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Review: Mercedes-Benz A-Class diesel

Driven September 2013

Review: Mercedes-Benz A-Class diesel

We’ve said this earlier when we tested the A-Class Sport in August, and we’ll say it again: “If looks could kill, the A-Class would be behind bars”. Look at this Mercedes hatchback from any angle and it looks exceptional. The styling is a radical departure from the conventional Merc designs we’ve become used to. Safe to say this is the best looking Mercedes yet.

So then, after spending nearly a quarter of an hour ogling its curves and character lines, we finally take the best seat in the house – more on that in a bit. For now, the interior. Even among premium hatchbacks, it’ll be hard to find a cabin as attractive as this one – can’t go wrong with a design inspired by the SLS AMG’s now, can you?

But we've noticed one thing – there's a vast difference between the front and rear seats. The front seats are extremely supportive and comfortable, and you can adjust the driver’s seat in whatever manner you wish to. It can also memorise up to three individual settings.

Slide on to the rear seat and you realise it’s only half as interesting as the front. The low-set seat is comfortable, but a little too upright. The bench is on the shorter side and lacks thigh support. Plus, the huge front seats obstruct most of the frontal view, and both, the windows and the rear windscreen are small. Apart from operating the rear window switches and cursing the people sitting ahead, there’s not much to do at the back.

The A featured here is the A180 CDI Style, powered by a four-cylinder 2.2-litre turbodiesel that churns out a modest 107bhp and 250Nm. That may not sound great on paper, but coupled to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the A180 CDI can push off in some style.

Start the motor, and you’re greeted by that typical diesel murmur while idling, which easily makes it into the cabin. And slotting the 7G DTC ’box into D and stepping on the gas only makes things louder. And it’s not exactly music to the ears. Not to ours, at least.  Also, you won’t be pushed back into your seat when you take off – acceleration from standstill isn’t great. The A180 CDI Style does 0-100kph in 9.9sec, making it 0.15sec slower than its petrol sibling.

But this diesel motor isn’t about outright performance. The manner in which it builds up speed and the way the seven-speed ’box responds to your right foot indicates how relaxed and well mannered this four-pot motor is.

It is not a car you want to take to a drag strip, but it can surely spice things up on the roads, where it will spend most of its living years. Driving in the city is effortless, since power delivery is quite linear and available from as low as 1500rpm. Part-throttle response is quite adequate to amble around town. And while you’re doing that, you could bask in the glory of the A-Class’s stunning looks.

However, out on the highway, the engine and gearbox combination doesn’t feel all that impressive. D mode comes across as leisurely for the occasion, and S mode also doesn’t feel as quick as you want a dual-clutch transmission to be. But then, there’s a manual mode that obeys your commands quite well. Still, it’s heartbreaking to see the 2,143cc motor – which does duty in the C-, E- and M-class – detuned for this A-Class. For once, the A rides and handles like a wannabe sportscar, and when you’re in the mood to take things to the other side of sanity, the lack of outright power is evident.

That brings us to ride and handling, which is a mixed bag. The heavy steering wheel weighs up well with an increase in speeds, but feels a bit weighty at city speeds. Also, the A-Class points its nose in whatever direction you want it to.

The stiffer suspension setup is all good while cruising at high speeds, taking a fast corner or navigating twisty hill roads. But it comes at the cost of low-speed ride, which is a bit choppy. Still, that’s a small price to pay for the bucket loads of fun that the A-Class diesel promises to be on open road. For those who won’t sleep well until they hear of the efficiency figures – the A180 CDI returned a healthy 11.9kpl in the city, and 16.1kpl on the highway.

The Indian in you will also like the fact that Mercedes has priced the diesel variant cheaper than the petrol. At Rs 21.93 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai), the A180 CDI Style is almost a lakh cheaper than the petrol variant. But then, apart from the various active and passive safety features, the Sport variant gets the additional panoramic sunroof and signature diamond grille. In the Style variant featured here, that grille is an optional extra.

If you’re looking for a Mercedes-Benz that’ll fit into a relatively smaller garage without drying up your bank balance, this new A should do the trick. Yes, it’s a hatchback that costs upwards of Rs 20 lakh, but then, it is one stunning looking package, offering luxury associated with cars in higher segments. Plus, its sporty drive and excellent handling manners are definitely worth it.

The numbers
4cyl, 2143cc turbodiesel, 107bhp, 250Nm, FWD, 7A, 0-100kph – 9.9s, 30-50kph – 1.86s, 50-70kph – 2.86s, city kpl: 11.9, highway kpl: 16.1, 80-0kph – 26.81m /2.74s, 190kph*, Rs 21.93 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai)

The verdict
Don’t look at the A as the cheapest Merc. Look at it as a premium hatch with luxury and class in an attractive package. And for once, the diesel variant is cheaper than the petrol.

Devesh Shobha

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