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THE STEERING COLUMN: NEW MERCEDES A-CLASS REVIEW

Boss Baby

With its plush refinement and tech trickery, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class has clearly come of age

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Split, Croatia

WIVES and girlfriends might not know this, but men talk to their cars all the time. The conversation tends to be pretty one-sided (perhaps blissfully so), but the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class is a car that listens, and responds. That's just one of the things that makes the new baby of the Mercedes family so exciting.

The first Mercedes-Benz model to wear the "baby Benz" moniker was the W201 190 E from the early 1980s, which was an overnight success and became permanently enshrined in the brand's canon when it evolved into the popular C-Class of today.

You have to understand that the Mercedes-Benz of that era only knew how to make large, luxurious limousines, so entering the compact sedan segment was something new. Because of that, a lot of "big car" quality, refinement and technology found its way into the 190 E, which many felt to be pleasantly over-engineered.

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Today's "baby" is now in its fourth iteration, and arrives 21 years after Mercedes birthed the first A-Class. It may take the humble form of a compact hatchback but this time, like the 190 E, it is endowed with the best bits from its larger siblings, so safety, technology, refinement and equipment are of a superlative standard.

Moreover, all eyes are on the A-Class because it will be the first of Mercedes's compact models to be given a new lease of life. In addition to the five existing A, B, CLA and GLA variants, we're told there will be a total of eight related models in total.

Inside, the A-Class does away with traditional cowled instruments, and like the plush E-Class and S-Class, now features two displays that blend seamlessly under a single glass cover. Two different combinations of display sizes will be available in Singapore, but, our test cars had the most opulent configuration: dual 10.25-inch high-resolution displays.

The cabin quality is beyond reproach and there's an air of tight cohesion about the proceedings that is reminiscent of models further up the brand's hierarchy. Despite its sporty styling and a body designed to be slippery (wind tunnel testing gives it a drag coefficient of 0.25Cd, which means its wind resistance is very low indeed), the new A-Class also features a more versatile and spacious cabin and boot, with the latter growing not just in capacity, but also boasting a wider loading aperture than its predecessor.

But in a world gone cuckoo for crossovers, do people still look towards the hatchback? The A-Class's marketing material is strongly geared towards young (or new) drivers, but we see its compact proportions and lack of body-cladding - typically found on a crossover - appealing to the other end of the age spectrum as well. After all, these driver types are looking for something that's easy to drive and manoeuvre in tight confines, yet want to be cosseted by the plush refinement that Mercedes-Benz is known for.

Although we sampled both the A 250 and the less powerful A 200, it is the latter that impressed us with its sweet balance and pliant composure. Its 1.33-litre engine is new and incorporates "cylinder shut-off" technology for better economy and lower emissions.

However, it's no slouch when push comes to shove, because the perky 163 horsepower it musters (along with a peak torque output of 250 Newton-metres) lets the driver hustle it fluidly through a favourite string of corners.

We suspect part of the test route in Croatia took us over long stretches of roads in a deplorable state just so we could properly appreciate the suspension's sublime damping quality. Engineers have obviously worked hard to reduce Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) levels, because the A-Class has been transformed in that area.

While the plush new cabin and improved comfort nudge the A-Class back towards Mercedes's more traditional strengths, the new baby is also packed with cutting edge tech that is bound to win younger folk over to the brand.

The best thing about the way Mercedes-Benz rolls out user technology is the simplicity with which it can be accessed, and there's no desultory faffing about with the various controls, trying to figure out how the functions work.

In the case of MBUX - Mercedes-Benz User Experience - which makes its debut in the A-Class, all that's needed to engage the omnipresent "ghost in the machine" is the phrase, "Hey Mercedes".

Not only does the artificial intelligence-equipped system recognise different intonations, it will also react to more oblique statements. If you utter, "Hey Mercedes, I'm feeling hot," for instance, the system instructs the air-conditioning to lower the cabin's temperature.

"Mercedes" has quite a sassy sense of humour too, because we threw the occasional rude comment her way, and she was able to respond with pithy smackdowns. Having endowed the A-Class with a shapely new body and much better road manners, it seems Mercedes also gave it a sassy personality to boot.


Mercedes-Benz A 200

Engine 1,332cc, 16V, in-line 4
Power 163hp at 5500rpm
Torque 250Nm at 1620rpm
Gearbox 7-speed 7G-DCT dual-clutch
Top Speed 225km/h
0-100km/h 8.0 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.6-5.2L/100km
CO2 128-120g/km
Price To be announced
Agent Cycle & Carriage Industries
Available Q4, 2018