MERCEDES-BENZ A220 CDI AMG SPORT: Back on track

AS the Monty Python chaps would say, and now for something completely different…..

No longer does the Mercedes-Benz entry level model fall over and wave its wheels in anguish at the sight of a roadside Elk. In fact the latest model to carry the name is so well sorted it’s almost race track ready.

But then the model we’ve been sampling is the AMG Sport version, the German tuning experts now more fully involved and adding their name to a number of cars in the new line-up.

Being completely different from the car it replaces has taken the A-Class back to a more mainstream profile, and it’s certainly not as distinctive as its predecessor.

One critic even likened it to BMW’s 1 series, probably not something the hierarchy at Mercedes would want to hear, but if you squint you can perhaps see where the comment  came from. There’s perhaps an outward similarity but that’s where the comparison ends.

The new baby Merc is a refreshing leap forward, and none more so than on the inside, and it is now a serious alternative to the other premium brands. Sorry, but the old A-Class just wasn’t.

So it’s back to the conventional after the boxy original, and it marks a return to form for Mercedes, coming hot on the heels of the much improved B Class tested last year.

Prices kick off at £18,945 for the A180 BlueEFFICIENCY Standard, with the car sampled here, the A220 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY AMG SPORT, weighing in at £27,170 – plus the small matter of £9,000 worth of extras. Some fairly essential, like active park assist, Bi-Xenon headlights, blind spot assist, others merely cosmetic like illuminated door sills and the AMG Exclusive upholstery package. Put it all together and you’ve got a £36 grand car tailored to your own individual requirements.

The A-Class in standard form here is hardly a bargain basement vehicle in any event. The smart new body has handy touches you’ll appreciate in winter like electric heated door mirrors with integrated LED indicators, and in AMG trim, new front and rear aprons and side skirts to give the car an altogether  more purposeful stance.

And when it comes to safety Mercedes seem to have bought up the world’s stock of vital equipment. A-Class has Active Bonnet – a pedestrian safety measure that detects an impact and raises the bonnet by 65mm; Adaptive Brake Assist; Attention Assist; Collision Prevention Assist; crash-responsive emergency lighting; Headlamp Assist; in fact, if you need assistance, there’s more than likely something in here to assist you.

The interior of the A-Class is uber-smart, with its carbon fibre look swathed across the dash area and very neat red stitching to the leather, though I can’t say I’m a lover of the cruciform air vents across the dash – a bit down market in what is otherwise a very classy interior, and I wasn’t a fan of the rear threequarter view over my right shoulder because there was a big B pillar there obstructing my view.

What more can we say about a car that tells you if you’re too close to the car in front, warns you when you deviate from your lane, and which has an electronic handbrake that works in exactly the opposite way you’d expect it to – you push it to put it on and pull it to release it. Crazy Germans.

Headroom is not as good as the old A-Class as the large glass roof here makes inroads into the space available. If you’re tall you may need to recline the seat back a little more than normal.

Another Marmite (you either love it or hate it) moment is the COMAND seven inch sat nav screen, which is mounted onto the face of the dashboard. To me it looks like an afterthought, like they designed the dash, signed it off and them realised they’d forgotten to build in the sat nav. ‘Doh’ moment.

The auto box is accessed via Mercedes’ unique lever on the right hand side of the column. Up for reverse, down for drive, and press the button on the end for park, though there are paddles on the flat bottomed steering wheel so you can play with the seven speed auto box.

What you get are super-smooth gear changes and overall the 2.2 litre diesel acquits itself well, the 350Nm of torque giving very acceptable acceleration, with its sharp steering, lack of body roll and apparent high levels of grip making it a car to enjoy driving, and not merely just a method of getting from A to B.

It makes for an interesting choice – Audi A3, Volvo V40, the new VW Golf or the revitalised A-Class? Heads will be scratched.

FASTFACTS: Mercedes-Benz A220CDI BlueEFFICIENCY AMG SPORT; £27,170; 2143cc 4 cylinder diesel, 170hp, 350Nm torque; seven speed automatic; top speed 137mph, 0-62mph 8.2 secs; fuel – urban 52.3, extra urban 74.3, combined 64.2. CO2 115g/km; Will it fit the garage? 4292mm/1780/1433 (length/width/height).

Wheelwrite 2013.

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