The stylish new Mercedes-Benz A 200 A-Class hatchback flips convention in more ways than one.
Instead of packing the latest technology into its flagship, the $425,000 Maybach limousine, Mercedes-Benz has injected all the good new stuff into its newest baby.
That car is the A 200, the first arrival in a compact line-up that will eventually stretch to five models including he full-house AMG A45 and the smallest of Benz’s SUVs, the GLA. There's also a plug-in hybrid and a new A35 to fill the gap between regular A-Class cars and the next A45, and which is promised to be a real rocket.
Pricing for the A 200 starts at $47,200, which represents great value for a car that’s got everything that the connected 30something crowd (aka the oft-maligned 'millennials') could want.
That runs from a widescreen TFT dashboard display and LED headlamps to the brilliant new ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice-command system that sets the standard for the car industry.
Safety is standard at Benz, so the A 200 gets nine airbags, auto safety braking, and all sorts of driver assistance systems - for lane changing, traffic jams and parking - that are closing the gap to an autonomous driving future.
People prepared to pay more for their A 200 can also upgrade to everything from 64 colour choices on the interior lighting to a heads-up instrument display and a giant panoramic glass sunroof, Burmeister sound system and heated and cooled front leather seats.
There's also AMG fairy dust available in two levels: the AMG Sports Line package that puts special alloys, lowered suspension and a special steering wheel onto the A 200; the full AMG Exclusive package even comes with a sportier type of rear suspension.
Historically, the A-Class has been a starter car for Benz since it first arrived in 1997, touting an overall length that was less than 3 metres for easy city parking in Europe. That original was chunky and frumpy, and not much of a drive.
Since then, Benz has worked hard to refine and improve the A-Class, as well as driving it down at younger drivers who might otherwise be looking at a Volkswagen Golf or a Renault Megane or a Peugeot 308.
It’s never been the cheapest car in its class, but the appeal is obvious – from the three-pointed star to traditional Mercedes-Benz quality and safety.
An A+ for looks
You need to park the new A-Class alongside the old car to really appreciate the external differences.
That’s when you see the smoother sides, the shapelier mirrors and the slimmed-down LED headlights in a lower nose that move the fourth-generation car up and onwards.
“It’s part of a new design philosophy which has ‘fewer lines’ across all the models,” says Jerry Stamoulis, product spokesman for Mercedes-Benz Australia.
The new body is more taut than before, with payoffs in safety and quietness, and is a typically longer-lower-wider update.
Further into the future the A-Class will be morphed into hybrids and AMG go-fast cars, so there is room for improvement even if it rolls on 18-inch wheels across the A 200 range.
Inside the A 200 is where the future arrives - with a shock. The cabin is packed with more tech than can be explained in under an hour, as well as a classy design approach that gives a flat and modern look to the dashboard and beyond.
The materials and finishing are exactly as you would expect in a Benz, but still with a modern and youthful look.
On the road
Wintry weather in Melbourne didn't fazd the A 200, which offers plenty of fun on the run.
The car comes with a new 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes a little more oomph with less fuel than the previous model, and it gets along well for the class and target buyer.
Best of the business are the rewards in the cabin.
That means supportive seats, a little more space in all directions – including rear legroom and the boot capacity – and a design that puts everything in easy reach.
The driver can choose from a touch screen and touch pads on the console and steering wheel to control the car, but probably not for long.
That’s because the ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice-control system is plain brilliant and it’s fun to see just what it can do.
Tell the car you’re feeling chilly and it will notch the aircon up a couple of degrees, ask it to find a favourite radio station and it tracks it like a bloodhound, and so it goes.
Artificial intelligence means the ‘Hey Mercedes’ package continues to learn and improve, in a way that’s not been seen since the 2013 movie Her.
“It takes a while to establish an emotional connection. Most people will take at least six weeks to get the best from the system,” Stamoulis tells Australian Business Traveller during the A 200's media drive day.
And turning back to driving, it’s worth spending the extra $3,190 for the AMG Exclusive package, as the high-tech rear suspension and computer-controlled dampers transforms the ride, giving grip in the twists and a composed and comfortable ride in all conditions.
There is already a big waiting list for the A 200 and a lot of buyers are ticking all the boxes for the extra-equipment packages. That means it will be easy to build a car that tops $60,000 on the road, but the payoff comes in lots of way.
And a lot of people will be happy to pay as soon as they sit in the cabin and say ‘Hey Mercedes’ for the first time.