What is it?
On paper, this looks like a real sweet spot of the Mercedes-Benz A-class range. Models lower down the range have underwhelmed with their lack of driver involvement, leaving you to have to shell out almost £40,000 on the range-topping A 45 AMG and its overhauled chassis to get an A-class that truly puts a smile on your face and has a very high level of dynamic polish.
Here could be the answer, though. The catchily titled A 250 Engineered by AMG 4Matic does what it says on the boot lid: it is an all-wheel-drive A 250 AMG Sport that has had Mercedes’ in-house performance division, AMG, fit a bespoke suspension to to create an A 45 AMG-lite-like experience in the way it rides and handles for almost £10,000 less. That’s the theory, at least.
New 18-inch alloys with fatter 235/40 tyres are also fitted to complete the dynamic overhaul. The 208bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and all-wheel drive system remain unchanged over the A 250 AMG Sport, and like the A 250 AMG Sport, it is also available in standard front-wheel drive.
Visual changes of the A 250 Engineered by AMG over the standard A 250 Sport AMG include a new grille, bi-xenon headlights and some bespoke trim, plus some new trim and a longer standard equipment list inside.
What's it like?
Those visual changes inside and out give an already sharp-looking car an even shapelier and more distinctive look, one you could be tricked at first glance into thinking is the A 45 AMG range-topper.
It’s a shame then that similar tricks aren’t played in the way it drives. All A-class models have a firm, occasionally uncomfortable ride. But where the A 45 AMG excels is in its body control, with a fine combination of taut damping, grip, response and agility to go with it. Firm yes, but composed and supple.
It’s sad to report then that despite the AMG suspension changes to the A 250 Engineered by AMG it doesn't feel that different to a more humble A-class, the brittle nature of the ride of a more typical A-class being preserved and even amplified by the firmer AMG set-up. There are all too frequent crashes into the cabin, and it’s anything but quiet and refined in this department.
The ride issues are more frustrating when considered in this context, because the suspension changes to this A-class variant make it handle sweeter than the already well-judged base models. It’s agile and turns in nicely, although we’d appreciate more feel from the steering.
There’s more hit and miss news to report from the powertrain. The A 250 Engineered by AMG is a very brisk car indeed, particularly when the rev counter heads north of 2000rpm. But it’s mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox that takes too long to engage off the line, and never fully exploits such a flexible engine in the way a tidy manual gearbox would.
Should I buy one?
So it’s a very hit and miss car, the A 250 Engineered by AMG 4Matic. While it undoubtedly gives very generously with one hand with its potent, flexible engine and tidy handling, it takes away abrasively with the other due to the brittle ride and slow-witted gearbox.
The 208bhp power figure makes it a close match for the 217bhp VW Golf GTI, a car that suffers from none of the issues the A 250 Engineered by AMG and is available in five-door automatic form for almost £3000 less.
What’s more, from the spring you’ll be able to get a 296bhp five-door automatic Golf R with all-wheel drive for just £1000 more than the AMG. At which point, we suspect the case for this particular version of the A-class will become weaker still. Start saving for that A 45 AMG, then.
Mercedes-Benz A 250 Engineered by AMG 4Matic
Price £30,905; 0-62mph 6.5sec; Top speed 149mph; Economy 42.8mpg; CO2 154g/km; Kerb weight 1505kg; Engine 4cyls in line, 1991cc, petrol, turbocharged; Power 208bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1200-4000rpm; Gearbox 7spd dual-clutch automatic