What is it?
The range-topping version of the new Mercedes A-Class. The frugal diesel models will inevitably eclipse its sales volume, but the petrol-powered A 250 is indicative of where Mercedes intends to position the latest model.
Previously it had no answer to cars like the BMW 125i or the all-new 1.8-litre TFSI Audi A3, but with 208bhp from a 2.0-litre engine mated exclusively to the 7G-DCT gearbox and 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds, it now has a standard bearer for hatchback buyers who are looking to mingle performance with premium branding.
Mercedes will also argue (to an admittedly niche audience) that pace no longer requires a crippling economic sacrifice. The all-aluminum engine, which shares the same basic architecture as the petrol variants in the lineup, benefits from a valve lift adjustment feature called Camtronic, that helps deliver CO2 emissions as low as 143g/km and fuel consumption as high as 46.3mpg.
It will come to the UK in AMG Sport trim, adding sports suspension and seats, along with 18-inch five-spoke wheels and a smattering of Alcantara inside. The A-Class will eventually be blessed with the arrival of the full-bore A 45 AMG next year, but until then there’s also an ‘Engineered by AMG’ version that features a heavily modified front axle, lowered, stiffer suspension and wider tyres.
What's it like?
A mixed bag. One would think that Mercedes’ apparent preoccupation with making the new A-class a more honed driving tool than its predecessor would suit the implied rambunctiousness of a 208bhp hatchback, but there are glaring niggles amidst the model’s obvious strengths.
Most damagingly, the engine fails to electrify proceedings like a range-topping petrol powerplant arguably should. It is responsive, leggy, refined and swift - but then so is the forthcoming 168bhp diesel-engined A 220 CDI beneath it. With 258lb ft of torque available from 1200rpm, the A 250’s motor feels as though it has been developed to replicate the usability of an oil burner rather than clouting your pleasure centers with redline appeal.
Its cause is not helped by the seven-gear DCT transmission. In its default economy mode throttle response is heavily sedated, making the A-class seem unduly ponderous and hesitant. It gees up in the Sport setting, but still struggles to interpret subtle right-foot requests before aggressively downshifting two cogs into a rev crescendo. You can, of course, pick your own ratios, but only up to the point where the car feels it’s time for a change.
Perhaps if this concoction were woven into the body of a softer, springier model then its ills could more easily be forgiven. If the A-class were a scaled-down E-class the attractiveness of a quiet, economical and progressively fast drivetrain would be appreciable. But instead the A 250 glowers with hot hatch-style intent, steering with accuracy and agility, yet also shimmying nervously over fairly minor protuberances.
Consequently, the experience is one of perpetual unevenness. Despite revealing moments of poise and gratifying lateral grip, the car doesn’t posses the right kind of muscle at the right time to make them memorable. And then, pedaling around at everyday speeds enjoying the quietness and craftsmanship of the package, the clamorous ride quality intrudes.
A brief spin in the Engineered by AMG version doesn’t alter the formula. The body control (already very good in the A 250) is bumped up to brilliant, and adjusting its line through über-quick direction changes is entertaining, but there’s still the same linear monotony to the engine and no evidence that comfort has improved.
Should I buy one?
Deep in the bowels of one of Mercedes’ venues, hung, inexplicably, in a toilet, was a quote from Steve Jobs stating that: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
How deliciously apt. The previous A-class, with its cunning packaging and engineering originality was wheeled testimony to the concept of functional design. The latest car, a stylized symphony of brusque lines and honey-glazed interiors, is an homage to the magnetism of high-class look and feel, but not to all-round dynamic execution.
By chasing the compact benchmark set by BMW and Audi, Mercedes has produced an equally hard-edged competitor, which, in some respects at least, outdoes its rivals - but then also careens into similar pitfalls. For better and for worse, the A250 typifies this approach.
Mercedes A 250 AMG Sport
Price: £26,855; 0-62mph: 6.6 seconds; Top speed: 150mph; Economy: 46.3mpg; CO2: 143g/km; Kerbweight: 1445kg (est); Engine type: four cylinder turbocharged petrol, 1991cc; Power: 208bhp at 5500rpm; Torque: 258lb ft at 1200-4000rpm; Gearbox: 7-speed automatic