The fourth edition of the A-Class by Mercedes-Benz has been tweaked to make it even more appealing

(Feb 11): You would think that small cars would be bestsellers in a small country like Singapore. Ironically, the opposite is true. Big and bulky sport-utility vehicles are all the rage, squeezing out the pocket rockets and hatchbacks on our roads. So, for carmakers, it presents a hefty challenge to design a small car that will appeal to mainstream motorists, while making sure there is no compromise on the comfort, speed and luxury they expect from a bigger car. Could the new Mercedes-Benz A200 tick all these boxes?

This is in fact the fourth edition of the A-Class; so Mercedes has been given a few opportunities to tweak this entry-level car and make it more appealing. And if first impressions count, this is a serious contender for the best-looking small car on our roads. This A200 AMG version looks very sharp and modern, while also hinting at sportiness with its sleek curves at the front and rear. As far as hatchbacks go, this car definitely turns heads.

Although it is still very much a small car, the new A200 is slightly taller, wider and longer than its predecessor, thanks to a 30mm longer wheelbase. This means that the cabin space has grown a bit, as has the boot. If the outside raises your expectations for an equally impressive interior, then you will not be disappointed. It is so modern and hi-tech inside, you could call it space age. Grabbing centre stage is a giant instrumentation-infotainment screen that dominates the dashboard. Not only does it look modern and futuristic, but it is also one of the most sophisticated screens I have seen inside a car.

I had plenty of time to play around with it during an almost two-hour crawl on the accident-prone Pan-Island Expressway on a rainy weekday rush hour. The Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system is a new interactive tool that was launched in the A-Class range of cars. This is being premiered across the A-Class range of cars. It is similar to Siri or Google Home, but for your car. You can either give it a command and wait for the response, or flick through the interactive apps on-screen. Before asking any questions or issuing commands, just say, “Hey Mercedes”. For example, if you say you are hot, the car will respond by increasing the air con. You can also ask it to change the radio station, open the sunroof, switch on the satnav or even call your spouse.

You can also configure the instruments cluster (the panel behind the steering wheel) to suit your preference. Shift to fuel consumption graphics, differently sized maps or whatever display you want at the flick of a switch. I can see a millennial having lots of fun with the MBUX interactive screen. The touchscreen is very responsive and easy to use. If you are used to an iPad or other touchpads, then you will be at home with this screen. I liked pinching the 3D maps to see how lifelike the buildings were close-up. You can also play around with the different themes, colours and layouts.

A giant instrumentation-infotainment screen dominates the dashboard

Apart from experiencing the A200 in a city environment and crawling along an expressway, I also got to drive it on traffic-free roads to test out its new powerplant. This is a 1.3-litre, four-cylinder engine, which was co-designed with Renault but produced by Daimler (the parent company of Mercedes-Benz). Since this is a small car, it does not need a huge engine. But you still get a decent amount of power — 163bhp and 250Nm of torque — which comes in handy in short, sharp bursts when changing lanes and beating the lights, ideal for the urban landscape. The A200 is also pretty good when it comes to fuel consumption, using 5.6 litres per 100 km. The engine is very quiet in every mode, including sports.

Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG
$157,888 including COE
Engine: 1,332cc, in-line, four
Power/torque: 163bhp/250Nm
Fuel consumption: 5.6L/100km
0 to 100kph: 8 seconds
Top speed: 225kph

While Mercedes-Benz has had a few hits and misses with its new range of cars, I think the A200 easily belongs in the list of hits, and fairly near the top. Mercedes-Benz has always been a highly aspirational brand, and has been targeting young professionals with the A-Class. This group of motorists are still image-conscious but have budget constraints that often rule them out of German luxury cars. But the A200 is an entry-level car that is easier on the pocket, but still looks great and is stuffed with some cutting-edge technology. It is probably the most advanced car in its segment for connectivity and technology, which is becoming increasingly important for today’s new drivers.

Justin Harper is a freelance journalist with a passion for all things fast

This article appeared in Issue 868 (Feb 11) of The Edge Singapore.

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