When the Mercedes-Benz A-Class re-launched in 2012, it was an entirely different proposition to the models that came before it. Previously, the A-Class was a tall, short, compact city car, which looked like it was aimed more at OAPs than at normal buyers. That didn’t stop Mercedes from selling A-Classes by the bucketload, mind – this was, after all, a small, practical and (reasonably) affordable car donning a Mercedes badge.
Still, in 2012, Mercedes changed the thinking behind the A-Class entirely, turning it into a sleek, very good-looking family hatchback designed to take on the BMW 1-Series, Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf. And even today, four years later, you have to admit that it looks rather good. The indented lines along the side give the impression of a swooshing fluidity to the body, and its planted, aggressive stance make it look like a bit of a bruiser. Mercedes said that it was targeting younger buyers when it re-launched the A-Class, and as someone who’s still (relatively) young, I have to say I love the look of it.
So, too, do buyers in the UAE. Head down any main road in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and you’re bound to see a few A-Classes tearing about. There’s a prestige to the new A-Class that the last one just didn’t seem to have, a sense that it really fits into the range below its ultra-premium big brothers. And the Middle Eastern market certainly buys into that sort of thing.
But given the quality of the competition, and the fact that the A-Class is now four years old, does this baby Mercedes still drive and feel as good as it still looks? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.
The one we have here is the A250 Sport. In other markets, the A-Class comes with a range of engines, diesel and petrol, at a range of price points. Here, we only get the higher-end A250 Sport with a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder petrol engine, and the range-topping A45 AMG, which is, by any measure, a monster of a hatchback.
On paper, the A250 Sport is much more civilised that its AMG sibling. Its 2.0-litre engine is good for 211 bhp and a 0-100 km/h time of 6.6 seconds, meaning it’ll worry Golf GTIs and Audi S3s, but it’s less maniacal with its engine power than the A45, and comes with much more restrained and discreet styling. If the A45 is a boy racer’s car, then the A250 Sport is the thinking man, or woman’s, way of getting about with enough speed, but with much more comfort and refinement.
That said, some of the mad styling of the A45 AMG has been carried over to the test car that we were given. There’s a large wing on the back, and subtle racing lines have been liveried over both the paint outside and the cockpit on the interior. This model is also fitted with sports suspension, as well as AMG body styling and sports seats. And the colour scheme matches that of the Mercedes Formula One team. You can think of this version of the A250 Sport as a sort of middle ground between the normal one and the top-end A45 AMG.
To be honest, you don’t really need any of the sports garnish – in fact, we’d advise against most of it. The AMG styling adds nice touches to the side sills and bumpers, making the already hunkered-down A-Class look even more aggressive and planted, but the rear wing takes things a little too far, turning the otherwise sensible-looking A-Class into too much of a racing toy. Likewise, the sports suspension makes the already-firm A-Class ride even harder. Car parks in this particular model are navigated gingerly, as any speed bump taken too quickly results in a bone-shattering crash and shudder. The sports seats don’t help much, either – they’re obviously constructed to extremely high standards and simply scream strong build quality, but, dear lord, they’re hard. Weirdly, this hard seat option is called the “Seat Comfort Package”.
Peel through these additions, though, and what you’re left with is a very well sorted luxury hatchback. Just as those seats, the cabin has been put together to exacting standards, with no panel gaps visible anywhere and all materials offering a solid, chunky feel. The dashboard is made of a carbon-fibre-esque plastic material, but it feels great, and sitting atop it is a small tablet-sized display with brilliant resolution. On the centre console, there’s a dial to control what you see on the screen, and, moving your eye up, you’ll note the very well finished air conditioning controls. And, on this model, there’s a fantastic panoramic sunroof flooding the cozy cabin with light.
You sit low and snug in the driver’s seat, with a chunky, sporty steering wheel in your chest. The wheel feels fabulous, the materials just the right mix of robust and soft. Behind it are small but grippy paddle shifters for if you want to shift gears manually. And just underneath is the all-metal starter switch – another nice touch. On the right side of the wheel is a US-style gear selector, while the left obviously features the indicator stalk. Headlight controls are relegated to a button underneath the wheel on the left side, but seeing as the lights come on automatically in the dark, you won’t need to worry about that.
In terms of the actual drive, the added sports suspension does redeem itself when it comes to handling prowess. The car feels extremely planted around corners, gripping harder and harder the faster you go, and because this model is so stiffly sprung, there’s no body roll whatsoever – this particular A250 Sport just devours corners as if they’re nothing. And, to be honest, the ride isn’t too much of an issue most of the time, given the amazingly smooth roads we have in the UAE.
The steering itself is very light. Flick the drive selection into Sport mode, and it’ll become a little heavier, but it still feels pretty much effortless to turn. The downside of this is that keen drivers will bemoan the lack of feel through the wheel. However, for most people, I reckon an easy steering rack is preferable. Plus, it adds to the persona that the A250 creates for itself – that it can take almost anything in its stride, effortlessly, and without you having to worry about the details.
It’s the same story when it comes to the engine, which offers more than enough power to be exciting. Make no mistake, this is a fast car, but it doesn’t feel blistering and angry when you floor the right pedal. Instead, there’s a satisfying surge of torque that hauls the car forward and presses you against the seats. There’s no tug on the steering whatsoever, even at full power (something that other fast hatchbacks struggle with) – the A250 simply goes exactly where you’re pointing it, and is happy to take all the punishment you can give it. Cabin noise is kept to a minimum, and there’s very little drama even when you’re accelerating to silly speeds.
The seven-speed automatic gearbox adds to the effortlessness – it’s really very good whatever you’re asking it to do. For trundling around town serenely, it’s as smooth as butter, but when you’re putting the pedal to the metal, it’ll hold on to gears longer to extract maximum power out of the rev range. You can operate the gearbox manually, using the paddle shifters, but really the car is at its best when it’s doing everything for you. Treat it like a loyal butler, and it’ll respond with impeccable driving service.
And that’s the thing with the A250 Sport. It’s billed as an exciting drivers’ car best suited to younger buyers – particularly this one with the sports options added. But while it is very quick and very good at taking corners, it’s best when you view it as a baby luxury car, an opulent small machine that offers the same sort of pleasure as any of Mercedes’ bigger cars do. Enjoy the speed, but don’t worry about all of that white-fists-clenched-around-the-steering-wheel malarky.
What’s more, you don’t even have to shell out so much for a slice of the A250’s luxury. Al Fahim Group’s Emirates Motor Company, the distributor of Mercedes in Abu Dhabi, is currently offering the A250 Sport from AED 139,900. That won’t get you some of the options that are fitted to our test car, but as stated earlier, the A250 Sport really is a great car without the options.
It’s a bruiser, the A250 Sport, but it’d rather you took it seriously as the professional that it is.