ROAD TEST: The Mercedes-Benz you can have for less than $50k
COMPACT dimensions packed with the technology and refinement of a proper luxury car - that's the Mercedes-Benz A-Class promise.
Now available in sedan form, the A-Class comes closer to delivering that than before.
Priced from $44,900 in entry-level A180 form or $49,400 as the mid-range A200 tested here, the sedan comes at a $2000-plus premium to the five-door.
But Benz reckons people won't compare the pair, with Australian boss Horst von Sanden adamant many drivers "would never go into a hatch".
"If they can have a sedan they prefer that - it's a personal taste thing," he says.
The sedan has a slightly different character to the hatch, bringing comfort-oriented seats as opposed to the high-rise sports chairs of the five-door. It's more aerodynamic and brings a bigger boot but is expected to prove less popular than the liftback. That might be because up to 70 per cent of A-Class buyers are new to the brand, often young folk getting into their first premium car.
They might be surprised to find equipment found as standard in economy cars can cost extra. Active cruise control standard in the new Corolla costs $1790, a head-up display found in every Mazda3 is part of a $2490 package, and metallic paint free on a Subaru Impreza is $1190. Those cars all come with five-year warranties, while Mercedes persists with a three-year guarantee.
Servicing is also expensive - three years of maintenance will set you back $2550, or about $2000 more than a hybrid Toyota.
So what do you get beyond brand cache?
The cabin has twin 10.25-inch displays which set impressive new standards for small-car infotainment. They're loaded up with a good degree of connectivity including smartphone-like voice recognition. You can warm up the climate control by saying "Hey Mercedes, increase the cabin temperature by two degrees", or a range of alternative phrases such as "I'm cold".
But it can be hit-and-miss.
Ambient lighting, turbine-style air vents and metallic finishes that wouldn't look out of place with a six-figure price tag contribute to the most clamorous interior of any compact car on sale.
Faux leather accommodation for five is reasonable up front but squeezy in the back, where there is less headroom than the hatch. Personal tech is accounted for by a wireless charging pad and new USB-C outlets which require an adaptor for conventional plugs.
Powered by a 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbo engine with 120kW and 250Nm, the A200 drives the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It's not the most convincing gearbox of its kind, occasionally hesitating when choosing a gear, or feeling a little grabby at low speeds. The engine is reasonably sweet and certainly brisk enough for most buyers, but petrolheads will want to hold out for a more powerful A250 or AMG-fettled A35.
While the interior looks and feels glamorous, the driving experience doesn't reflect that of a big-dollar Benz. Noisy on coarse surfaces, with excessive road and tyre roar, the A-Class' ride is nothing like as settled as the benchmark C-Class, and it doesn't respond as well when tossed into a bend.
Light steering and well-weighted brakes make for easy progress around town, though falls short of best-in-class small cars for poise and engagement.
We'll also direct criticism at its driver aids.
Bringing less tech than similar-sized cars which undercut it by $20,000, the A-Class is also afflicted by startling interventions from a lane-keeping assistance system which grabs the brakes if you get too close to painted lines - as many people do when straightening out bends on a country road.
Beautifully presented and loaded with tech - if you're prepared to dip into the options list - the A-Class pushes into new territory for a baby Benz. But it lacks the driving polish of traditional Merc sedans and impressive mainstream cars.
The previous-gen A-Class was only available as a hatch, joined by the CLA-Class "four-door coupe" as a stylish sedan-like cousin. The addition of this A-Class sedan gives the next-gen CLA room to move upmarket, chasing a style-conscious crowd willing to spend more money to get sharper looks, a better driving experience and more technology. Expect the CLA to be priced at about $60,000 when it arrives locally in October.
Mercedes-Benz A200 sedan vitals
Price: $49,400 plus on-roads
Warranty/servicing: 3 years, $2550 for 3 years
Safety: 1.3-litre 4cyl turbo, 120kW/250Nm, 5 stars, 9 airbags, AEB, blind spot monitoring
Spare: Inflation kit
Boot: 420 litres