Review: Mercedes A-class is entry-level luxury done right

In these times of big and tall utility vehicles dominating the roads, it seems incongruous that Mercedes-Benz would introduce a small sedan (and hatchback) to North America.

But where there’s a will and a niche to be filled, the automaker appears ready to broaden its appeal to first-time buyers and brand-switchers in every way possible.

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The A-class label has been around for some time, except on our shores. Until now, the CLA class was the starting-point passenger car for buyers of modest means. Although Mercedes-Benz considers it a “coupe,” the low-slung fastback — seemingly patterned after the larger and pricier CLS class — is tight on space, especially for adults hunched over in the back seat.

That’s less of a problem with the made-in-Mexico A class. The car’s tall roofline, which extends to the trunk, results in easier rear-door entry and exit, and more than adequate rear-seat headroom. A nearly four-centimetre gain in distance between the front and rear wheels compared with the CLA means more legroom. Not to be overlooked is the A class’s trunk volume that beats the CLA by more than 15 per cent and can be further increased by folding the 40/20/40 seatback.

Note that the CLA is longer overall and both cars will be in dealer showrooms at the same time (the A class does not replace the CLA). That’s fuzzy logic, indeed, but the plan seems to be to move the next-generation CLA, which is based on the previous A-class hatchback, to the new A-class platform, at which time it will grow in size to better fill the gap with the C class.

Concurrent with the sedan’s arrival, an A-class hatchback version is also available globally, and in Canada.

The A-class sedan’s overall design, which emphasizes function over form, isn’t as svelte as the CLA’s, but the compact sedan still projects a measure of sportiness. In particular, the hunkered-down aerodynamic nose and large air intakes, plus the rear spoiler (integrated with the trunk lid) and chromed dual exhaust tips, add character to an otherwise restrained shape.

The interior emphasizes premium-style seating and trim along with an advanced dashboard design. The standard version comes with dual 18-centimetre touchscreens, while twin 26-centimetre screens are optional. Each can be customized in a number of ways, but selecting the larger ones gets you ambient dashboard lighting with 64 hues to choose from. That Mercedes-Benz is making this and other high-tech equipment available in its low-priced model is an unexpected, but welcome surprise.

Whatever screen set you choose, a quintet of large, round fresh-air vents in the dash stand ready to expel as much hot or chilled air as you’re ever likely to need.

The A220-designated A class is equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that puts out 188 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque.

The turbo is connected to a seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

The all-wheel-drive A220 4Matic uses the same power team as the front-wheel-drive version, but adds $2,000 to the sedan’s $37,100 base cost (which includes destination charges). At that price point you get the expected power-controlled features plus a panoramic sunroof, floor-console touchpad and a voice-controlled command system for the dual-zone climate control and infotainment systems, the latter referred to as the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX). Its artificial-intelligence capability can “learn” your driving habits (favourite routes, for example) and can respond to a wide range of information requests.

Along with AWD and the larger touchscreen, the lengthy list of options includes navigation, Burmester-brand premium sound package, hands-free trunk access, multi-adjustable heated front seats, and a head-up information display.

Again, most of these features are normally the property of more luxurious automobiles, but adding them to the A class will boost the price far beyond the entry-point range. You’ve been warned.

But, hey, if smaller cars are your passion, and luxury and leading-edge safety content — albeit optional — are musts, then the A-class sedan could become your ideal automotive companion.

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