2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan Review
A small part of me is disappointed again. For the second time in as many visits to Seattle, Washington, there wasn’t even a hint of rain. Instead, we were greeted by blue skies and warm, sunny weather and perfect driving conditions. I can live with that.
While we had little need for the 4Matic all-wheel drive or the rain-sensing wipers, the rest of the 2019 Mercedes-Benz A 220’s assets were on full display. Thankfully, our route gave us plenty of time and different environments to see what the A-Class was like in a variety of typical settings.
In the City
Our morning started off at the Thompson hotel in downtown Seattle, a posh place in the heart of Seattle’s hipster haven. While the city is busy and bustling, the A-Class is minimalist, a sleek, smoothed-over sedan shape with soft edges, long hood, short rear deck, and only a few subtle creases and angular headlights to hint at its sharp handling. The taller sedan greenhouse reclaims some outward visibility, making it easier to peek around corners coming out of alleys, spot pedestrians popping out between cars, and check blind spots.
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While Europe has an extensive history of A-Classes with which to compare this new model, we North American were only introduced to a subcompact Mercedes in 2013 with the CLA four-door coupé. Although the CLA is also essentially a sedan, its styling and positioning are more sporty, so it will remain on the market alongside the A-Class until a new replacement arrives. While hugely successful, the CLA 250 left a lot to be desired, with a cramped interior, rough ride, noisy powertrain, and questionable materials.
|Engine:||2.0L four-cylinder turbo|
|Output:||188 hp @ 5,800 – 6,100; 221 lb-ft @ 1,250 – 4,000 (A 220)|
|Transmission:||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Acceleration (0-62 mph/0-100 km/h):||7.2 seconds|
|Cargo:||14.8 cu-ft (420 L)|
|Arrival Date:||Winter 2019|
The A-Class makes huge improvements, especially in the interior, which is dazzlingly lit in colorful ambient lighting. At 179.1 inches (4,419 millimeters), it’s over three inches shorter than the CLA, but its 107.4-in. (2,729-mm) wheelbase is over an inch longer, meaning an adult can actually get their legs in behind taller drivers without too much trouble. My knees were still pressed up against the seatback set up for myself, but in the CLA it was hopeless, its rear seat living up to that coupe billing.
Meanwhile, the straight roof meant I could actually sit up straight in the back, even at 5’10”. It’s not spacious in the back seat, but it’s livable for adults and hospitable for kids. It’s not just bigger than the CLA, either, but also larger than the Audi A3 sedan, which will be its main competitor since BMW offers only a coupe and few other luxury brands play in this segment. It remains to be seen if anyone picks a sedan over the wide range of subcompact crossovers now flooding the market.
The trunk is surprisingly large at 14.8 cubic feet (420 L), with a generous opening for a small sedan, and standard 40/20/40 folding rear bench, making it as practical as it could possibly be for its size. Then again, the A-Class hatchback available in Europe and Canada is far more practical, but Americans won’t have to worry about choosing between them since the hatch won’t be offered in the US.
Get Outta’ Town
Even though it offers reasonable space, it’s still a small car, which makes it easy to maneuver in the tight confines of urban streets and parking lots, and in general, it’s an easy car to drive. Proximity keyless entry and start is a must have option, so you can just get in and fire it up with the key in your pocket or purse. Once you get used to the new-school column shifter, you can keep your hands on the wheel and easily tap the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission into gear. Unlike many dual-clutch transmissions, Mercedes’ 7G-DCT is smooth off the line, even when crawling and adjusting in parking maneuvers.
The first wave of A-Class models to arrive in the US will be the A 220 front-wheel drive and A220 4Matic all-wheel drive early next year, while Canadians get the A 250 hatchback before the end of this year. The heart of the A 220 is a 2.0L four-cylinder turbo with a mild 188 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. Although official weights have not been confirmed, it shouldn’t be far off the CLA’s sub-3,400-pound (under 1,540 kg) weight. With a quick transmission, all-wheel drive, and modest weight, the A 220 hits 60 mph in less than 7.2 seconds (0-100 km/h in 7.2 seconds). It’s just enough power for a car this size – any less and it would struggle, as it did on steep hills as you’ll find in Seattle’s downtown core, but the 221 lb-ft of torque comes on strong from 1,250 rpm to 4,000 to power it up the inclines.
Getting out of the maze of one-way streets and blind corners at the top of hills was another challenge we had to face, and the Mercedes’ A-Class brings a new feature to market that helped make the navigation guidance a little bit clearer: augmented reality. When approaching a turn, the nav system displays a video feed from the front-facing camera on the screen with a big blue label for the street and arrows that flash and guide you to the correct turn. It’s ridiculously cool, but still flawed in this first application.
Although having to look at the screen while trying to make a turn in traffic is distracting, it’s no worse than someone looking at any other navigation map for a countdown to turn or tiny smartphone screen. A bigger problem was the underlying route guidance’s late warnings for turns, sometimes getting prompts to turn now when I was already past a missed turn or after I had almost completed the turn, and once giving no instruction at all for a split on an exit ramp. Nothing beats guidance in a head-up display, so I look forward to Mercedes incorporating this augmented reality right on the windshield in the line of sight.
