Test Drive: Mercedes-Benz A180 Manny de los Reyes February 28, 2020 Automotive, Test It’s challenging for me to write an objective review of Mercedes-Benz’s A Class. I’ve always had a soft spot for over-achieving small cars—whether it’s a Mini Cooper or a Honda Jazz. What more if it’s a Mercedes-Benz? And no, I’m not being brand-conscious. We all know what the esteemed German brand stands for—and it’s certainly not for simply flaunting one’s wealth. The A Class, after all, stands right at the start of Mercedes’ alphabetical nomenclature—which means that it’s pretty much at the entry-level of the German carmaker’s hierarchy of exceptionally engineered automobiles. So, even if I could theoretically afford a P10 million-plus flagship Mercedes S Class, would I still buy—and more importantly, drive—an A Class that costs a quarter of its S Class sibling? Hell, yeah. Here are the reasons why. I appreciate small well-engineered cars that deliver exemplary performance. If they look great, then that only amplifies their appeal. The A Class delivers on all counts. Not from the very beginning, mind you. The first-generation A Class (W168, which was produced from 1997 to 2004) was short, tall and frumpy-looking. It was the first Mercedes-Benz to have front-wheel drive—and it became notorious for a Swedish car magazine’s “moose avoidance test,” wherein the A Class flipped over. (Mercedes subsequently reengineered the car’s suspension and added electronic driver assist aids.) The second-gen A Class (W169, from 2004-2012) was much better executed in all aspects—but it still wasn’t a looker. The third-gen A Class (W176, from 2013-2018) was the ugly duckling that turned into a swan. It was simply a head-turner, with a long wheelbase, all four wheels pushed to all four corners, and a long, low, planted stance. It was a whopping 18 inches longer than its predecessor, had a six-inch longer wheelbase, and was a stunning six inches lower in height. The awkward A Class now looked sportier than a Mini Cooper. And it had the speed to match its looks—the flagship A45 AMG model bristled with a turbo 2.0-liter engine pumping out 380ps and 475Nm of torque! It was a hot hatch of the highest order. Which makes for even higher expectations for the all-new fourth-gen A Class. Now internally known as W177, it still comes with various engine and transmission combinations (it also shares its platform with the gorgeous new CLA), although we only get three A Class variants in the Philippines: the P2.690M A180 Progressive, the P2.790M A180d Progressive, and the P3.290M A200 Progressive. The A200 is powered by a 163hp/250Nm 1.3-liter engine mated to a 7-speed DCT while the A180 Progressive sports a 136hp/200Nm 1.3-liter engine and the same 7-speed DCT. I got to test drive the latter and it proved exhilarating enough in everyday driving—thanks mostly to the generous and very accessible turbo-boosted torque and the responsive 7-speed gearbox with paddle shifters. Ride quality is on the firm side. The A Class is decidedly on the sporty side of the sport-comfort equation. You want comfort? Get a C- or E-Class. The A Class, after all, is targeted towards the younger and more adventurous set. This is also the reason why the back seat isn’t particularly spacious. It’s certainly no family car, but will superbly deliver the goods for singles, couples with small kids, or empty nesters who are happy to be relieved of the need to always be behind the wheel of a van or SUV. Where the new A Class will deliver universal appeal is with its head-turning styling. It retains its predecessor’s low-slung, ground-hugging profile as well as its aggressive front end. The compelling face boasts a low hood, flat LED headlamps with chrome elements and torch-like DRLs. The sharp character lines of the 3rd-gen have given way to cleaner side surfaces in the new model. It is this purist, surface-accentuated design of the new A-Class which points the way to the next step in the Mercedes-Benz design philosophy of Sensual Purity. The interior design of the new A-Class is, on the other hand, a revolution from within. It is completely redefined with its modern, avantgarde look. The new A-Class comes with a high-resolution Widescreen Cockpit with touchscreen control – a new standard in the segment. It features an all-digital instrument panel that can be switched to different styles from “Classic,” “Understated” or “Sport” mode complementing the turbine-look air-vents and leather multifunction sports steering wheel. The widescreen cockpit is completely freestanding, and for the first time, there are absolutely no cockpit cowls above the instruments. Other interior highlights include 64-color ambient lighting, Active Parking Assist, smartphone integration, and an all-digital touchscreen and media display. Belying its entry-level status, the new A-Class is also the first Mercedes-Benz model to feature the brand’s completely new infotainment system, MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience), which also ushers in a new era in automotive connectivity. A unique feature of MBUX is its ability to learn thanks to artificial intelligence. MBUX can be individualized and adapts to suit the user, thus creating an emotional connection between the vehicle, driver and passengers. Its highlight is the comprehensive touch operation concept – the combination of a 10.25-inch touchscreen, touchpad on the center console and Touch-Control buttons in the steering wheel. In addition to the intuitive operating experience, less driver distraction is another advantage. At the heart of the MBUX system is a Siri-like virtual assistant, which is activated by pressing a button in the steering wheel or by simply saying, “Hey Mercedes.” It caters to voice commands to attend to infotainment functions such as destination input, music selection, climate control, and ambient lighting. The MBUX comes with a natural speech recognition program that helps it to recognize and understand nearly all sentences from the fields of multimedia and vehicle operation. It’s cool and fun to use, especially when you’re demonstrating it to new passengers. Siri users will be right at home. Like all Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the new A-Class is loaded with world-class safety features such as Active Brake Assist, Active Parking Assist with Parktronic and rearview camera, and seven airbags. It also has an anti-theft alarm package and Tirefit with tire inflator in case of road emergencies. All things considered, the new A-Class is one fine, small car whose price reflects its formidable features list and legendary engineering more than its prestigious brand name. In the world of status symbols, you can’t say that about too many other luxury products.