That the Mercedes-Benz A-Class is the 2019 SA Guild of Motoring Journalists Car of the Year is no real surprise, only emphasising how far the derivative has come since first launched 21 years ago as an oddly shaped ‘Noddy’ car not too far removed from the equally incomprehensible Smart of the time.
Although that original A-Class did do quite well in sales terms, it was generally gutless and stood out only because it was so far removed from the more elegant design lines of its larger siblings.
Now a fully-fledged member of the Mercedes-Benz design strategy – even a bit of a trend setter – the A-Class is fully matured in its current form, able to offer both a ‘sensible’ drive as well as plenty of exhilarating motoring fun.
The A250 AMG Line on test falls very squarely into that latter descriptor, the four cylinder 2,0-litre turbo cranking out 165 kW at 5 500 r/min with 350 Nm of torque on tap between 1 800 r/min and 4 000 r/min, driving through the 7G-DCT dual-clutch transmission – not too shabby.
What really makes this car is its delightful go-kart like handling, the steering precision turning into corners and its stability even when hurled forcefully through the twisties where it sticks tighter than the lid on a child-proof bottle.
The A-Class offers more utility value, making it more youthful than ever but grown-up like never before. The purist, surface-accentuating design of the new A-Class is the next step in the Mercedes-Benz design philosophy of’ Sensual Purity’.
It is bigger than its predecessor – 120 mm longer, 16 mm higher and 6 mm wider – but, 20 kg lighter. The vehicle is visually extended by the longer wheelbase and character line along the side. The larger wheel arches for wheels – from 16 inches to 19 inches – make it sit more squarely on the road.
With a Cd figure from 0,25 and a frontal area of 2,19 m2, the new A-Class is an aerodynamic leader in its segment. For the first time in the compact segment, Mercedes-Benz uses a optional two-section Airpanel.
This louvre system behind the radiator grille opens its adjustable louvres depending on the cooling requirement with the additional louvre system in the air inlet below the registration plate, further improving system performance.
The front and rear wheel spoilers have been specifically optimised to achieve low airflow losses around the wheels. In addition, the wheel arches are insulated from the engine compartment (depending on engine variant) and the radiator surrounds are sealed.
This ensures more precise direction of the cooling air and a more efficient cooling system. Wind noise inside the cabin has also been significantly reduced in the new A-Class compared to its predecessor, as the A-pillars and new exterior mirrors on the belt lines were enhanced in shape and position.
The interior of the new A-Class is completely redefined with its modern, avant-garde look, including almost disco style illumination.
The capacity of the luggage compartment behind the rear seats is 370 litres – 29 litres more than in the preceding model. Thanks to two-section rear lights, the loading aperture is 20 cm wider than before, and the luggage compartment floor is 11,5 cm longer.
All-round visibility in the new A-Class has also been improved, with the area obscured by the pillars reduced by 10% compared to its predecessor. This enhances both safety and the impression of spaciousness.
Given the state of local roads and the general disregard of traffic rules by taxis, the improvement in visibility becomes absolutely vital – also helping when going quickly in terms of seeing further around the corner than was previously possible.
As usual with Mercedes cars in this AMG Line specification, the difference between Comfort mode and Sport is marked and quite dramatic – a reminder of the old joke where the youngster takes Gran a couple of friends for a ride in his new car. Going fast he turns to Grand and says proudly: “Some speed hey.” She replies: “Yes some’s peed, some’s pooped and some’s passed out.”
However, that is not all the A-Class offers.
MBUX, the new multimedia system, learns and adapts to suit the user through artificial intelligence so the more a user interacts with it, the more the new A-Class becomes just like them.
In addition, MBUX offers intelligent voice control with natural language comprehension. By using the phrase ‘Hey Mercedes’, users can adjust the air-conditioning, send a text message or find the quickest route out of the city centre on a Friday afternoon.
New and improved Mercedes me connect services are being launched with MBUX. These include navigation functions such as emergency braking, On-Street Prediction, Real-Time Information and Off-Street Information, which save time and reduce stress levels when searching for a parking space.
The new A-Class also offers a number of functions that were previously the preserve of the luxury class: real-time parking, for example, and the ability to drive semi-autonomously in certain situations. To do this, it keeps a close eye on the traffic as the improved camera and radar systems allow it to see up to 500 m ahead.
It comes with extended Active Brake Assist as standard. Depending on the circumstances, this can effectively help to mitigate the consequences of rear-end collisions with slow-moving, stopping or stationary vehicles. This extended Active Brake Assist even responds to crossing pedestrians and cyclists to help prevent collisions altogether.
Overall fuel consumption on my test cycle was 6,2 l/100 km but, be warned, a heavy foot in Sport mode will quickly turn this into double figures.
Like all its predecessors, the A-Class has a McPherson front suspension. The more powerful A 250 Sport is equipped with adaptive damping in combination with larger wheels, giving it a sophisticated four-link rear suspension.
The rear axle is mounted on a subframe isolated from the body shell by rubber bushings so that fewer vibrations are transferred from the suspension to the body. The proportion of aluminium in the suspension components is one of the highest of any suspension system in this vehicle segment.
As standard the new A-Class is equipped with a comfort suspension with steel springs and Dynamic Select. The comfort suspension has been lowered by 15 mm and specially configured springs and dampers for more sporty characteristics. The suspension with active damping control enables the driver to choose the preferred damping characteristics.
And that is why it won the title.