After several detours and rerouting, we made it out of the city and down into rural Washington, eventually cutting inland and crossing through Mt. Rainier National Park. As we skirted the snowcapped summit, the roads began to wind back and forth and we had a chance to press the A-Class to find out its dynamic character. The platform underpinning the A-Class is a new generation that will usher in a wave of eight new small cars and crossovers. In the A-Class it’s mated to front MacPherson struts and four-link rear axle with three suspension setups for different tastes. The basic setup is the comfort suspension, cars with the AMG Package have a lowered suspension, and the most advanced setup features adaptive dampers (although adaptive dampers will not be available in Canada at launch).
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On the road, the A-Class surprised us with its broad spread of shock absorption on rough roads and impressive composure when pushed hard on the curving tarmac skirting Mt. Rainer and alongside the Yakima River Canyon Road. Dynamic Select offers Eco, Comfort, and Sport mode that tweak the steering, powertrain, stability control, and adaptive dampers on models so equipped.
An Individual mode allows different settings for different systems. Switching to Sport mode for carving up some fun roads makes the throttle response more immediate, shift points later, and adds a bit of weight to the steering, although the steering is also nicely balanced in comfort mode, quick enough and not too light or heavy. Along with the firm, sporty suspension tuning, the A 220 was good for a bit of fun whether you shift your own gears via the paddle shifters or let it sort out the ratios for itself. The power, which reaches its crescendo at 5,800 rpm, is enough if kept at high revs, but passing maneuvers at high speed take some time to execute.
More importantly, it’s still accommodating on bumpy, rough roads, and even takes the edge off on cobblestone streets like Seattle’s Pike Place. However, when hitting larger bumps, the small wheelbase and lowered suspension means the car can get upset, bucking a bit, but it settles back down quickly and goes back about its business, and again the transmission returns to a docile, seamless automatic mode.
Eventually, it’s time to return to Seattle by way of the Interstate, and we settle in at a steady pace using the A 220’s Intelligent Drive suite. Adaptive cruise maintains speed but slows when approaching traffic, when detecting lower speed limits, or even when entering curves. Without adaptive cruise engaged, the lane keep assist uses selective wheel braking to yank you back into your lane if you stray, but with cruise enabled, the steering gently pilots you along in your lane.
The safety net of adaptive cruise affords us the opportunity to play with the A-Class’s killer app: the MBUX infotainment system. There’s just too much going on to cover every facet of it here, so we’ll come back to it for its own story, but I’ll cover the basics. It’s a dual screen setup, with one functioning as a digital instrument cluster and a central screen houses the full infotainment system, each of them 7 inches in base cars and 10.25 inches on upgraded models. The system is accessible via touchscreen, touchpad on the steering wheel, a trackpad on the centre console, or voice command. No system is perfect, but if you can’t find one of those easy enough for your liking, you really aren’t trying.
The graphics are outstanding, and despite multiple layers of menus, they’re well organized and visually pleasing to navigate, with several different themes and more functions than I could explore even over a full day of driving. The console trackpad was my least favorite, often plagued by delayed responses, but I appreciated that next to the pad there were shortcut buttons for navigation, audio, and more. The steering wheel controls were slick, the set on the left spoke bringing up different menus in the digital gauge cluster (and this is the only way to control this screen), and the ones on the right offering complete control of the central infotainment screen. The voice command is truly next-gen, its natural language processing supported by powerful cloud computing, but basic functions still accessible even when out of range of a satellite data connection.
Still, despite all the processing power and endless functions, the centerpiece is still the 590-watt, 12-speaker Burmester surround sound system, which fills the cabin with your preferred soundtrack. Although the audio system is powerful, and wind noise and engine noise kept to a minimum, the tire noise on Washington state’s highways was loud and forced us to pump up the volume to obnoxious levels.
The Verdict: 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan Review
While Mercedes has announced pricing for some packages, we don’t yet know the base price, so it remains to be seen if the A-Class can deliver value along with its wealth of assets. It looks good, the interior is functional and appealing, tech content is off the charts, and it handles well without sacrificing comfort. A bit more power would be welcome and there were a few hiccups with the navigation and infotainment system that brought on the occasional frustration.
Driving enthusiasts will certainly want to hold out for the more powerful AMG 35 or AMG 45 versions that are expected, but anyone looking for a small luxury car loaded with tech should absolutely check out the 2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 when it arrives early next year.
Discuss this story on our Mercedes-Benz A-Class Forum
- Modern, minimalist styling
- Handles well in city and backroads
- Tech orgy
- Navigation prompt timing
- Barely enough power
- Column wand shifter
Jonathan eats, sleeps, and breathes cars. A family man through and through, Jonathan brings over 10 years of experience evaluating cars with a focus on the details that parents will be grateful for, and cars that drivers will appreciate.
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