The whole point of an entry-level luxury car is to introduce buyers to the brand, offering a compelling blend of everything on offer in a smaller, more financially palatable package. It should make a buyer want to stick around as time goes on and salaries go up.
By that standard, the outgoing Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class was a failure. While the price was right, its coupe-like roofline made its rear seats uncomfortable for full-grown adults, and low-quality interior materials blighted its cabin’s ho-hum design. It wasn’t a product that made you want to stick around.
That all changes with the 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class. While there’s a new CLA-Class on the way, the A-Class now stands as the least expensive way to slide into a new Merc, and it rocks. Consider the bar raised for all.
A looker inside and out
When I first saw Mercedes-Benz’s new design language on the CLS-Class, I wasn’t exactly sold on it. Now that I see the A-Class Sedan, though, I get it. In this instance, the design is well proportioned — the headlights and grille aren’t cartoonishly large or small, and the silhouette promises more space than the cramped CLA-Class ever offered. Even the trunk is suitably sized for a family’s worth of groceries or enough wreaths to make a two-story home sufficiently festive.
My A-Class Sedan has a little extra anger thanks to the $2,600 AMG Line styling package, which adds sharper angles in the bumpers, a slightly lower suspension and the stunning diamond-block grille. The 19-inch AMG wheels are an extra $500. Consider this an early warning about the A-Class’ price: It may start low, but if you want to get fancy, things are going to get expensive in a hurry. Hell, my tester’s shade of silver (silver!) costs $720.
Whereas the outgoing CLA-Class used an impressive variety of low-quality materials inside, the A-Class looks and feels twice as expensive. The dashboard makes clever use of layering, so that the “floating” screens up front don’t look tacked on. The only bad plastics that I can find are located in places normal people would never touch, like the bottom of the transmission tunnel. Everything else, from the door’s switchgear to the dashboard, feels more expensive than the price belies. I’m not the biggest fan of piano black trim, which attracts fingerprints like sugar attracts ants, but it still looks premium.
The seats are plenty supportive, but I recommend ditching the $1,450(!) red leather, which is a little racy for a non-performance car. Visibility from those seats is also excellent, with plenty of rearward sightlines through the aft glass (something the CLA-Class lacked in spades) and barely-there blind spots. The rear seats offer leagues more headroom than the CLA-Class, and there’s sufficient legroom for a 6-foot-tall passenger to feel comfortable behind a 6-foot-tall driver.
For an extra $310, the A-Class can be equipped with a 64-color ambient lighting system, and it’s one of the most impressive I’ve ever used. In addition to letting me set my color from a spectrum wheel, the system also offers predetermined animated color schemes that flow through multiple colors. It will be the first thing every passenger talks about, guaranteed. For as much wow factor as it supplies, the price is right.
Fun to drive, but not the thriftiest
The A220 doesn’t have the strongest motor, but it definitely makes the most of it. My tester’s 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 puts out 188 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque, sent to all four wheels by way of a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (front-wheel drive is available, too). All that torque makes for strong starts, and while the transmission’s low-speed antics can be a little on the clunky side, shifts at speed are plenty smooth. When it comes time to accelerate, lower gears are called up with haste.
There are drive modes on offer, but I find them unnecessary. The car is best left in its standard Comfort mode, which offers the right kind of throttle sensitivity and shift performance. Eco short-shifts too much for my tastes, and Sport takes things too far in the opposite direction. There are shift paddles behind the wheel, but those are probably best left for whatever hardcore AMG variant arrives later. The steering is the right kind of tight, and the AMG Line package’s brakes are grippy, but the pedal isn’t so sensitive that heads will bob at every red light.
Things are equally peachy on the handling front. The ride is composed, but not overly uncomfortable, even with my tester’s 19-inch wheels and thin Volkswagen Golf, actually. It doesn’t feel as bouncy as editor Steven Ewing , but I also don’t have experience with a front-wheel-drive variant for comparison purposes, so I suggest test driving both if you’re at the dealer.Pirelli Sottozero winter tires. It feels pretty darn close to my
Some of that shine disappears on the economy front, though. While the stop-start system didn’t shake the cabin with every restart (some weren’t felt at all), my tester’s AWD layout likely ate into fuel economy a bit. According to the trip computer, I averaged about 22 miles per gallon in the city and just under 30 mpg on the highway. That’s a far cry from the CLA-Class’ EPA-estimated 24 mpg city and 32 highway with all-wheel drive (24 city, 37 highway with FWD). The EPA hasn’t published figures for the A-Class Sedan as of this writing, but hopefully it’ll be a little higher than what I’m experiencing.
