The motoring industry has no shortage of catchy and loud taglines. They serve as powerful reminders of the virtues of the company itself and reinforce the ideals behind each and every purchase decision.
Mazda has Zoom-Zoom denoting the virtues of engineering, driving performance, and attainability; Audi has “Vorsprung Durch Technik” which translates to mean ‘Advancement Through Technology’, a catchphrase that literally has become a guiding to principle of the company and all its endeavours, and perhaps my personal favourite, Mercedes-Benz – The Best or Nothing.
No other sequence of words has ever described power, excellence, and unwavering attention to detail with such brevity. The best or nothing simply means to be at the forefront of design, performance, technology, safety, and perhaps more recently: the future of connected mobility.
But rarely, if ever, has the Tri-Star badge been associated with driving exhilaration and fun. It’s not that Mercs aren’t capable cars to drive, it’s just that they’re not primarily associated with funky behind the wheel entertainment that comes from a lithe and lively chassis, precise and truthful steering, and punchy powertrains that are at their best when worked hard.
Those are traits normally associated with brands like MINI, and the Cooper S, Mazda, with the MX-5, or even the humble Perodua Kelisa.
Well, until now…
First launched in early 2018, the fourth-generation (W177) A-Class boasts improved dynamics, better comfort and cabin space (both of which were lacking in the 3rd-generation car), and the much-acclaimed Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) voice-activated AI user interface, which takes care of most in-car commands.
It has grown in size: now 4,419 mm in length (+127 mm), 1,796 mm in width (+16 mm) and 1,440 mm in height (+13 mm), much to the boon of interior space and boot space, now 370 litres, an increase of 29 litres over the model it replaces.
The W177 is also the second model of the current Mercedes-Benz range (after the all-new CLS) to adopt the “Sensual Purity” design language. Characterised by design elements that express classiness and progressiveness, and complexity and reduction all at the same time: the most easily identifiable traits are the slim headlamps that flank a wide forward-facing grille, and round the sides, a high, arching beltline features just below wide, rounded architecture of the side windows.
The A200 Progressive Line featured here is the entry-level variant offered to the Malaysian market, which is powered by the (M282) 1.33-litre (yes, you read that right) four-cylinder turbocharged engine which was co-developed with Renault. The engine is mated to a 7G-DCT seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Specifications for Mercedes-Benz A200 Progressive Line
- Engine: (M282) 1.33-litre, four-cylinder, direct injection, turbocharged
- Power: 163 hp @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque: 250 Nm @ 1,620 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed (7G-DCT), dual-clutch (wet), front-wheel drive
- Performance: 0-100 km/h: 8.0 seconds, Top Speed: 225 km/h, Economy (claimed): 5.7 L/100 km (NEDC)
- Safety: Seven airbags, ABS, stability control, traction control, hill start assist, ISOFIX, autonomous emergency braking, collision warning
- Price: RM 227,888 excluding insurance
- Origin: Fully Imported from Rastatt, Germany
Befitting the claim of having grown up since the third-generation car, the A200 Progressive Line’s more practical size and stature are now complemented by less shouty design features.
Gone are the badges on the front fenders, like Sport or AMG Line that used to denote the trim level; even the model badge on the rear hatch has been moved downwards (and to the left side). There are no contrasting highlight colours for trim elements on the front bumper or rear spoiler like the previous car. The simplistic wheel design even hides the fact that it measures 18-inches in diameter.
This can be both good and not so good.
I’m in my mid-thirties, and personally, I love the subtle yet stylish outlook, without being overly-braggadocious. This car is full of substance and character and that’s all that matters, for me at least. But for someone younger who has just moved up to their first Mercedes, I would imagine they would want a car that shouts out their achievement, especially since A200 money will also buy you a swanky new Volkswagen Golf GTI, which arguably is the daddy that started it all.
With that said, the slim headlights do offer up a healthy dose of aggression; the sleek taillamps, on the other hand, deliver a very futuristic touch and the overall proportions are suitably functional, yet cool.
