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Mercedes-Benz A250 BlueEfficiency AMG Sport

Click to view picture galleryMercedes-Benzs AMG brand has,
  in the past, really only been seen
 
on highly expensive, very powerful
  models. However, so far in 2013,
  their AMG models are the best selling
  performance brand from a premium
  manufacturer, outselling BMW
s M
  and Audi
s RS variants...


MERCEDES' NEW MODEL OFFENSIVE continues with the new A-Class CLS four-door, coupe-styled saloon, set to arrive in a few weeks. This is the third generation A-Class and it's a breath of fresh air after the previous ones which were stubby, wedge-shaped, high-roof superminis (albeit they were popular with older buyers).

Already the new A-Class has got itself onto the eight-strong shortlist for the title of 2013 European Car of the Year — the winner will be announced on 4 March on the eve of the Geneva Motor Show. The final line-up includes the new seventh-generation VW Golf (the likely winner), the impressive and cost-effective Hyundai i30 hatchback and, my choice, the affordable and fun-to-drive Toyota GT86 2+2 sports car.

“Already the new A-Class
has got itself onto
the shortlist for the title
of 2013 European Car
of the Year...
Back to the much more expressive and practical new A-Class range that appeals to a much wider and younger audience — as confirmed by marketing activities for the new model targeting social networking sites such as Twitter.

A-Class prices range from 18,750 to 28,800 with 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol and 1.4, 1.8 and 2.1-litre diesel engine options. Later in the year a 'proper' high performance A-Class AMG will arrive — the 355bhp A45 with a turboed 2.0-litre petrol engine and costing around 36K.

Reviewed here is the BlueEfficiency AMG Sport 2.0-litre 208bhp petrol variant which comes with a seven-speed auto. This model costs a competitive 26,880 although with a number of extra-cost options the final price of my test model climbed to 33,865. Its two main premium brand competitors are the BMW 1 Series 125i M Sport 215bhp auto (27,560) and the soon-to-arrive Audi A3 Sportback 1.8 TFSI S line 178bhp auto priced at around 27,200.

Whereas the old A-Class was the ugly-duckling of the Mercedes range (and, apart from the badging, carried no relationship in design to the Mercedes family look), the new A-Class is totally different — it looks like a premium class Merc; only smaller. There is a big, bold front grille carrying the marque's three-star badge, with deeply sculptured styling lines on the bonnet and down the flanks.

The AMG styling tweaks include sporty front and rear under-bumper aprons, ground-effect side sill skirts, and large AMG 18-inch wheels (fitted with run-flat tyres). For the AMG version the suspension is lowered by 15mm, and it comes with a dynamic handling and selective damping pack for owners to personalise the ride and handling settings.

Early media comments highlighted the rock-hard ride quality of the AMG version, but to be honest I didn't find it too bad at all — certainly not the worst in this sports sector of small family cars. Yes it is firm, but it is compliant and not uncomfortable. Deep potholes should be avoided where possible; not just for comfort but to minimise the potential for rim and tyre damage.

The handling for a front-wheel drive car is sharp, as is the steering; even on wet roads there's really good and precise grip from the front-end during fast cornering.

“Inside, the A-Class is
a scaled-down version
of larger and more
expensive Mercedes
models, showing the
same premium high-
quality look and feel.
The front seats are AMG
sports style,
and provide good
support and comfort...
The side profile of the new A-Class, with its four passenger doors and tailgate, has a rising waistline to the rear; the roof drops in height towards the tail, leading to a rear spoiler over the tailgate.

The coupe rear roofline causes some restriction for headroom when getting in and out of the back seats, but the low roof does emphasise the sleekness of the bodystyle — a vast change from previous versions. The wide rear corner pillars also cause some loss of visibility.

Inside, the A-Class is a scaled-down version of larger and more expensive Mercedes models, showing the same premium high-quality look and feel. The front seats are AMG sports style, and provide good support and comfort. Legroom in the back is limited — but not minimal — and the rear seats can accommodate three children or two adults. The rear seatbacks fold to enlarge the boot, and there's a load-through hatch.

The boot offers 341 litres of space with the rear seats in use; 1,157 litres with them folded. You'll find extra storage space under the boot floor. The access to the boot via the tailgate is quite narrow at the lower end, which restricts loading large suitcases.

Overall the interior is of a really high quality and very smart in its design, and nicely set-off by leather upholstery. On the AMG version the full width of the fascia panel is covered in carbon-fibre effect trim with five circular fresh air vents. In the centre is an iPad style touchscreen for the SatNav, computer functions and the communication settings. More 'menu' features are accessed via a centre control unit.

The Merc-style flat-bottomed steering wheel has even more control buttons and functions, while the steering column is also home to the gear selector stalk and 'flappy' gearchange paddles. Another stalk controls the indicators plus there's yet another for the front and rear wipers, making it all rather cluttered in this area. The lights are operated by a fascia-mounted turn switch which is not easy to see.

Specification is high, with electric windows and door mirrors, central door locking, Stop-Start, Bluetooth, AirCon, a full array of safety features and an electronic parking brake. There is much more in the way of collision prevention assist, adaptive braking assist and handling and traction controls functions. It may be small, but this particular A-Class is big on kit.

When we mention AMG we still think of 'the need for speed'. Well, on this occasion, the AMG label is more about styling, image, specification and the tuned suspension rather than extra engine performance.

“The all-new 2.0-litre,
four-cylinder direct
injection turbocharged
petrol engine
pushes out a healthy
207bhp, but it’s
the 258lb ft of torque
from just 1,200rpm
which impresses most,
giving the car
real grunt
and response...
The all-new 2.0-litre, four-cylinder direct injection turbocharged petrol engine pushes out a healthy 207bhp, but it's the 258lb ft of torque from just 1,200rpm which impresses most, giving the car real grunt and response even though it's mated as standard to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. In its Eco setting the gearchanges can be a bit slow and ponderous as it seeks to save fuel.

That noted, the top speed is a very respectable 147mph with zero to 62mph in Sport mode taking only 6.6 seconds. As for fuel economy, this engine will officially return 45.6mpg in the Combined Cycle with 37.6mpg being my week-long test drive figure covering most types of roads and driving styles. CO2 emissions are not prohibitive either, at 145g/km, which means road tax is an affordable 135.

Against? Electronic handbrake, no spare wheel (only run-flat tyres), extras will add huge amounts to the price, no distinctive AMG exhaust note, overkill of AMG styling label versions in the A-Class range.

For? A-Class now looks like a proper Mercedes-Benz, brings the iconic AMG sports brand to a wider customer base, low emissions, well-specced, performance with good fuel economy, sharp handling thanks to the AMG tweaks.

Styling and high equipment levels are reasons to go the AMG route but I just hope Mercedes do not over-do the use of the iconic AMG label. There are already six AMG variants in the 13-version A-Class hatchback line-up, with more to come — that's too many, and exclusivity is being lost.

Talking of lost, one missing AMG characteristic for this A-Class is the signature howling exhaust tone — a real disappointment to my mind. After all, when driving a Mercedes-Benz AMG, whatever its size, you want to be not just seen but heard too. — David Miles


Mercedes-Benz A250 BlueEfficiency AMG Sport | 26,880
Maximum speed: 149mph | 0-62mph: 6.6 seconds | Overall MPG: 37.6mpg
Power: 207bhp | Torque: 258lb ft | CO2 145g/km