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2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Test Drive Review
Entry-level German luxury has been a pretty well-defined category for years. If you cared about rear-wheel drive, you bought the BMW 2 Series. If all-wheel drive was your preference, there was always the Audi A3. And if you wanted to be disappointed, the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class was waiting for you.
Finally, Mercedes has taken the hint, and with the 2019 A-Class, it offers a worthwhile option in the class. With the CLA-Class, entry-level luxury means compromised performance, compromised quality, and even compromised comfort—which is exactly where a Mercedes should excel. But with the “new” A-Class, you’ll get some of the same features the most expensive Mercs sport, and some that even its mid-range models don’t offer, all for a very affordable price.
Look and Feel
Here in the States, the A-Class comes in only sedan form, but its real benefit is in its utility. Because it doesn’t feature the sloping coupe-like rear roofline of the CLA-Class, the backseat can actually be used by real, live adults.
The suspension offers a pleasant balance of performance and comfort, handling curves almost as well as it soaks up road imperfections. However, what’s sure to impress with the A-Class is its interior. Whether you’re talking about materials, fit and finish, or features, the A-Class delivers at a price that punches well above its rather svelte 3,330 pounds of weight.
There’s only one engine available to the A-Class, but the A 220 is available in front-wheel drive (FWD) or 4Matic all-wheel drive (AWD) configuration, for $32,500 or $34,500, respectively. From there, it’s all about the options you choose, and given that this little Merc offers some of the newest technology the firm has to offer, one can approach 50 grand with a small amount of effort. My test car was decked out with Mercedes-Benz's 4Matic AWD configuration and a healthy list of options. Cosmetics like a Mountain Grey Metallic paint job, black and red leather upholstery, and brushed aluminum trim added $2,320 alone, while the AMG Line package added $2,600 for a unique chrome grille, lowered suspension, drilled front brake discs, and unique AMG trim. The Premium Package increased the 7-inch touchscreen to 10.75 inches, filling out the infotainment screen's frame. It also added a complementary 10.75-inch instrument display, power-folding side mirrors, auto-dimming functionality for the rear-view and driver’s side mirrors, blind-spot monitoring, and keyless entry and ignition. For $2,100, this is a must-have package for the screen upgrade alone. But if you want navigation and the augmented video display, which shows your directions and traffic signs right on the screen in real time, that’ll be another $1,150, thankyouverymuch.
For a bit of extra safety, the Drive Assistance Package will add a full suite of semi-autonomous safety features that allow part-time, hands-free driving. It’s one of the better systems out there and is especially useful in stop-and-go traffic. For $2,250, it’s worth looking into, but it's a shame that it doesn’t include the Parking Assistance Package’s 360-degree camera and active parking assist since it uses the same technology. Adding that into the mix will raise your price by another $1,090.
From there, it’s all about personal preference. If you like the special, 19-inch AMG wheels that you see on my test car, they'll cost you another $500. LED headlights with adaptive high beams? $900. How about the 64-color ambient lighting? That’s another $310. Wireless charging with near-field communication (NFC) pairing is $200, a garage-door opener is $280 (come on, that’s been standard on some economy cars for decades), Sirius XM is $460 after a free trial period, and the Burmester surround sound system costs another $850. With a $975 destination charge, that means the walkaway price for my A 220 with AWD just crossed the 50-grand mark, at $50,485.
Two hundred horsepower used to be the accepted theoretical limit for a FWD car. People just couldn’t imagine the technological advancements that would be necessary for a car to put any more power to the ground while still managing to steer and brake effectively with the same two wheels. But today everyone from Acura to Volvo offers a FWD vehicle with that kind of power. That can make the A 220's 188 hp and 221 pound-feet seem a bit middling. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. With the 2.0-liter engine’s twin-scroll turbo, power comes on nearly immediately and is delivered in a largely linear fashion. The engine sounds great and has plenty of power, although there is a bit of drop-off at higher RPMs, which can present itself in some inopportune circumstances—like highway passing, for instance.
Usually, you can avoid power lags by using the standard paddle shifters, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case here. This transmission is slow to shift, and you’ll have to drop the 7-speed dual-clutch down several cogs to access the power you need. It’ll also stumble occasionally at slow speeds (something many cars with small engines and lots of gears struggle with), so you need to be confident when initially applying power. But this is a habit and style of driving you'll need to develop with nearly all dual-clutch transmissions, and it's part of the reason why I don’t usually recommend them except in ultra-high-performance vehicles. As long as you aren’t expecting this to be the quickest car on the road with the best response, it won't disappoint you.
Fuel economy is rated at 25 mpg city, 33 highway, and 28 combined. My week wasn’t a true test, as I turned off the engine's start-stop feature and put the car through its paces whether on the highway or on curvy mountain roads. Still, it managed a combined rating in the high teens during its week with me, and with more conservative driving I have no doubt it could at least come close to its EPA-estimated rating. What can I say? I was having a good time with the A-Class.
I’m more impressed by how the suspension does its job. The A 220 delivers the blend of performance and comfort I want in a daily driving sedan. The little bit of body roll you'll notice is more than made up for by the way this thing soaks up bumps with no drama at all, and the chassis can handle pretty much anything you throw at it. The 4Matic AWD version has a 4-link independent rear suspension, but FWD versions get a torsion-beam setup instead. A little tip if you don’t think you need AWD: Go with the optional 19-inch wheels you see on my test vehicle, and you’ll get the 4-link rear added as well.
