I’m old enough to remember the hubbub back when Mercedes introduced their “Baby-Benz”, the 190E (W201) in 1982, and the doubters that weren’t sure if it could be a “real” Mercedes. Of course that was over here in the US, where we were mainly used to relatively large and luxurious offerings, at least in the most recent decade or so. Even (especially?) the four-cylinder aspect came in for scrutiny, never mind that Mercedes has a long history of offering more utilitarian as well as smaller-engined wares in conjunction with the “Executive Express” class of cars that we are used to. Over the years though the 190E acquitted itself well and eventually became the now well respected C-Class.
However when it came time for Mercedes to again go smaller, this time with its new A-Class back in 1997, North America wasn’t part of the plan. In fact three whole generations of A-Class would debut before we were deemed worthy with the fourth generation launched a couple of years ago.
I’ll confess that I didn’t exactly go into this week with the highest of expectations, however I kept an open mind and in the end came away with a bit of a mixed opinion. There are aspects of the car that I ended up loving, and other aspects that gave me a bit more pause, however even that could be overcome.
First impressions were good. This A220 has a purposeful stance and to one not familiar with the minutiae of the Mercedes model line-up a quick glance could leave that person wondering exactly which model this in fact is. From the front it has a very similar look to the rest of the sedan (and four-door coupe) lineup. Without appearing overtly aggressive there is a little spice around the front edges but nothing to cause undue concern. Similar is the view from the rear.
From the side however the forward 80% or so appears as expected, with only the tail portion looking perhaps a little bit truncated (or is trunkated a better term?). It has a bit of a bob-tailed look, as if it wasn’t sure if it should sport a full trunk or a hatchback at the rear and in the end a compromise was reached. I don’t know that I’m the biggest fan of that aspect of it and came back to it several times over the week to ponder it, but at least it now lets me quickly recognize an A-Class from afar. The trunk itself though is quite spacious inside, contrary to exterior appearances.
This one, while not an AMG, does have a couple of AMG-branded items on it that let it at least look a little more sporty than the normal A-class. The 19″ multispoke wheels work well with the AMG Line package that adds a few items to the body to accentuate a few areas, lowers it a bit, adds perforated front brake discs with MB lettering and a signature AMG Diamond-block front grille. A little sizzle, if you will.
Inside the sporty theme continues with the red and black leather seats and genuine brushed metal accent pieces. The front seats were comfortable at first seating although the console could be a little less intrusive. More annoying at the beginning, by the time the week had passed we had formed a sort of truce and it was less of an issue. Seats in this one were heated but not ventilated, as was the steering wheel, which worked out perfectly due to a cold spell.
Headroom for me was borderline acceptable with the panoramic sunroof with just my hair brushing the surround at times. I’m 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam and tend to like to sit a bit more upright than some if that helps to gain a mental picture of the space available. Legroom, as in every Mercedes I’ve ever been in, was more than acceptable.
The back seat was trimmed out the same as the front, however legroom is quite a bit tighter with little space for my knees before touching the front seatback. Head and shoulder room were snug but alright for short distances. It’s not the car for four large people, but for almost any two under six feet tall the front would be great.
Backseaters, well, the smaller in stature the better but at least it’s better than most coupes or “four-door coupes” that pretend to be something they aren’t.
The view ahead from the driver’s seat and visibility all around is quite good, and right ahead of the driver a double flat panel display is mounted to the dashboard. It’s a smaller version with two panels at 10.25″ as opposed to the 12-plus inchers I sampled last week in the AMG GLS63 but curiously had the same visual effect, i.e. it didn’t feel smaller, presumably due to the cabin overall being more diminutive although I was seated the same distance from the wheel.
The screens operated the same as they do elsewhere with this Mercedes MBUX system and menus can be called up by swiping, pushing buttons, or via voice command. Having practice and memory from last week, it was all immediately second nature without any kind of learning curve and let me dive into the menus to see if some of the same features were present rather than stumbling upon them or having to read about them first. Apple CarPlay and AndroidAuto are included as well and the MBUX voice command system is excellent at understanding even my nasal tonality.
The dashboard and door panels are soft on top and about halfway down and then are more rigid materials as you get lower. In the picture above the red and upper black are soft, and the lower portion of black plastic is rigid. Looking at the dashboard, the large black bolster across the dash below the metal trim was superbly soft, not quite nerf-ball, but softer than most dashboard materials anywhere else.
