This isn’t the first A-Class Mercedes, but it is a completely new car, a smart and stylish four-door hot hatch aimed squarely at a younger buyer. Where the earlier A-Class was a highly awkward (and as yet uncopied) triumph of packaging that gave large car space on a tiny footprint, the new A-Class is longer, wider and much more conventional in layout — a full-sized four-door hatchback, with a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels.
The true spiritual successor to the original A-Class is the current B-Class, which continues its tall, narrow form and high seating position. The challenge was, can Mercedes build a contender for the fiercely competitive hot-hatch market, and still make it a Mercedes? Can they really make a car with the ride, technology and quality of the rest of their range, yet inject enough vim and fizz to entice younger buyers away from the obvious German rivals? On first acquaintance, the A 250 Sport (all UAE-spec cars will be Sport versions) may very well do just that.
First things first. The exterior style is certainly bold, wide, low and long, with a brand new diamond grille design at the front, a squarish front that looks like a squashed ML, a curvy and well resolved rear, and an affected curved crease on the sides that would not look out of place on a Bangle design or the side of a Hyundai. However, like all new things, this shape resolves better with familiarity, and at the end of a day getting to know the A 250 Sport, this may well be one of the best-looking Mercedes yet.
It is a shape that works well in strong colours, and the abundant red highlights (front splitter, brake callipers, cabin accents, seatbelts, headlamps, stitching and air vent bezels) do give it an unmistakable air of purpose.
Does it live up to the visual hype? First impressions are good. The sports seats (in our car trimmed in real Alcantara) certainly grip well, and the driver’s seat offers a good range of adjustment once you find the various (manual!) levers and wheels. Drilled alloy pedals add to the sporty effect, as do red needles in the twin instrument dials. The rest of the cabin is finished in a mixture of real brushed alloy, fake carbon fibre, good-quality soft-touch plastics and proper leather.
The gear lever is column-mounted but you quickly get used to it, and there are paddles behind the wheel for use when in Manual mode. There are two further driving set-ups selected via a button on the centre console, the default Eco, and a third setting named Sport.
Ignore the Eco setting. It is pointless in a car with such overtly sporting intentions, and makes driving a frustrating and difficult experience. Eco pegs the engine and throttle response back to such a degree that it takes all the life and fun out of the experience. If you want to save the planet that much, buy a bicycle. But you can take comfort from the A 250’s remarkable fuel efficiency — in normal motoring, it provides a positively frugal 6.1 litres-per-100km fuel consumption.
Sport it is then. The engine is turbocharged, its two litres generating a competitive 211bhp, but much more impressive is the torque, a whopping 350Nm in full. That means instant response and easy overtaking on demand, which is as it should be. The engine spins smoothly, offers very little audible feedback, and never feels strained.
Drive goes to the front wheels through a seven-speed DCT dual clutch automatic transmission, assisted in getting the power down by a system called “Extended Traction Control” (XTC). It is an effective combination, though launch is still a relatively leisurely affair. Floor the throttle, and there is an initial chirp from the front wheels, before everything settles down, the turbo spins up and the engine gets into its stride. Once rolling, acceleration is strong and linear, and you can expect to see the 100kph mark in around 6.6 seconds. Top speed is limited to 240kph.
The steering is electro-mechanically assisted but offers plenty of feel, and is further aided by Electronic Stability Control. Wheels are AMG-design five-spoke 18in affairs, and show off the red brake callipers nicely. The Sport package comes with AMG-tuned suspension, which lowers and stiffens the ride, but on our smooth tarmac that was never an issue. Grip is prodigious, with any tendency to understeer well controlled. This is an extremely well-sorted drive set-up.
The A 250 Sport comes with an impressive list of technology, as is the Mercedes way, including as standard a radar-based Collision Prevention Assist, a first for the class. Other safety systems include Brake Assist, and the comprehensive Pre-Safe occupant protection package is available. LED lights are becoming ubiquitous and feature here, as do a host of driver aids and warning systems.
But it is the driving experience of the A 250 that most impresses. Sure, it doesn’t have the bank-vault solidity of its larger brethren, but instead offers something new — the plethora of technologies for which Mercedes is renowned, wrapped up in a compact and responsive package with wide appeal.
But in many ways the most remarkable aspect of the whole experience is that you can put a brand new three-pointed star on your driveway at a price of around Dh136,000. That’s very impressive indeed, for what is undoubtedly a very real Mercedes. The A 250 Sport will go on sale here on April 15, 2013. Form an orderly queue.