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Mercedes-Benz A-class Hatchback

John Mengel

In 2012, Mercedes-Benz decided to turn the A-class from a high-roof hatchback (with a sandwich-floor layout designed for electrification) into a much lower, wider, and longer compact car with decidedly sporting aspirations. At the time, the move seemed slightly counterintuitive. But it has proved to be the correct decision: The current A-class has become a huge global success, it has spawned an entire family of models including the CLA and the GLA, and it has rejuvenated the brand’s image considerably among younger clientele.

Now Mercedes is launching the second generation of “the new A-class,” which actually is the fourth generation overall. It is slightly bigger and even sportier than the outgoing model. And, for the first time, it will be offered in the United States as a four-door sedan—in addition to the CLA “four-door coupe.” We were offered the chance to drive the new A-class hatch in Europe, and even though this version won’t be sold in the U.S. (but it will be in Canada), it offers valuable insight into what we can expect once the sedan launches here.

Outside, the model has lost a bit of the predecessor’s cheekiness, and the new A-class looks a lot more serious. The aggressive upward kink on the flanks is gone, and the car now features a distinct wedge shape, with a front end that closely resembles that of the larger CLS.

Photos of the U.S.-market A-class sedan have not yet been released, but we can safely assume it will be visually aligned with the China-market A-class sedan, which was revealed there in April. That version has a slightly longer wheelbase than ours will, though.

While the A-class is pleasant to look at outside, it’s even better inside. The sporty, aggressively styled seats make a great first impression, but it is the dashboard that steals the show. Even low-spec models have two seven-inch TFT screens, with one in place of traditional gauges and one in the center of the dash. The cars we drove had the top-of-the-line configuration consisting of two 10.3-inch displays, which probably is the most futuristic-looking instrumentation currently available in a compact car.

Maybe even in any car, as Mercedes-Benz has brazenly decided to walk away from the usual top-down approach and has fitted its best and most recent infotainment system called MBUX in its entry-level offering. The A-class, in that way, beats the S-class.

One of the most novel elements is the way the driver can communicate with the car. Use the voice-recognition system (which can be activated by saying “Hey, Mercedes”) to make almost any car-related request, and the A-class has an informative answer—or a cheeky one. Try saying, “I love you,” or asking, “What do you think of BMW?” and you’ll get some interesting replies.

There is more, such as the backlit dashboard and air vents, which look as if they were taken straight out of an S-class coupe. And while other compact cars studiously avoid wood decor in order to not be seen as stodgy, the A-class can be specified with beautiful, opulent wood trim—at least in Europe—and it doesn’t look a bit old-fashioned.

We spent most of our time in cars powered by the redesigned, turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, a U.S.-bound engine that is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Rated at 221 horsepower, it moves the A-class with considerable authority; Mercedes quotes a zero-to-62-mph time of 6.2 seconds, and top speed is a lofty 155 mph. We wish the engine sounded a bit sportier, though. But it needs to leave space for two Mercedes-AMG models (rumored to be called A35 and A45), which will make around 300 and 400 horsepower and will be positioned well above the A250.

The chassis has no trouble whatsoever in sending the torque to the road. There is a strut front suspension and a multilink rear setup in upper trims (entry-level models in Europe have a torsion-beam rear suspension). Adjustable dampers are optional, as is 4Matic all-wheel drive. The front-drive A250 that we drove was tossable and a hoot to pitch into corners; the steering is precise and perfectly weighted. Driven more sensibly, it’s a comfortable and quiet long-distance cruiser. The chassis filters out poor road surfaces, the seats are pleasantly comfortable, and there is plenty of head- and legroom both up front and aft.

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