Pressing the starter button fired the turbocharged 2.0l inline-4 right up and using the small column mounted lever the transmission slots into Drive and off we go. Everything is smooth and quiet, and although I was concerned that the 188hp and 221lb-ft of torque might feel insufficient I was soon disabused of that notion. In fact I believe it may be underrated, it certainly feels like it has more power than those published figures.
While this is an all-wheel-drive car, it is front-wheel driven until the computer figures some of the power needs to be apportioned to the rear, this alone is different than most of Mercedes’ offerings over here until very recently. However, the process was seamless and I was never able to catch it out of place, even though a significant amount of my time was spent on wet roads.
While a rear wheel drive car will ostensibly provide a more “pure” driving experience, I’ve always felt that’s not necessarily true, there are plenty of front wheel drive as well as all wheel drive cars that perform very well and are a hoot to drive in real world situations. This is one of those cars.
The engine was smooth as a sewing machine, and several times had me thinking this really sounds and feels more like a good, small Honda engine (I mean that in the best way, not at all as a slight), light, free-revving, with a good sound and a joy to wind out, there is no gruffness present as with many German fours (which I also like, but in a different way).
This part of the car’s character (along with the FWD/AWD) was perhaps the biggest surprise to me here, and completely not what I was expecting. The power was usable, easily attainable, and perfectly controllable with a lot of refinement baked in; Mercedes really seems to have sweated the finer points here rather than just trying to get something out the door at a lower price point.
If it wasn’t clear already, higher speed cornering was drama-free, the car simply went as directed with the caveat of the tightest, most ham-fisted maneuvers showing the front end to plow at the limit, but really that required driving in a way that is not sensible and basically trying to see where the limits were such as turning into a side street at a very high rate of speed with an abrupt wheel maneuver. In the end it’s not really a VW GTI/GLI beater in tighter areas, but on the open road such as the highways of Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming it’s easy to make very satisfying progress while feeling completely secure and relaxed.
The transmission is a 7-speed Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT), and the shifts occur quickly and precisely. At low speed it was smooth as well as at higher speeds, there was no lurching or other inappropriateness observed at any time. I did push it into manual mode and tried the shift paddles behind the wheel but in the end found that the computer did it as well or better than I was doing so set it back the way it was. A manual box may have been even better but that’s not happening so no need to pine for it.
There is also a mode selector switch (Sport/Comfort/Eco/Individual), and I ended up in Comfort most of the time as I found it to be the best compromise for how I used the car. I sampled Sport several times at length and while it made the suspension stiffer it also made the ride deteriorate to a greater degree than it helped the handling. I also didn’t care for the way it kept the engine in a lower gear as well as hanging on to the gears for much longer.
Don’t get the idea that Comfort was just a pillowy soft cloud of taffy devoid of any connection to the road, it wasn’t at all, but overall was much more usable and enjoyable 95% of the time and for me at least removed the inclination to use the “Individual” mode in order to pick and choose different parameters and combine them in a different way. If I was in Sport mode the majority of the time though I think I’d be looking to upgrade to the actual AMG version of the car.
Driving comfort was very good once settled in, the sunroof glass panel opens up and out rather than being housed within the roof and buffeting was minimal although it did create a fair bit of noise the few times I used it that the weather was good enough to. When closed the cabin is very quiet, it’s a proper luxury car in that respect, and there are other aspects as well such as the seats that have an interested technology that Mercedes calls Energizing Seat Kinetics.
The theory here is that the most comfortable seating position is always the next one that the user chooses, but the way it works in practice is that when turned on, the seat back and bottom separately and independently make minute adjustments to the angles of both at separate times and adjust those settings every minute or so.
You notice the seat changing position minutely but not to an extent that is objectionable. It never gets far from the original position but it does keep the body more energized with greater blood flow and longer term comfort. It’s a very interesting technology and a great example of “what will they think of next” as engineers continue to innovate aspects of driving that you wouldn’t think could or would ever change.
Fit, finish, and material quality were very good with no noticeable flaws. This A-Class is built in Mexico at the joint venture plant that Mercedes runs with Nissan at Aguascalientes, although both the engine and transmission are built in Germany before being installed in the car.
Fuel Economy is rated at 24City, 34Highway, with a 28Average mpg. I drove this car 420 miles, which consisted of two round trips via different return routes to Laramie, Wyoming which accounted for 320 miles, then another 60 miles on local highways to the east and the balance of 40 miles around town. This is a greater percentage of time spent on open roads (albeit at higher altitudes and in poorer weather) than normal rather than in traffic and I attained a displayed average of 31.8mpg. That seems to be more or less in line considering how I drove it and is a decent result.
