REVIEW | Is the 2019 Mercedes A200 really as good as it's cracked up to be?

Brenwin Naidu isn't entirely sold on South Africa's 2019 car of the year

07 June 2019 - 13:00 By Brenwin Naidu
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The Mercedes-Benz A200.
The Mercedes-Benz A200.
Image: Supplied

Mercedes-Benz upset the order of things when it launched its latest A-Class in 2018. The model was used to debut a comprehensively redesigned digital interface dubbed MBUX, which offers an impressive suite of features, including a talking assistant.

Historically, we are accustomed to seeing such pioneering innovations reserved for the flagship S-Class. For us, that led to musing on how the concept of luxury motoring has changed.

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Most millennial shoppers equate automotive grandeur with richness of technological advancement. Indulgent materials, generous dimensions and big engines are hallmarks of yesteryear in defining a high-end car. The A-Class, with its tablet-like screens that run across the interior fascia, represents the ownership aspirations of many young buyers in SA. The model, in A200 guise, arrived in our basement for a week-long evaluation recently.

It was the recipient of the SA Car of the Year 2019 title. The last time a Mercedes-Benz was awarded this accolade was in 1987, with the 260E (W124).

But I have to be honest. Apart from the outstanding clarity of its displays, the aesthetic appeal of the interior layout and its ability to comply when you issue commands like, “Hey Mercedes, close the sunroof”, I struggled to fathom why it was deemed the best of the lot. Still, it is tough to argue with the 55,000 consumer votes, considered part of the process.

And according to a press release there were 584 years of collective motor industry experience among the jury members. Some of them were producing reviews about the same time the three-wheeled Benz Patent Motor Car was launched in 1886. You should know that I had the good fortune of attending the competition’s test days at Kyalami, as an observer.

The quality of the cabin, while an improvement on the previous A-Class, still has some way to go. And the engine in the A200 does little justice to the striking premises served by the exterior.

It prefers to be coaxed along gently. Depressing the accelerator in a bid to tease out the full 120kW and 250Nm produces a sound of strain, without much of a commensurate increase in pace. It is relatively economical, however, having yielded figures in the early 6l/100km region over our test stint. The A250 Sport delivers a more ample 165kW and 350Nm. In terms of the ride texture, once again, markedly better than the car it replaced.

But would I say it is demonstrably plusher than an Audi A3, for example? Not particularly. Nor would I claim that it feels more athletic than something like the (outgoing) rear-wheel drive BMW 1-Series.

Prices for the Mercedes-Benz A-Class start at R499,126.

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