THE FACT that the Porsche Boxster walked away with the coveted Car of the Year 2013 title came as a bit of a surprise to most people attending the event where the announcement was made. Later that evening, I heard one or two conversations on how the Porsche didn’t deserve to win, but that’s fine, because at least we know next year’s winner will be a traditional mass-manufactured hatch.
These people were of course talking about the VW Golf 7, currently a firm favourite for the 2014 title. I concur with their sentiments. The Golf is the default car for anyone looking for… well, a car, basically.
Volkswagen should be proud of the Golf 7. I’m sure they already had a spot cleared up for the forthcoming trophy where it will be parked right next to the World Car of the Year title it received a few short weeks ago.
Should VW be so confident? If you asked me two weeks ago, I would have said yes. Looking at the local launches lined-up this year, I don’t see anything that will be able to knock the Golf of the top spot.
Last week, however, I drove the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
This car could turn out to be a very big fly in Volkswagen’s trophy polishing ointment. I’m going to be perfectly honest and say that I was not expecting it to be as good as it turned out to be.
The new A-Class is such a big departure from the previous model, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. Just look at it. It no longer looks like something that should be parked outside a suburban garden party. The new one wouldn’t look out of place parked on an airfield, outside a rock show or out on the street in the trendiest parts of the trendiest towns.
Mercedes has thankfully done away with its more traditional wood interior inserts in favour of modern trimmings that have been given an electroplated finish. Other highlights include air vents styled to look like aircraft turbines and a free-standing display screen that looks suspiciously like an iPad. I’m convinced the millennial generation will appreciate the effort Mercedes has made to bedazzle the innards of its latest luxury hatch.
The rear seat has space for three passengers and the boot can swallow an impressive 341 litres of luggage. With the rear seats folded down, its capacity jumps to 1 157 litres.
Modern consumers will also be pleased to see that the A-Class can be tailored to the customer’s specific styling and equipment needs. The baby Merc is available in Urban, Style and AMG Sport appointment lines, three design packages (Night, Exclusive and AMG Exclusive) and there is naturally a host of further optional extras that can be delved into. Beware though, as they don’t come cheap.
In terms of standard specification, Mercedes has taken care of the basics. All models across the range come equipped with air conditioning, a sound system with a USB port, headlamp assist and a 12-button multifunction steering wheel.
Powertrains and performance
The A-Class can be had in diesel or petrol, mated to either a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic dual-clutch transmission. A stop/start system is fitted as standard across the range.
The diesel range kicks off with the 80kW/250Nm A180 CDI. The A220 CDI, with its displacement of 2.2 litres, develops 125kW and 350Nm of torque. Mercedes claims an impressive fuel consumption figure of 3.8 litres/100km on the combined cycle for the smaller diesel and 4.3 litres/100km for the 220 CDI.
Three variants are available in the petrol range: A180, A200 and A250. The power outputs range from 90kW to a GTI-killing 155kW. Fuel consumption for the petrol powertrains is equally impressive, with claimed figures of between 5.8 litres/100km and 6.4 litres/100km.
Perhaps most importantly, the A-Class sets new standards for safety in its class. Every model in the range is fitted as standard with PRE-SAFE, a system that first made its debut in the S-Class in 2002. Along with this system, which best prepares the driver for an imminent accident, you get a host of systems meant to keep you on the road (or protect you, should the worst happen). As a result, the A-Class has received a full five stars from Euro NCAP.
The A-Class' case
With all of the above in mind, it’s easy to see that the new A-Class is an excellent premium hatch. Is it better than the Golf 7? According to the World Car of the Year judges, the answer is no. Will the South African COTY jury feel differently? I doubt it. Would the average A-Class driver care? Not a chance.
The A-Class does make a very strong case for itself though. It’s stylish without being ostentatious and it has modern technology and legendary German build quality in spades.