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Mercedes A-class facelift review, test drive

22nd Dec 2015 9:00 am

Small visual changes and updated tech round off the upgrades to Mercedes’ sharp-looking hatchback.

  • Make : Mercedes-Benz
  • Model : A-Class

What is it?

It’s Mercedes-Benz’s last new launch for 2015, the A-class facelift. However, like the Range Rover Evoque facelift that was launched last month, the Mercedes hatchback was given mechanical updates previously, and so this facelift is primarily a cosmetic upgrade. The stylish A-class, arguably, didn’t need any improvement in the looks department, but like the B-class facelift launched in March 2015, the changes do bring it closer in line with Mercedes’ new design language.

Let’s run through the changes. At the front are new, full-LED headlamps, a new bumper and a black, rather than chrome, finish for the ‘diamond’ grille. The big chrome three-pointed star, of course, still dominates proceedings here. The rear bumper is new too, with the exhaust tip now concealed, there’s a sharper-looking motif within the tail-lamps and, in accordance with Merc’s new model nomenclature, the badge on this diesel car now says ‘A 200d’ rather than ‘A 200 CDI’.

The other interesting bit is that the standard wheel size is now 16 inches, although 17- and 18-inch designs are on the options list. As you’ll see later, this has had a bearing on how comfortable you are inside the car, but from an aesthetic standpoint, Mercedes has been clever to disguise the smaller wheel size with a glossy black colour, which goes really well with the new Elbaite Green paint shade for the car itself.

What’s it like inside?

Still a very good blend of luxurious and sporty, with materials of the highest quality all around you. The theme is all-black as before, but it’s livened up by a clever use of colours and textures. For example, all the leather is double stitched in a contrasting colour, while the part-leather, part-fabric seats have really cool colourful inserts. Finally, there’s a beautiful soft-leather texture on the dashboard, onto which the chrome AC vents are fixed. The steering wheel is the one from the CLA and C-class, as are the dials with their new colour trip computer screen between them. What we really love though is that Mercedes has upgraded the COMAND system to the latest version, and housed it inside a nice, high-resolution seven-inch screen; the small old unit looked and felt cheap to operate.

As before, this being a hatchback, space is not one of its strengths. The front seats are snug and sporty with a single-piece backrest, you sit quite low down, and finding an ideal driving position is a little tricky if you’re not too tall. At the back, the bench is carved out into two individual bucket seats, and even if you do find the legroom, headroom and width sufficient, the small windows and tall sills detract from any sense of space. Similarly, the view forward is marred by the large front seats, and the already poor rear visibility is made worse by wing mirrors that have very poor reach. Moreover, the boot isn’t the biggest and most of it is taken up by the space-saver spare tyre, which limits its ability on weekend road trips.

On the equipment front, you’re treated to quite a lot of stuff – Dynamic Select drive modes, engine stop-start, LED headlamps, paddle shifters, six airbags, sat-nav and a sunroof. That said, only the driver’s seat is powered, there’s no automatic climate control, and while there is a rear-view camera, there are no parking sensors.

What’s it like to drive?

The 134bhp, 30.59kgm ‘200d’ engine is the same 2.1-litre, four-cylinder engine used in most Mercedes-Benz cars, but in a lower state of tune. It’s still a huge improvement on the old 107bhp ‘180 CDI’ version the A-class was launched with. The A 200d doesn’t feel punchy or rev-happy, but what it does instead, is deliver a strong, linear surge of torque. It’s decently refined too, unless you really rev it up, at which point, it sounds a little coarse. The best part of the powertrain package is the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It rushes through the first two gears to get the car off the line quickly when you want it to, and this doesn’t affect low-speed driveability much either, because the shifts are so smooth and quick. The responsiveness of the gearbox really lets you get the most out of the motor.

The thing about those new 16-inch alloys is that they wear higher-profile tyres than the older wheels – 205/55 R16 – and that plays a huge role in turning one of the harshest-riding compact luxury cars around into one of the best. Yes, the suspension was raised and tweaked from its original state in a previous A-class update, but the tyres are the final piece in improving the ride. You can feel the suspension’s inherent stiffness (in fact, this helps it corner quite tidily), but the taller tyres absorb a lot of the sharper edges. That said, for all the stiffness, you do get a bit of vertical movement driving over a rutted road. The steering is reasonably sharp and makes diving into corners with the A-class quite a lot of fun.

Should I buy one?

At Rs 24.95-25.95 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai) the A-class is your ticket to the Three-Pointed Star club, and what a ticket it is. For it to draw buyers out of their sensible executive sedans and seven-seat SUVs in the same price range, it has to tug at their heartstrings and win over their emotional, rather than their rational side. It certainly looks the part, and when you get inside, you’ll feel you’ve got your money’s worth – at least in the front seat. We wouldn’t go so far as to call it the last word in driving enjoyment, but it’s decent fun from behind the wheel. For self-driving owners looking for a compact luxury car with not too much concern for space and practicality, the A-class is a great pick.

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