The Mercedes-Benz A-Class is these days a very different premium compact executive proposition. Especially in A200d diesel form. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The improved Mercedes A200d offers a winning compromise between power and parsimony. It looks good, it drives well and it's slickly styled inside. It's a little more in your face than an Audi A3 but some will see that as a definite plus.
In improved MK3 model guise, the Mercedes A-Class has continued to be more dynamic than you might expect a compact model from this brand to be. Fortunately, you don't now have to have the firm ride that originally marked out this model, thanks to an optional 'DYNAMIC DRIVE SELECT' system that allows you to soften it. Here, we're looking at the diesel variant that most customers choose, the 136bhp A200d model. It's one-up in the diesel range from the entry-level 109bhp A180d but offers a useful slug of extra performance.
I'm pedalling this 136bhp A200d 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 previous generation A-Class models, a corner entry at these sort of speeds would have just resulted 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 A200d will feel a good deal sprightlier than that. The steering takes a little getting used to, being quite high geared yet not overly feelsome, 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. This trim level gets as standard a 'DYNAMIC SELECT' drive dynamics system able to offer a softer 'Comfort' suspension setting at the press of a button. The set-up also offers 'Sport', 'Eco' and 'Individual' options, all of which, like the 'comfort' setting, also modify throttle, steering and auto gearchange response. Transmission-wise, 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
This third generation A-Class delivered a design that was longer, wider and lower than before, with sharply defined edges and tautly-drawn convex and concave surfaces which seem to constantly change as the light catches them. Not too much has changed in this regard with this revised version, except at the front where there's a smarter, more angular front bumper below a standard 'diamond' front grille. At the rear, the exhaust pipes are now integrated into the rear bumper while the tail-lights are revised. Overall, though the changes may be subtle, they do sharpen up the styling nicely. Inside, the interior has been upgraded with smarter instrument dial housings, more seat adjustment, sleeker metal switches, plus a fresh choice of materials and dash trims. Higher end variants also benefit from a larger 8" touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink smartphone integration. This system is an option on lower models. Boot space remains competitive at 341-litres.
Market and Model
The A200d 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. At the 'SE'-trim level most customers want, the spec runs to 16" alloy wheels, a decent quality CD stereo, Bluetooth 'phone compatibility, a USB port, air conditioning, a multi-function steering wheel and a 5.8" infotainment touchscreen. 'Sport' trim adds a larger 8" touchscreen, 17" wheels, cruise control, rain sensing wipers and sports seats. 'Sport Edition'-spec models gain sat-nav, KEYLESS-GO push-button starting and luxury seats. While the 'AMG Sport' trim is all about looks, with 18" wheels, lowered suspension and carbon trim. Extroverts might also like the 'AMG Night Edition' trim, which tints the windows and features different 18" wheels. Safety kit available includes 'DISTRONIC PLUS distance control' radar cruise control, a 'COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST PLUS' system that'll stop you from rear-ending the car in front, 'ATTENTION ASSIST' to alert you against drowsiness and the usual suite of airbags and electronic aids.
Cost of Ownership
The A200d scores some great cost of ownership figures. The fuel consumption on the combined cycle varies between 74.3mpg and 62.8mpg, depending on your choice of wheel size and transmission (the auto gearbox is more frugal). The CO2 return varies between 99 and 116g/km. I didn't manage to replicate these figures 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 A200d. 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 A200d will hold onto at least 50 per cent of its new value.
The Mercedes A200d 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 A200d 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 Focus-sized car. If you can afford for that not to be an over-riding concern, the A200d is a car that offers much and demands little. I suspect this one's going to be a grower.