The next generation of Mercedes-Benz compact is here and it has big shoes to fill.
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder
Output: 221 hp, 258 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 7-Speed Dual Clutch Auto
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive or 4Matic all-wheel drive
Fuel Economy: TBA
Price (USD): TBA, $30,000 (estimated)
Price (CAD): TBA, $35,000 (estimated)
A quarter of all Mercedes cars sold are compact cars and even though the outgoing vehicles certainly looked luxurious, they didn’t exude Mercedes quality. Fortunately, the brand has gone back to the drawing board and designed a car that’s far more deserving of the badge on the grille.
The new Mercedes A-Class not only rectifies many of the criticisms of the old compacts but also delivers a whole suite of innovative, exclusive technologies that will make the car stand out to buyers.
The hatchback looks good, with a sharply sculpted front end that graciously incorporates many of the cues from the recent CLS, a sedan that has long been the flagship style-oriented Mercedes. Canadian buyers will get standard LED lights and will get to choose from 17- or 18-inch wheels. In an effort to make the car more aerodynamic and efficient, the wheels feature two-tone spoke designs that help to reduce turbulent air going around the vehicle.
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Powertrain Gets Updated and Refined
Under the hood is a new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that makes 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. It features two efficiency-focused features called Conicshape and Camtronic. The former has to do with the cone or trumpet shape of the cylinder lining while the latter is Mercedes’ new variable valve cam timing system.
The direct-injection turbocharged engine is a highlight of the A-Class and is full of character. It is mated to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission that can send power solely to the front wheels or to all four wheels if buyers opt for the 4Matic models. In the older and A-Class based CLA and GLA 250 models, the dual clutch transmission was unrefined and clumsy, making it a primary source of frustration. The transmission in the new A-Class is refined and features quicker and smoother shifts than the old one. It still has a few quirks, like rolling back on a hill and some hesitation on high rpm (but not full throttle or redline) upshifts, but this gearbox is far better and liveable than the outgoing one.
The all-wheel-drive cars have also received a few refinements as well. The car will now activate the rear-axle upon take off before transitioning all the power up to the front wheels for improved efficiency. When the situation calls for it, the system will send up to 50 percent of the available power to the rear wheels. The rear axle differential now also uses an electro-mechanically operated multiplate clutch instead of an electro-hydraulic unit, which should improve efficiency and responsiveness as well.
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Rides More Like a Luxury Car
Another interesting change to the A-Class’ suspension is that the rear axle is mounted on a subframe that is isolated from the bodyshell by rubber bushings. This helps reduce noise and vibrations and makes a big difference on the road, especially in comparison to the outgoing Mercedes compacts.
The small A-Class is nimble and agile, while also being smoother and softer on the road. This makes it feel and act consistently with what you’d expect in a Mercedes. The steering lacks feedback, but it’s well weighted and still enjoyable to handle. There are different drive modes that provide changes to the way the car feels, but the more interesting option is the individual setting that allows you to customize different characteristics of the vehicle.
New Infotainment System Takes Over COMAND
It drives well, but that only appeals to a small niche of car buyers. What most buyers will really fall for what is happening inside the car, specifically with the infotainment and connected technology. The replacement for the old rotary-dial-operated Mercedes COMAND system is here, and it’s called MBUX. It’s a beautiful infotainment system that combines a 10-inch screen in front of the driver and a 10-inch touchscreen in the center of the dashboard. There is a pretty responsive touchpad and two additional touchpads on the steering wheel, but you don’t really have to use those because the interface is pretty intuitive to use with touch controls.
Beyond that is a digital assistant that is similar to things like Google Home and Amazon Alexa. By just saying, “Hey, Mercedes” or a similar command, you can tell the car to do various functions throughout the cabin. What’s really cool is that you don’t need a list of commands, just say something and it’ll pick it up. Saying “Mercedes, I’m cold” will cause the system to turn up the heat. You can tell it to turn on your heated seats, change the ambient lighting, change the radio station, ask it about the weather or if you need an umbrella and even ask it for a joke or thoughts on a competitor’s vehicle (for a snarky fun message). It’s surprisingly well done and well integrated. Asking for the best ice cream spot in Split, Croatia, saw it pull up the location with the highest Yelp rating (it was called Luka’s Ice Cream and Cakes and was very good, earning extra brownie points).
For the techies reading this, the infotainment system is a hybrid. It has its own Nvidia-powered processor and can attempt to decipher your commands onboard, so you don’t need an online connection to get good results, but it will also compress the recorded audio of your voice command and send it up to the cloud where it’s processed by a more powerful and clever system. That is beamed back to the car, where a decision will be made, trying to figure out what you were trying to get the system to do.
It works pretty quickly, and best of all, it’s adaptive. It learns from your frequent commands, and if you have a routine, like calling your mom at a certain time of the week, the car will remind you to do so. If you tend to go to the gym after work, it’ll set up a route and tell you about the traffic on the way.
There’s also Mercedes Me App connectivity, allowing owners perform a number of controls remotely through their smart-phone. The app even works with Amazon Alexa and Google Home, so you can use those home systems to tell the app to precondition your A-Class’ cabin. It’s pretty tight integration and feels like the next generation.
The tech doesn’t stop there, though. The car is packed full of features and customization. It has themes and different screen setups. It has an augmented navigation option that is a killer app. When using guided navigation, the car will display the video feed from the front-facing camera on the center screen (which is usually used for parking and driver assistance) and then overlay the navigation instructions on top of that. It’s downright amazing to see in action and will result in far fewer missed turns.
Additionally, the car has a stunning digital dashboard that sets a benchmark in how these kinds of gauge clusters should be done. It has an incredible amount of variability and is controllable via the left touchpad on the steering wheel, while the touchpad on the right can also control the center screen. You can get the driver’s screen to display an entire map, or just put that map in a small segment of the screen. You can see media information with album covers, or important data like trip and fuel economy information.
Compact Car Interior with Mercedes Flair
In comparison, the rest of the cabin is just OK. Design-wise, it’s pretty nice, with stylish circular vents and well-placed buttons and toggle switches. The materials in the vehicle still feel a bit below the standard of what you’d expect in a Mercedes, but they’re not painfully cheap-feeling. The A-Class has good headroom throughout the cabin, although that will likely change in the transition from a hatchback body style to a sedan. There’s a big, spacious trunk with a wide opening that features 370 liters of space, which is good enough for a golf bag. Adding to the versatility of the vehicle, the rear seats fold down with a 40/20/40 split.
It’s a huge deal for such a small car to feature so much impressive technology. It’s even more impressive that it’s also affordable. Based on its competition and the past Mercedes compacts, this car should start around the $35,000 mark or less, which is a pretty strong argument against other premium compacts.
Interestingly enough, this is the first time the A-Class hatchback is heading to North America, as it will be on Canadian roads this fall. Americans won’t be getting the hatchback, but are more likely to get the recently revealed A-Class sedan. It’s also important to recall that the last A-Class was the basis of the GLA and CLA. If those nameplates continue, the new A-Class is foreshadowing a lot of important products.
The Verdict: 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Review
With the new 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class, the automaker has completely rewritten the luxury compact car. Not only is it good looking, but it’s filled with technology that you can’t find anywhere else in this industry, let alone at this price point. The various refinements also add up to make this a very interesting car, and one that is easy to recommend.
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