's going to be a grower.