Some three and a half years ago, Mercedes ditched its hugely practical “original”A-Class, a vehicle much-loved by older members of the fair sex, and presented a startled world with a completely new take that put style before practicality.
Given the relative freshness of the “new” model, it may come as a surprise that a re-worked model range is now entering M-B dealer showrooms, a reflection if ever there was one, of how much shorter model life cycles have become.
That range consists of the A200d and A220d, the A200 and A250 Sport and the bullyboy AMG A45 4MATIC. Note that the wheel has come full circle with the diesel models thankfully returning to a simple “d” suffix.
You could be forgiven for struggling to spot the external differences of the refreshed model, but these are primarily centred around a re-profiled front bumper, and tweaked grille trim up front, while down the back, re-shaped lamps are joined by re-configured lower bumper trim which incorporates dual tailpipes. Inside, there’s a smarter feel to the cabin thanks to the use of upgraded materials and revised colours, not to mention a new steering wheel design. Overall, the feel is more premium than before but don’t get the idea that the A-Class is now plush. What the new models do offer though, is alternative finishes dubbed Style, Urban or Exclusive. Hats off to M-B for offering such alternatives in place of a take or it leave it approach which once prevailed.
On the launch day, I drove three models, namely the A220d, the AMG A45 and the A250 Sport, all on the road and on Killarney race track. The 2.1 litre diesel motor in the 220d had struck me in the past as being a little gruff under load but in this latest application, complete with an extra 5kW to take it to 130kW, it did its work with greater refinement and for the most part, even at idle, disguised its diesel origins extremely well. In fact, it got round Killarney with a surprising turn of speed too.
The 155kW offered by the A250 may seem a little mean these days but this engine is tuned to deliver good mid-range pull and an effortless feel, something it achieved to my complete satisfaction on the track and on the motorway. If you don’t demand much action above 5 000 rpm, you’ll like the 250 just as you’ll like the way in which the 7-speed DCT transmission – also on the A220d – feels smoother and more certain of itself than in early applications.
Talk of the AMG A45 and doff your cap to the world’s most powerful production 2.0 litre which produces a truly stunning 280kW (up by 20kW) and a torque peak of 475Nm. The outright grunt is exceptional as a 0-100 time of just 4.2s tells you, but this motor isn’t all about top end. It offers surprising shove and tractability from fairly low revs and in conjunction with lower gear ratios and an infinitely more positive shift from the 7-speed DCT gearbox, it provides a truly exhilarating drive and an exhaust burble to die for. Sure, on the bumpier mountain roads we traversed, the ride – despite considerable adjustability -is always on the firm side but with it comes excellent control and uncanny resistance to body roll, something that was very evident when lapping Killarney at decidedly high speeds.
It goes without saying that the revised A-Class is thoroughly well kitted out with active and passive safety aids and like most cars from the Fatherland, it’s also offered with a host of optional extras that can be sussed out on the aforementioned web page. The latest changes may indeed be hard to spot in isolation, but for the most part, they make the A-Class an even more appealing form of transport for those who enjoy their motoring without a posse of passengers on the back seat. As for the AMG A45 4MATIC, it’s more ballistic still, but its virtues come at a price.
BASE PRICING AS AT FEBRUARY 2016:
A200 R389 200
A250 Sport R491 500
A200d R419 200
A220d R460 100
AMG A45 4MATIC R683600