The futuristic theme is carried over nicely with the integration of the new MBUX voice-activated AI user interface – and what a thing it is to operate – the huge dual-screens, the next-level graphics, themes, and colours (which looks even better at night), and the intuitiveness of operation – all exude pure class and technology, in their cheapest car no less.
The latter point, according to Mercedes-Benz, is the difference between having just another infotainment system, and a fully designed “User Experience”. User Experience is designed with human intricacies in mind, down to the actions of swiping, scrolling, or pinching and the relevant menus we want to see…. just the way our smartphones have trained us over the last decade or so.
Elsewhere, front accommodation has been greatly improved in terms of space and ergonomics, and there’s more knee room thanks to the slimmer dash proportions; the seating position is spot on too. Having spent a considerable amount of time in the car, I can attest to the comfort, and supportiveness of the seats, both at the front and back – which incidentally was a crucial drawback of the previous generation car.
Entry and egress at the back have also been greatly improved thanks to the taller roof and larger door aperture.
But the improvements in technology, before you hit that Start/Stop button is only telling half the story, because, where the A200 truly breaks the mould – is the way it drives.
In the city, it’s noticeably more supple than the previous generation car, with quick and precise steering that places the car where you want it. Where the W176-generation would crash over bigger bumps and ruts in the road, the new car is far more competent at soaking up the undulations without transferring those forces into the cabin. The body rigidity and comfort biased suspension are great contributors to this.
If I were to extrapolate further, the car's composed demanour over almost any road is also the reason, one can build confidence quickly behind the wheel, and exploit further into its performance envelope.
As it were, I also had the opportunity to take the A200 down the Karak Highway with a bunch of BMW owning buddies of mine – and much to their awe – the little 1.33-litre engine in the A200 could keep up with (albeit older) 3.0-litre naturally-aspirated six-cylinder powered cars up the hilly sections of Bentong.
The initial wave of torque is delivered just above idle speeds, and the power delivery remains punchy and urgent right through the mid-range and up to around 6,000 rpm. The power does fall away after 6,000rpm, but the most appreciable aspect is just how tractable and predictable the powertrain is across the rev counter despite its humble size. Hence, when you’re coming out of a corner, you know just how much power you are going to receive, and that in turn helps you with planning your throttle input and (paddle) shifts.
I realise the ‘geekery’ is excessive, but between the superb engine, and quick 7-speed DCT gearbox which is almost seamless in its up- and downshifts – the A200 is the kind of car that rewards a skillful hand wheel behind the wheel while being something fun even for a novice driver.
The chassis’ fluidity and relatively light 1,375 kg kerb weight also mean that it transitions between corners very well and delivers great turn-in and mid-corner driving characteristics. Mechanical grip is massive too.
In terms of downsides, yes, the brakes are still a bit vague in their feedback in the initial stages of the pedal travel, and hence may catch you out at first, by sometimes either braking too much or too little, but this improves the more you drive the car.
In terms of its primary competitors – there are two – both the (Mk 7.5) Golf 1.4L TSI R-Line and BMW 118i M Sport (while it remains on sale at least), are cheaper than the A200 and are excellent in their own respect.
The Golf wins in terms of all-round practicality, and not to mention, it too has a powerful but efficient drivetrain and very refined driving characteristics.
The 1 Series has long been my favourite simply because of its sublime drivetrain and chassis and just how it drives (it’s the only rear-wheel driven hatchback… go figure!) while still managing the day-to-day requirements very well. It’s actually the underdog of the group in my opinion, which makes it that much more appealing.
The A200 bests the two in terms of styling, modernity and overall prestige in my opinion, it’s quite possibly also got the best interior (in terms of equipment and design) ever fitted to a premium hatchback and that counts for a lot, considering it will be the first Mercedes-Benz for a lot of new customers. Greater ride comfort and better cabin space also mean that it will remain usable and practical for a small family or as a second car.
But for me, the best aspect of the A200 Progressive Line is knowing that one no longer have to give up a fun and engaging driving experience just because you want the Mercedes.
It might even be the very reason you would want one now!