2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class First Drive

Affordable Brilliance

byMark Takahashi, Automotive Editor September 24th, 2018

In 2014, Mercedes-Benz introduced the CLA, an entry-level luxury sedan with a starting price around $30,000. We purchased a CLA250 for our long-term fleet. And over the course of a year, we concluded it was a disappointment that perhaps didn't deserve the Mercedes badge.

Fast-forward five years and the German carmaker is back at it with the new 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class. We were a bit apprehensive leading up to driving one. Leaving our past CLA experiences behind, we set out to answer two questions: Is the A-Class better than the CLA? And is this affordable Benz deserving of its badge?

What Does $30,000 Get You?

For about the price of a high-end Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz A 220 comes with a decent number of features. Under the hood is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 188 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that drives the front wheels.

Standard equipment includes LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, two 7-inch displays (one for the instrument panel and one for the infotainment), Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, eight-way power front seats, and forward collision warning with automatic braking.

As you might expect from a luxury brand, there are numerous option packages, ranging from larger displays and navigation to multiple exterior cameras, adaptive cruise control and even automated parking. Check too many boxes, like our fully loaded A 220 4Matic test car, and it's easy to imagine the A-Class cresting $50,000.

Is It Better Than the CLA?

The answer is a resounding yes. Compared to our CLA250 long-termer, the A 220 offers a significantly smoother ride even with the lower and stiffer optional AMG suspension. The smoothness also extends to the transmission, which doesn't suffer from the CLA's awkward lurches.

From a standstill, the A-Class accelerates with a brief hesitation, like when you engage the clutch with a manual transmission. After that, speeds increase rapidly enough that you don't feel the need to floor it to match highway traffic. It has more power than the typical driver wants and just enough for those who enjoy going fast. Selecting Sport mode sharpens throttle response and adds fake but pleasant baritone engine sounds.

On a curvy road, our A 220 4Matic exceeds expectations, encouraging lively cornering with very well-managed body roll and precise steering responses. The AMG package's summer performance tires exhibit an abundance of grip, and the easy-to-modulate and moderately firm brake pedal furthers driver confidence.

Even more impressive, the ride quality doesn't suffer because of the firm suspension. Unlike the early CLA models, this A-Class eagerly soaks up imperfect road surfaces and isn't fazed by bumps in a curve. Skipping the optional suspension would likely give the A 220 an even more comfortable ride.

One annoyance is the rather prominent road noise on the highway. It's intrusive on coarse surfaces, and there's a slight whistling of wind noise coming from the mirrors. This could be a minor complaint depending on how loud you crank up the stereo.

A-Plus for the Interior

The seats are well-shaped and have enough adjustments for small and tall occupants alike. After many hours on the road, fatigue doesn't become an issue. The rear seats are far less accommodating but acceptable for the class. The lack of headroom is an issue for taller-than-average passengers, but legroom is ample.

The seat cushion is notably low and short, providing little support for thighs. However, these limitations should be just fine for smaller occupants on longer journeys and acceptable for adults on short trips. There are no such limitations with regard to cargo space. We don't have exact capacity figures, but we're sure two large suitcases will fit with room to spare.

While our heavily optioned test vehicle benefits from racy black and red leather upholstery and wood trim, the attractive cabin design is consistent throughout the A-Class lineup. The most striking feature is the wide pane of glass that houses the digital instrument cluster and central infotainment display. It accentuates the dash, and the lack of physical controls gives the cockpit a modern and minimalistic appearance. The materials quality is excellent throughout, with the exception of the dimpled and perforated surface adorning the middle of the dash. That texture seems out of place until you notice that it's repeated on the steering wheel rim.

You have a narrow row of switches below the center turbine-like round air vents and a few buttons on the center console for drive modes and infotainment shortcuts. The amount of switchgear hits an elusive sweet spot, making the operation of the numerous systems quick and simple. With as many features as you have at your disposal, control over them is far easier than you'd think.

The MBUX Starts Here

The 2019 A-Class debuts Mercedes-Benz's latest infotainment system, MBUX (the UX is for "user experience"). The system has four control options, which should satisfy any user's preference. There are touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel where your thumbs rest, a touchscreen center display, a robust voice control system, and a pad behind the cupholders on the center console.

The center pad may be the most familiar interface for its placement and operation. Unlike similar setups, this one is actually easy to use. Instead of clumsily moving the cursor to a virtual button, you swipe in the direction of the button you want, just as you'd turn a dial to the next detent. Once on the intended spot, you tap the pad like you would on a laptop. Accompanying the on-screen motions are audible clicks and haptic feedback to your fingertips. Finding your way through the many menus is easy thanks to its similarities to tablets and smartphones.

