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19 Jul 2012 | Text by Julian Kho. Photos by Mercedes-Benz & Julian
Going up against the likes of BMW 1 Series and Audi A3, is the latest Mercedes-Benz A-Class hot enough to keep up with the pack?
The beauty of being a car enthusiast is that your passion can grab you at every level of the automotive spectrum, and nowhere is that more evident than in our excitement at the Portorož airport in Slovenia where the top-of-the-line A-Class was waiting to be driven on the runway.
Most of the cars we test drive today aren’t shabby and as a result, it makes sense on some kind of level. They’re built by their manufacturers to perform certain specific roles while maintaining a general task of providing comfort and driver involvement. And we, as journalists, understand these roles pretty clearly. Just last week, I drove a car that left me baffled. Not because it was an awful car to drive or was it fugly in any sense of the word but because it didn’t really have a specific role.
That car is the Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
If I had to cut the long story short, the A-Class is an all-rounder. Perhaps not in the context of a bigger country where B-roads are of abundance and high speed driving on highways is necessary but in the context of a smaller Singapore. The A250 Sport, on most levels, is capable of performing any task you ask of it. From having the antics of an outright bruiser or being a comfortable family cruiser to looking good and providing the driver with convincing involvement, the Merc hatch will have no qualms fulfilling them.
You see, I had no problems coming to terms that the A-Class is now a very different looking machine from its predecessor, considering that it’s this very same carmaker that produced the stunning supercar SLS. What I didn’t expect was the A250 Sport to be a jack of all trades. And to complete the picture, the car - again in theory - chugs out a mere 148g of CO2 for every kilometre it is driven.
It’s refreshing that the A-Class has changed almost everything about itself to become what it is now without losing the roots of being a Mercedes-Benz. Distinctive bits that set it apart from the variety of A-Class include the stylish diamond grille upfront, aggressive 18-inch AMG 5-spoke wheels and ‘Sport’ badges. However, granted that the highest variant A250 Sport brings about a number of aesthetic changes, inside and out, compared to the regular model (particularly the diamond grille), it reminds you of a Merc the moment you slot yourself into the car. The gear lever, like most of the models in its line-up, is located on the right hand side of the indicator stalk while the blood red seatbelts and round air vents resemble the SLK350.
More notably, the drivetrain has improved significantly. Mated to the 2.0-litre powerplant is a 7G-DCT automatic transmission, which does a fairly good job in combining sportiness and comfort when piloting the car at insane speeds. The gear changes are also quicker in the A250 Sport, followed by wonderful exhaust blow-offs that reminds you of the VW GTI. Switch it over to Sport mode and the latest Merc feels the part of a beefy machine. Throttle inputs become sensitive, the steering becomes weightier and the change-up between cogs are significantly delayed.
But with 211 horses and 350Nm of torque sent to the front wheels, the car inherently has a mild understeering, especially when you’re pushing it hard through a series of bends. And despite the fact that the car is equipped with a sporty, “engineered by AMG” high-performance suspension that results in low dynamic rolling, the A250 Sport leaned a little too much for comfort. But one certainly cannot deny that the car still manages to offer the driver a strong sense of predictability and security at the wheel.
“So is the A250 Sport a true blue hot hatch or just a version of something close?” That was the question I was posed after I door-handled the car like a madman on the runway. While the hatchback isn’t an absolute peach when compared to other hot hatches like the GTI, it’s no shame because when you’re ‘giving it the berries’, the A250 Sport is hot as hell.
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