First Drive: 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan

SEATTLE, WA – It only takes a quick walk around and few moments behind the wheel to realize the all-new subcompact 2019 A-Class Sedan is a real Mercedes-Benz.

A great drive, and perhaps more importantly, a real Mercedes-Benz.

An obvious statement, you say? Yes, but looking at the Mercedes CLA sedan, under which the A 220 now slides, it was never truly “Mercedes” enough. It suffered from a cheap-ish interior, brittle ride, and pinched cabin. None of that with the 2019 A-Class Sedan. It may be Benz’s new entry-level offering, but there’s nothing entry-level about it.

Its lines are grown-up, elegant, and well resolved from every angle. With short overhangs and standard LED lighting both front and back, it sits on the pavement with a sense of purpose.

The first thing you’ll notice when sliding into the 2019 A-Class’ cabin is the long, free-standing glass panel that stretches across the dash. This houses the instrument cluster and infotainment display, with the number of pixels illuminated hinging on your budget. By way of explanation, the A 220 comes standard with a pair of 7-inch displays. Opt for the Premium Package and those displays stretch to 10.25 inches, essentially filling out the entire panel.

The big story here is MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience), the automaker’s new infotainment interface that replaces the long-serving Comand system. In a complete reversal of standard Mercedes practice, MBUX is making its debut in Mercedes’ smallest sedan. Historically, new tech has bowed in the top-dog S-Class and slowly trickled down through the ranks. Here we will see the “trickle up” effect.

So why start with the A 220? Quite simply because the targeted “affluent Millennial” demographic of the A-Class is considerably more tech-savvy, wired-up, and screen-obsessed than the aged S-Class patron. The concept of the first automotive infotainment interface with cloud-based functionality will likely, er, drift right over their heads.

The fact that during this media presentation Mercedes-Benz mentioned not one whit about how the A 220 drove, and referred to their new sedan as the “Ultimate Mobile Device” speaks volumes. Interestingly, this is M-B’s first use of a touchscreen.

So let’s look at MBUX. Mercedes says it represents the forefront of digitalization for the brand, being developed by the software team at Mercedes-Benz Research and Development in Seattle, Washington. As an engineer explained, computational power in a car is expensive, but much cheaper in the cloud. Plus, it is always updatable and expandable. Of course, this requires a data link, which Mercedes provides for three years with MBUX – the average length of a lease term.

With the advent of Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa, people love to talk to their devices. MBUX joins the game, and gamely tries to understand your every request and respond in kind. It all starts with the prompt “Hey Mercedes” after which the pleasant voice in the dash replies, “What can I help you with?” Beware, you can’t utter the word “Mercedes” within the cabin without MBUX jumping to attention.

If you say “I’m freezing”, Ms. Mercedes will turn up the heat. Ask for the nearest steakhouse with a five-star rating, and she’ll show you the way and read you the menu if such info is floating about the cloud. We whiled away the time by asking such things as “How high is Mt. Ranier?” and “Who did Prince Harry marry?” Proving Germans do have a sense of humour, the response to “Tell me a joke” was “Sorry, my engineers are German.”

Still, there were a number of times where more basic requests pertaining to the A 220’s functions flummoxed MBUX. It still feels like early stages.

Along with voice control, there are three other ways to navigate MBUX: the touchscreen, steering-wheel controls, and a touchpad on the console that mimics that of a laptop computer. The Mercedes Me Connect app gives remote smartphone access to numerous functions of the A 220, “meeting the needs of the always-on generation” (Mercedes’ words). MBUX will also adapt to your behaviour and driving patterns.

The screen’s graphics are impressively pin-sharp, and with some practice MBUX should become pretty easy to negotiate. A row of real buttons below the screen give analogue access to HVAC function, thank you.

But hey, if you actually want to drive the Mercedes-Benz A 220, it turns out to be a pretty fine little car – starting with a snazzy, high-quality cabin that in no way betrays its price point. Inside, it’s fresh and premium with tight tolerances, fine metal finishes, and comfortable front seats. The optional multi-faceted ambient lighting with its available 64 hues will wow you at night and make you want to go clubbing.

Standard with all A-Class sedans is a new 2.0L twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder engine dubbed the M260. It makes 188 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque from 1,600 rpm. Transmission duties are handled by a seven-speed 7G-DTC dual-clutch automatic. When this Mexican-built sedan arrives in Canada the first quarter of 2019, there will be a choice between the front-drive A 220 and the all-wheel-drive A 220 4Matic. Mercedes expects the 4Matic will account for over 90 percent of sales.

The turbo four-pot is a smooth operator, with no perceptible turbo lag, a linear power delivery, and a decent amount of shove for highway merging and brisk passing. Factor in the well-behaved seven-speed, fine steering feel, and a suspension set up that marries refined compliance with decently sporty handling, and you’ve got a small car with a grown-up feel.

We did notice some excess road noise on some surfaces, but most of the time the A 220 comported itself like a proper Mercedes-Benz. It puts the CLA sedan on the trailer in every conceivable parameter, rendering that swoopy creation essentially redundant. Unless you like its styling.

The cars at this event were US-spec pre-production models, loaded to the max with S-Class levels of luxury and safety systems.

The Canadian A 220 and A 220 4Matic will come standard with 17-inch alloys, panoramic sunroof, back-up camera, LED headlights and taillights, Artico faux leather, heated front seats with lumbar (power and memory for driver), keyless start, 40/20/40-split folding rear bench, rain-sensing wipers, heated windshield washers, MBUX with seven-inch displays, attention assist, active brake assist, and more.

As with all Mercedes vehicles, the Premium Package is a cleverly designed suite of features that round out the essentials of what makes a premium vehicle. You can do without, but very few customers do. Here, the Premium Package adds the 10.25-inch screens, blind spot assist, auto-dimming mirrors, rear cross-traffic alert, Linguatronic voice control, exterior power folding mirrors, proximity key, foot-activated trunk, wireless charging, and smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Navigation is still extra, as are a heated steering wheel, leather, and a Tech Package that includes adaptive cruise control and multibeam adaptive LED headlights. All cars at this event wore the Sport Package that bestows AMG body styling, 18-inch rolling stock, sport seats, sport brake system, metal shift paddles, sport Nappa leather steering wheel and AMG pedals.

It may be a small sedan but two adults will be reasonably comfortable in the back thanks to carved recesses in the backs of the front seats. Headroom is adequate and outward visibility quite good. Surprisingly, there’s a good size trunk with a large opening as well.

Mercedes-Benz has not announced Canadian pricing for the 2019 A-Class sedan as yet, but they tell us an A 220 4Matic with Premium Package should slide in under $40,000. If they can keep that assurance, the A will be a mighty enticing entry point into the brand. And don’t get scared off by all the Millennial-baiting tech – this little sedan is a great drive, and perhaps more importantly, a real Mercedes-Benz.

New baby Benz 10/4/2018 6:30:00 AM

Competitors:

BMW 2 Series Audi A3