The A-Class isn’t just tech-forward, it’s one of the most technologically advanced Mercedes-Benz vehicles across the lineup. In today’s world of subscription services and smart homes, Mercedes has a winning strategy on its hands — younger buyers like tech, and it’s all available on its most affordable vehicle.
Base models make do with two 7-inch screens on the dashboard, but I believe the pair of 10.25-inch screens are damn near mandatory, even though they’re part of the $2,100 Premium Package. The instrument cluster offers incredible variety, letting me swap out each gauge for different information screens while displaying the navigation map in the middle. All that is adjusted through the touchpad on the left side of the steering wheel, a system that’s devilishly easy to master with minimal distraction.
Mercedes-Benz’s new MBUX (say each letter, don’t call it “M-Bucks”) infotainment system is a beaut. It takes all the capabilities of the old COMAND system and gives it a prettier, more responsive wrapper while throwing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into the mix. The screen is finally touch-capable, so you can ignore the center console’s touchpad if it’s not your speed, but it can also be manipulated using the second thumbpad on the right side of the steering wheel. If you do use the touchscreen, keep a lens cloth on hand to keep the screen free of ugly finger grease.
MBUX also packs a new voice-recognition system. A simple “Hey, Mercedes” will cause the system to spring to life, accepting natural voice commands (for example, “I’m cold.”) and translating them to actions (raising the climate control temperature). I don’t find the call-and-response system as sensitive as Ewing did on his first drive. In fact, it only seems to pick up my requests when the vehicle is stationary — manually activating the assistant from the steering wheel, on the other hands, works all the time for me.
MBUX’s newfangled tech gets even wilder with the $1,150 Multimedia Package. In addition to enabling embedded navigation, it also includes an augmented-reality system that overlays translucent navigation directions over a real-time view from the front camera. It’s neat to watch, and thankfully it doesn’t take over the screen at highway speeds, but I have concerns about its distraction potential when it engages at normal road speeds. It still looks neat, though.
While automatic braking is standard, the whole complement of active and passive driver aids is hidden behind a $2,250 Driver Assistance Package. It adds things like full-speed adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and steering assist on the highway, all of which work effortlessly. It also has route-based speed adaptation, which I only find frustrating. Even though I think it’s off, it still slows my vehicle more than 5 mph around curves on the highway, which is not the kind of behavior I want from a car in the left lane (or any lane, really).
How I’d spec it
As of this writing, Mercedes-Benz has not yet enabled its online configurator or announced prices. For the sake of this section, I’ll assume the starting price is $35,000 for a front-wheel-drive A220, and I’ll only include packages for which I know the prices. AWD is a $2,000 option on the C-Class, but it’s unclear how much it’ll add to the A-Class Sedan’s bottom line.
I’ll ditch my tester’s $750 Iridium Silver paint and its $1,450 red leather seats, but I’ll keep the $325 natural wood trim, since I like it. I’ll hold onto the $2,100 Premium Package for the larger screens, the $310 ambient lighting system and the $200 Qi wireless device charger. I’ll also keep the $1,090 option that adds a surround-view camera system and the aforementioned $1,150 Multimedia Package for navigation.
So what did I ditch from my tester’s spec? On top of the interior aesthetics, I’m omitting the $500 AMG wheels, $280 for a garage door opener, $900 for adaptive headlights, $2,600 for the AMG styling package, $460 for satellite radio, $850 for the Burmester audio system and $2,250 for the extra driver assists.
Assuming that $35,000 base price (plus a $2,000 AWD upcharge), my tester comes in at an eye-watering $52,660, including $975 in destination charges. My personal spec, on the other hand, is much more palatable at $41,150 including destination, and it has almost all the whiz-bang gadgetry of my tester.
Down to brass tacks
With a new CLA-Class on the horizon, which will undoubtedly pack every single update discussed and lauded in this review, Mercedes-Benz’s entry-level offerings will soon be second to none. The Audi A3 both looks and feels less exciting than the Benz. BMW doesn’t really have an analogous model, but Acura does offer the compact ILX as a competitor — that said, the ILX doesn’t look or feel as good as the A220 does.
It’s hard not to position the A-Class Sedan at the top of its segment, even though it’s not even on sale yet. It comes out of its gates swinging, offering some of the most advanced tech in its segment — albeit at a price point that varies from “affordable-ish” to “why didn’t you just buy the C-Class?” If you can stomach the window sticker, the A-Class Sedan is one of, if not the best way to dip your toes into the luxury-vehicle pool.