The voice control offers a wealth of helpful features similar to the functions on Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. The system is supposed to be activated by saying "Hey, Mercedes," but it often responds to just "Mercedes." This can be problematic if you're talking about the car or if you have a friend named Mercedes. While you can't change the activation phrase, you can disable it and tap the voice button on the steering wheel instead.

Past the usual navigation commands, you can ask, "Where is the closest Starbucks?" and the system responds with on-screen options. Or tell it, "I'm a little cold," and the climate control increases the temperature by a few degrees. Like Siri or Google Assistant, you can even ask it to tell you a joke.

Along with the parlor tricks and control options, the very attractive system works as advertised and is quick to respond. It's one of those systems that keeps surprising you in pleasant ways. If you're using the navigation system on surface streets, there's an augmented reality feature that is actually helpful. As you approach a turn or your destination, the central screen switches to a forward camera view with an overlay of the appropriate direction. For a turn, you'll see a series of chevrons pointing to the intended path that appears as a virtual sign and changes perspective as you turn.

That $30,000 Question

Yes, this entry-level Mercedes deserves its badge. It's leaps and bounds better than the CLA, but not its replacement. The CLA is due for a redesign next year as a "four-door coupe" alternative. If the A-Class is any indication, it too will be worthy of the brand.

Not only does the 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class definitively and positively answer the questions posed earlier, but it also rises to the top of entry-level luxury sedans. It unseats our previous favorite, the Audi A3, and handily defeats the BMW 2 Series. We're confident that there's not much room for any car in this segment to improve upon the A-Class. So if you're in the market, do not miss this new front-runner when it hits dealer showrooms in early 2019.


2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan First Look

Ready for a Little Luxury? Meet Mercedes-Benz's New Subcompact Sedan

byElana Scherr, Special Correspondent July 25th, 2018

Mercedes is hoping to woo new customers with the arrival of the 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class sedan in the U.S. The sleek little four-door is positioned as an entry-level car for Mercedes, but also as a showpiece for new entertainment and safety technology as well as aerodynamic design. We'll see the 2019 A 220 in dealers by late 2018. In the meantime, let's take a look at what we can expect from the A-Class.

Small and Slippery

While other brands are going big, Mercedes has been expanding its compact line in the U.S. That continues with the new A-Class subcompact sedan, which will slot just below the four-door CLA "coupe," itself an A-Class derivative. The A-Class sedan has bragging rights to the lowest coefficient of drag — 0.22 — of any production car, one-upping the CLA's 0.23 Cd.

The A 220 may be slicker than a bar of soap, but it doesn't look like one. The design is clean and tight, with a full greenhouse and tidy front and rear overhangs. The body lines are crisply defined and the headlights and taillights are shaped to emphasize the sporty hood and wide rear. Customization is possible with chrome or black accents.

Four Cylinders and Optional AWD

The A-Class sedan has a new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, making 188 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque and backed by a 7G-DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission. It will be available with front-wheel drive or Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel drive, complemented by optional adaptive damping and up to 19-inch wheels. Notably, the A-Class rear suspension comes in either torsion-beam or upgraded multilink form, depending on equipment level. The front suspension is a MacPherson strut design.

What's New

Well, all of it! But in addition to the car itself, there's also the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) multimedia system. The A-Class is the first Mercedes-Benz model to showcase MBUX, which uses artificial intelligence to adapt to driver tendencies. Mercedes says it's more like talking to a friend in the car than inputting commands. Whether that's appealing to you or not probably depends on your friends.

Other significant A-Class features include a wide-angle digital display that serves as both the instrument cluster and the infotainment interface, a head-up display, and voice controls with natural speech recognition. The latter activates when you say, "Hey, Mercedes," which girls named Mercedes will find highly irritating but the rest of us should enjoy. MBUX also records vehicle sensor information and keeps track of where you park the A-Class. Now that's a good friend.

Stay Safe

The A-Class looks up to the S-Class for safety features, with front airbags, driver knee airbags, side curtain airbags, rear airbags, and active brake assist all standard. Automatic emergency braking and active lane-change assistance are optional as part of the Driver Assistance package.

The A-Class also uses GPS and navigation data to provide route-based information and adjust speed when approaching turns, intersections and other potentially hazardous situations. Even when static, the A-Class is safety-conscious, with a rear monitoring system that can recognize an upcoming rear-end collision and apply the brakes, keeping the car from rolling forward into traffic ahead.

Are We Excited?

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class looks like it will serve as an attractive introduction to the Mercedes brand. The interior is innovative and usable, and we're interested to see how the smart technology plays out in the real world. Stay tuned for pricing information, fuel economy estimates and more as we get closer to the A 220's official stateside debut.

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