Introduction saw the release of five derivatives, with pricing ranging from R275,000 to R395,000 before options. The A180, A200, A180 CDI and A220 CDI wore the Blue Efficiency suffix, which some might recall, denoting a greater emphasis on economy and environmental friendliness.
Indeed, green marketing in the automotive world was still gaining momentum at that time. Transmission choices included a six-speed manual or the seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic option – most opted for the latter of course. And at the top of the pile, before the A45 AMG arrived, was the A250 Sport.
The A180 and A200 used the same 1.6-litre, turbocharged-petrol units. Output for the former was quoted at 90kW and 200Nm, with the latter delivering 115kW and 250Nm.
The A180 CDI, propelled by a Renault-sourced, 1.5-litre turbocharged-diesel motor, was credited with 80kW and 260Nm. The A220 CDI delivered a stout 125kW and 350Nm. If you picked the A250, you had 155kW and 350Nm at your disposal, thanks to a boosted 2.0-litre with four cylinders.
The snug interior might border on claustrophobic for larger occupants. Fascia design and cabin layout matched the pizzazz of the exterior, with turbine-inspired ventilation slots and an upper dashboard said to be inspired by an aircraft wing.
Tactile quality seemed to be among criticisms: it was good, but certainly not in the league of the equivalent Audi A3 of the day, with its abundance of soft-touch materials.
Another gripe expressed by evaluators was the harsh ride quality. Some descriptors were less than flattering, in referencing the overly firm character of the suspension. Perhaps it was a case of poor adaptation: the hard setup might have lent a sporty sense on pristine German asphalt, but the real-world conditions of South African roads revealed deficiencies.
Some testers advised buyers to stick with the smaller alloy options, with plumper rubber sidewalls, for a more compliant drive. Obviously, most preferred the visual swagger afforded by the larger rollers, even if that compromised ride.