Form and Function
Overall, I was very pleased with the form and function of the A-Class. It’s a well-built, well-designed sedan, and that’s an increasingly rare thing. It’s also not a behemoth of a car, but it still provides ample room for adults inside—another very rare commodity these days. I say these things up front because as a “new” car, I’m going to be quite picky with some very specific aspects of the A 220’s design and build. For instance, the unique door handle sits exactly where my knee wants to rest when I bring my left leg up a bit on longer drives. That’s frustrating, but should be an issue only if you’re a giant like me. And while the trunk looks adequate, it’s listed at just 8.6 cubic feet, so you’re going to have to drop a rear seat in order to get any golf clubs back there.
Likewise, in an interior that’s an absolute standout in the segment, I found some small issues. The A-Pillar cover and the roof-rail cladding were both quite poorly attached, to the point of rattling over hard bumps. The cupholders' mechanics also felt cheap, and these issues were made worse in contrast to the rest of the materials, which felt anything but. None of the buttons or switches or stalks felt cheap or loose, and I’d argue some even feel better than what you’d find in a more expensive Mercedes. In fact, this steering wheel was taken directly from higher up in the lineup (and that’s exactly how it should be).
I also wasn’t a big fan of the seats. I felt as though I was sitting on top of them, instead of in them, and I just couldn’t find a comfortable position even after several hundred miles of driving. I’m not especially wide either, so it’s not just my size. Even smaller passengers reported the same issue. And I was upset to find that the sun visors don’t extend back once you flip them over to block the side windows. That’s a small touch, but it makes a big difference. And for a final nitpick, I found the paddle shifters too close to the stalks behind the steering wheel, which I kept clipping every time I shifted up or down. This is an especially big shame, as the steering wheel is a real peach, with the Blackberry-style touch buttons on the left and right providing elegant control for nearly anything you want to do.
Technology is where the A-Class really shines. Spend the money, and you’re going to get as much tech as you'll find in a Mercedes costing twice as much. But you are going to have to spend the money, sometimes on the simplest things. For instance, bad form by Mercedes for charging extra just to access Sirius XM.
First up is the new MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) that lives within the dashboard's dual 10.75-inch screens. Split down the middle, the right half is a touchscreen, but you can also control it via either a miserable little touchpad or—more elegantly—the touch buttons on the steering wheel. This is the most configurable interface I’ve encountered yet, and it took me a good 30 minutes to really absorb everything.
The system is as quick and responsive as you’re going to find in a car today, and it has all the usual screens and displays you’d expect. But what sets it apart is how all of it can be customized within the driver’s display. Sure, you can switch between gauge display modes—traditional, sport, understated—but you can also forgo all that. Do you just want to see the navigation display? Pull it up, full screen. How about your power or fuel economy or distance until the tank is empty? Whatever you like, you can do it all. Each of the gauges can display whatever you want to see at whatever level you want to see them. I've been waiting for this kind of customization, and Mercedes-Benz has delivered it. Everything up to this point has been a half step at best. There’s even augmented video in the right-hand screen that will display street signs and directions in real time as you drive along the road.
The A-Class also has Mercedes’ newest version of voice recognition, and it contends with the best on the market. Mercedes boasts that it is a smart system, which allows for natural speech patterns. For instance, you don't have to use super-specific voice commands like, “Raise temperature 2 degrees.” Instead, you’d simply say, “Mercedes, I’m cold.” It’s fun and impressive, but it’s not perfect either. It still relies on pre-loaded commands, and as soon as you venture outside of those, the system gets lost. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely good. It’s just not “Alexa good.” Not yet.
Other standout features include 5 USB-C inputs and an almost infinitely configurable 64-color ambient lighting system. There are quirks like the "Energizing" seat kinetics system, which slightly and subtly changes your seating position on long drives to prevent cramping. Honestly, I didn’t even notice this working, and the seats remained uncomfortable for me, no matter what. I also had an issue with the wireless charging pad. You have to position your phone perfectly, otherwise it won't charge, and any spirited cornering or poor road surface would shift the phone enough to halt charging. There’s an included plastic arm that swings out over the phone to (supposedly) hold it in place, but it just sits about an inch above the phone, which doesn’t prevent it from moving out of its charging position, so I’m not sure of the point. I suppose it would prevent the phone from actually bouncing out of the wireless charging tray, but if the ride got that bumpy, I’d be worried about more important things than whether my phone has stayed in place.
With the available Driver Assistance package, the A-Class has about the best autonomous experience you can buy these days. We’re talking Tesla levels of autonomy here that allow you to take your hands off the wheel and let the car do the driving—at least until it starts yelling at you to put your hands back on the wheel. It absolutely changes the way you experience heavy traffic, and I had only a few issues where the car incorrectly interpreted lines while merging or entering the highway and fought back against my inputs.
That said, the system can definitely get confused in instances when you’re crossing traffic in the city, and it will throw beeps at you with no real indication as to what’s wrong, which can be quite the distraction. Similarly, I found the augmented video that displays a front camera feed with real-time traffic and navigation commands to be a very cool distraction. It’s neat, but it requires a lot of eye time not on the road, which just isn't safe.
Testing info is not currently available from either the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However, braking distances with the optional summer tires are quite good at 113 feet from 60 mph.
Is the Mercedes A-Class cost-effective? Well, that depends. Do you plan to spend 32 grand for your A-Class or 50 grand? You’ll get a hell of a lot of car for the money either way, especially considering the tech you get with that $50,000 price point is among the best and the most advanced on the market. But if you can control yourself when presented with the options list, you can take home a well-built, well-designed sedan for somewhere in the $30,000 to $35,000 range. Given the alternatives, it’s hard to say that isn’t a steal.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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