2013 Mercedes A250 Sport Review

Oh A-Class, you’ve come such a long way
By Imthishan Giado

Mercedes A250 Sport

The first A-Class was notorious for not being a very good car at all. It was the German giant’s attempt to break into the premium European compact hatch segment that was (and still is) ruled by the Volkswagen Golf. At the time it was praised for its myriad clever touches, such as the roomy cabin made possible by the Mini-aping wheel-at-the-corner stance.

Then there were the numerous safety innovations, like the ‘safety sandwich’ – a drivetrain that would slide under the floor in the event of an accident. Unfortunately for Mercedes, it’s also responsible for introducing the term ‘elk test’ into the general automotive vernacular – and if you don’t know that one, YouTube has your answer. Even more unfortunately for Mercedes, the A-Class arrived at a time when Stuttgart was struggling to both maintain production quality and expand its offerings away from staid luxury saloons. Turns out, young people didn’t really want an affordable baby Mercedes hatch that drove like their dad’s car – they wanted something funky, wilfully different and cheeky. Four years later, MINI gave it to them.

Mercedes A250 Sport

Flash forward sixteen years later and here we have the latest, all-new A-Class that attempts to erase all those bad old memories and once again, break into the premium hatch segment. But if anything the job’s even harder now than it was the late ‘90s. Think about all the choices you have if you’re looking for a small hatchback – Volkswagen Golf, Audi A3, Seat Leon. And those are just the boring ones. Looking for something with more pep – there’s the BMW 1-Series with engines that go up to three turbocharged litres, Mini has the turbocharged Cooper, Ford offers the brilliant Focus ST and lording over them all is the most popular car in the segment – the Golf GTI, perennially the best seller and one of the few hatches that has mainstream popularity in an SUV-obsessed Middle East.

Tough crowd. So what does the new A-Class bring to the table? Eye-catching style, and a surprisingly affordable price. Let’s get the latter out of the way first. For just AED 136,000, you get the A250 Sport with a 211bhp turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a meaty 258 lb/ft of torque. That’s it, by the way – the car you see in this images is the only spec that will be sold in this region, with the AMG bodykit as standard and very, very few optional extras. Clearly, Mercedes has decided to lay down the gauntlet to its German rivals – for this money you might get a loaded-up Audi A1 but a BMW 1-Series? No way, José.

Mercedes A250 Sport

Let’s get back to looks for a second. The A250 is the hatch that doesn’t really like a tall, boxy hatch – it looks long, low and mean with a wide, gaping front end topped off by a simply massive three pointed star. The bodywork is seemingly stretched taut over the body, the side creases giving some much needed definition to the wide flanks and distracting your attention from the rather small greenhouse. Subtle flashes of red are a reward for the patient eye, with the front-splitter and the brake callipers the obvious examples. Only the tail is a disappointment, with French-generic scoops on the rear valance substituting for presence and character. Get familiar with this shape – you’ll also be seeing it in saloon form with the upcoming front-wheel drive saloon.

Mercedes A250 Sport 

The interior borrows liberally from the CLS rulebook – so it’s a little dark, a little cramped and perhaps, a little oppressive. Don’t get me wrong though – the dash is well-executed and attractive with an excellent mix of interior materials – brushed alloy, leather and carbon-fibre-look plastic mix well, and there’s plenty of red accents to liven things up slightly. The seats are well bolstered and comfortable but rear seat accommodation is a tad tight for anyone close to six feet tall in the headroom department, although leg space is OK. The same can’t be said for the supermini-sized boot.

Mercedes A250 Sport

There aren’t too many obvious signs of cost cutting to hit this aggressive price point – all the usual toys like satnav, cruise control, reversing camera, 18-inch-wheels, automatic headlights, sunroof and leather everything are all present and accounted for. But dig deeper and you’ll find evidence of penny-pinching: for instance, the front seats are manually-adjusted via good ‘ol rachets and levers. There’s no climate control – just fan speeds and temperature control – and in our early March heat, the A/C was only OK when the car was idle, but perfectly when the car’s in motion.

Mercedes A250 Sport

Maybe you don’t care about the gadgets. Maybe you’re looking at this car with its Nike-lite looks and thinking, ‘this could be a nice alternative to a hot hatch like the GTI.’ Weelllll….it may be a hatchback, it may look better than the new-as-dull GTI and it may have a turbocharged engine, but a GTI-killer this A250 definitely is not.

This is definitely a warm hatch with the chilli turned way down. Take the throttle response – it’s definitely on the relaxed side of things (even with the drivetrain set to Sport) and power comes on a linear, progressive fashion but never in a way likely to overwhelm the front tyres or make things the slightest bit unruly.

Where goes the engine, goes the chassis and transmission. The A250 steers accurately, but the helm doesn’t deliver a whole heap of feel – a problem that besets all modern electric power steering systems. With standard 18-inch wheels there’s more grip than power so it’s no surprise that the A250 corners hard, just not in a very exciting fashion. And likewise the transmission which holds the gears well, but really feels happiest out on the highway. Tail out antics? You’ll be waiting for the CLA45 AMG for that sort of action.

 

Mercedes A250 Sport

Verdict
Reading the above, you may think that I’m not overly impressed with the new A-Class. Actually, I rather like it.

No, it’s no rival for a GTI (or heaven forbid, a Focus ST) but what it does do very well is compress Merc values down into a very small package. This is a small hatch that drives with the authority and highway manners of an E-Class, stable and assured and with an excellent ride even with standard 18s. Let’s face it, most people aren’t looking for a turbo tearaway of the hairy old school, they want a good looking car that makes them look good even if they haven’t paid very much for it.

And for the price Merc is asking – just AED 136,000, it bears repeating – there is very little you can argue with it. Apart from the frankly shocking omission of standard electric seats and climate control, the A250 comes with everything you’d expect, an acceptable level of performance and excellent Made-In-Germany build quality. About the only real criticism you can level at it is that it’s kinda-average to drive. For those people – keep your eyes locked on the barking-mad CLA45 AMG.

Spec
2013 Mercedes A250 Sport
Price: AED136,000 ($37k)
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged direct-injected four-cylinder, 211bhp @ 5500pm, 184lb ft @ 1200-4000rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 6.6 seconds, 240kph, 5.08L/100km (all est)

Transmission: seven-speed twin-clutch auto, front-wheel drive
Weight: 1445kg

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