Cool hatch has mood lighting to match
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class went on sale with a hefty price jump - but with even heftier standard inclusions - over the model it replaced. The prestige small hatch made impressive strides forward in infotainment, safety, body styling and serious cabin cool.
We throw the three-pointed star keys of an A250 4Matic to our family of testers.
JULES: When I was growing up, Mercedes were old-people cars.
IAIN: No longer. Merc has a model to suit every size, use, niche and desire … if you can afford one.
JULES: I suppose the price accompanying a prestige badge has to remain.
IAIN: The A-Class range starts at $42,300 for a really well-equipped hatchback. The limited run A250 4Matic costs $49,500 and this one is optioned up to $57,440, more in line with the A250 now hitting showrooms at $54,800. We have a rorty 165kW turbo, all-wheel drive and lots of goodies for the privileged Merc owner.
JULES: It's sleek and subtle, if a tad plain.
IAIN: The drama comes in the cabin. Rivals are the Audi A3 Sportback TFSI quattro ($50,400), BMW 125i ($49,990) - or, if you prefer performance over prestige, VW Golf R ($57,190).
THE LIVING SPACE
JULES: I'm in love. For a "cheap" Mercedes, I expected a basic cabin but this is something else. The dashboard is like a spaceship's.
IAIN: Most striking are two 10.2-inch digital screens mounted side-by-side across the dash.
JULES: Fire up those screens and the ambient lighting, car sold. It's like a blissful mood room in here.
IAIN: How about those centre air vents? Three whopping circular things like jet engine intakes brimming with bling.
JULES: I was driving at night and they lit up like a funfair. You choose your favourite colour, then if you turn up the temperature they briefly go red, or blue if cooling it down.
IAIN: A tiered dashboard, carbon-fibre inserts, lovely feeling buttons, touchpad controller, wireless phone charging and USB-C ports for modern smartphones. It's bang up to date.
JULES: It's a steep learning curve. Gear shifter is on a stalk, seat controls on the door and navigating digital screens is, at first, boggling.
IAIN: It clicks into place with regular use though. And there's a trump card - let's talk about the M-BUX interface.
JULES: I love showing it off. Most people know about "Hey Siri" voice recognition on iPhones, and the A-Class has a similar set-up. You say "Hey Mercedes" and it asks how it can help.
IAIN: A bit Big Brother but it's like having your own little slave. You can ask it to open the sunroof, navigate or change the ambient lighting.
JULES: Tell it you're cold and it cranks up the temperature and turns the seat heater on.
IAIN: Back to normal car stuff - the seats are hard, aren't they?
JULES: They made my back ache on long trips.
IAIN: It cruises nicely, is well insulated and ride is firm but not harsh. Radar cruise control for the commute is absent but the included satnav and Apple CarPlay are wins.
JULES: A classy little car to pull up outside fancy shops. "Hey Mercedes, where's my credit card?"
IAIN: Does Woolworths count as a fancy shop?
JULES: The boot's big enough for the weekly shop, the turning circle is excellent for tight spots and cameras stop you bumping things. The boot lid is heavy.
IAIN: The mongrel AMG A-Classes are due shortly, so for now the all-wheel drive A250 is the performance choice. Unless you're planning track trips, it's really all you need.
JULES: Acceleration is belting but it could sound sportier.
IAIN: It hits 100km/h in 6.2 seconds - quicker than a VW Golf GTI - and its all-wheel drive and fancy multi-link rear suspension deliver impressive road holding and balance. Gear changes can be hesitant, so back roads are best enjoyed in Sport mode, using paddle-shifters.
JULES: Just enough space for our two kids in car seats but no rear air vents for them.
IAIN: They get blasted by the trio in the dash.
JULES: The kids tried to take charge of "Hey Mercedes". Not fun after a while.
IAIN: And our little girl insisted on Barbie pink out of the 64 ambient lighting colours.
JULES: Safety's really good, with autonomous emergency braking, blind spot assist and traffic sign recognition. But what's with lane keep assistance? It's so aggressive I thought we were crashing.
IAIN: Nothing subtle or gentle about it, it's noisy and harsh. If concentration has wandered, it jolts you to attention.
JULES: Mercedes demands driving perfection!
IAIN: Brilliant all-round package here. A sensible amount of performance for sporty driving but the cabin is the standout. Luxurious, intelligent and spectacular in terms of presentation and technology.
JULES: Not long ago a 30-something like me wouldn't dare consider an "old man" Mercedes. The new A-Class flips that on its head. Simply put, it's a very cool car completely in tune with modern life, no matter your age.
MERCEDES-BENZ A250 4MATIC
PRICE $49,500 plus on-roads
WARRANTY/SERVICING 3 years/unlimited km, $2480 for 3 years
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 165kW/350Nm
SAFETY 5 star, 9 airbags, AEB, rear camera, attention/parking/blind-spot/lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition
SPARE Repair kit