As happens routinely, here is where I discuss the base price and then detail the options and a few seconds later you all express shock at the optioned-up price. Well, this A220 4MATIC starts at $34,800. This includes the AWD, as a front-driver it is available for a bit less. The thing is, I think it’s a great value at that price. For example I believe it to be a higher quality car than a Jetta GLI at only a slightly higher price point (once you remove the AWD portion, but that’s precisely one of the advantages it has). However that’s comparing a fairly basic A220 to an optioned up GLI.
The rub is that as equipped (and I’ll detail it in a moment), this rang up the register at a total of $48,295. At that point I think many people would reasonably start to look at a C-Class across the showroom. Or at least wonder who else makes a FWD or AWD car at perhaps a more attractive price although the Audi A3 ends up at a fairly similar price point when optioned similarly and is also FWD based as is the BMW 2-series GranCoupe. Perhaps the goal is to lease these rather than outright sell them, I don’t know. But let’s take a look and see what might be stuff that we can live without, perhaps that will help.
The base price includes the engine, DCT, and AWD system as discussed. It also includes the Panorama Sunroof, AppleCarPlay/AndroidAuto, Power Driver Seat, Folding Rear Seats, Rain-Sensing Wipers, Keyless Start, Dual-Zone Automatic Climate Control, LED head and taillights, safety tech such as Attention Assist, Brake Assist System, Active Brake Assist (different system) and the normal power everything etc…
The Digital White Metallic Paint normally costs $720 but for some reason is credited back to the buyer in the Option section (good) but the red and black leather adds $1,450.
The 19″ AMG wheels with 225/40 Pirelli P-Zero tires are a very reasonable $500, Heated Front Seats are $580, the Heated Steering Wheel is a further $250 and Wireless Phone Charging is $200. I think I’d want all of those, the prices are all small enough to be palatable when each item is considered separately.
I’d also want the Exterior Lighting Package consisting of Active LED Headlights with Adaptive High Beam Assist for $900 as well as the Premium Package which includes the dual 10.25″ screens, Keyless Go Package and Mirror Package for $1,650 although I think including it as standard would go a long way toward making the car be more premium, I can’t really imagine it without.
I’d really want the Driver Assistance Package that consists of Active Brake Assist with Cross Traffic Function, Active Distance Assist (Distronic), Active Steering Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping and Lane Changing Assists, Active Speed Limit Assist, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Route-Based Speed Adaptation and Extended Restart in Stop&Go Traffic. However it’s priced at $2,250 which to me feels like something that a premium brand that prides itself on its safety engineering and technology should be building into the car from the beginning and not as an option.
The AMG Line package that I detailed above is nice but for $1,950 might need to stay in the bin although then you have to settle for different wheels, and the MultiMedia Package with Navigation and Augmented Video for it as well as Traffic Sign Assist would also stay on the factory floor priced at $1,150 as Apple CarPlay can handle things if needed.
The 64-Color Interior Ambient Lighting was cool in how it continually changed the soft color emanating from various parts of the interior trim (or could be set to any one color) but I also like the green color of 310 dollar bills in my wallet, and as much as I love SiriusXM, charging $460 for the tech is a lot. Lastly the Dynamic Body Control (adjustable suspension) is $850 and I didn’t enjoy the stiffer setting, hopefully the standard springs and shocks feel like the Comfort setting.
Destination is $995 so with everything I feel I would want and withholding the stuff I could do possibly without I’d still be at more than $45,000. The problem is at that point you might as well get everything you’d want or conceivably feel you need, I just wonder how many people think it’s still a good value at close to 50 large, although it certainly appears so in the $35 to perhaps the $40k range. Perhaps leasing would end up the better approach here, that’s more of an individual decision though.
As an explanatory side note, this was a 2020 model year car and I was working from the supplied Monroney, while the car itself hasn’t really changed for 2021, some of the options and ways features are bundled do seem to be different going forward when attempting to build the same thing on the company’s web configurator.
After all is said and done though, Mercedes has provided a very, very good car here to anchor their range. It is far better than I’d have assumed, and well worth a close look if the size, styling and budget work for a buyer. After all, the intangibles can count for a lot as well, money doesn’t always drive every decision. There really aren’t any corners cut here to get to this point, beyond unfortunately not being able to include as standard some no longer really considered premium features in a premium badged car.
Thank you very much to Mercedes-Benz for letting us sample their car and providing a tank of fuel as well.