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Driven: 2013 Mercedes Benz A250 Sport

Mercedes Benz A Class: when launched in 1998 it was an attempt to explore the growing market segment of compact cars, and while Mercedes Benz did have a good knowledge of the market, they didn't have enough experience to engineer a good car for the segment.  Let's all agree: despite the large sales figures, as a car, the W168 was a disaster. From questionable handling, to the very un-Mercedes finish of the final product, it was just horrible.

Fast forward to 2011 and amid economic downturn Mercedes Benz understood that there will be even more people looking for a compact car, which would mean even more potential buyers of the A Class.  They have perfectly identified the target market as younger families that may desire their little cars to be more than just a way of getting from A to B.  Enter the W176, or what can be classified as best looking hatch on the market.

Gone is the flawed design of low sitting engine, gone is the entire formula of the old A Class, and this proportionally perfect, aggressive, and stunningly beautiful hatch was born. 

 It almost seems like Mercedes Benz decided to not to follow the hot hatch market, but to redefine it.

As it went on sale in 2012 the A180 was an instant hit in Japan due to its looks, comfort, compactness, fuel economy, and the overall status and reputation of Mercedes Benz.  It is also priced below the benchmark 3 million yen, which is the mean budget for most family cars.  While it has the looks, performance-wise it is not much to write home about, so I patiently waited until an A250 was available, and finally, here it is:

In all its sport package glory, similarities with the A45 AMG cannot be unnoticed.

Sports bumper, 18-inch lightweight AMG alloy wheels wrapped in 235/40 R18 sports performance tires, sports suspension, red accents all across, and so on. 

It also comes with a type of mesh grille, that was used in the prototype, which I actually like quite a lot.

On the inside we get a similarly styled cockpit with sports seats, multifunction leather steering wheel with aluminum spokes, paddle shifters, and carbon fiber trim.

It all comes together very well and creates an undeniable feeling of control and comfort, not often seen in hot hatches today.
There is also adequate amount of space in the back and trunk is very decently sized.
What I found even more pleasantly surprising is how this car goes.  Start the engine and you are greeted with a very deep sound similar to a tuned JDM car with a massive muffler at the back.

Even though the dual exhaust tips here may not look like much, the moment you press on the accelerator you feel that this car means serious business. During acceleration turbo whine can be heard very clearly, and when accompanied by roar of the exhaust that gets louder in mid-range the feeling is just exuberating.  Exhausts burble on the over-run and blow-off valve make proper whoosh sound on the accelerator lift-off.  Overall, It sounds like a properly tuned car, which is rare for a standard family hatch.
And sound is just a small part of this package as, the 2L engine in this car is the detuned version of the one in the A45 AMG! The little four-banger produces an impressive 208 horse power and connects to front wheels through a quick shifting double clutch gear box.

While it may not have the top power, it has plenty of torque which gets instantly delivered resulting in back-to-seat throwing acceleration that gets this car from 0 to 60 in respectable 6.6 seconds, with top speed rated at 240 km/h.

The ride quality is firm, but not uncomfortable.  Feedback through steering wheel is excellent and it is very easy to get a feel of this car.  It is playful but those sticky fat tires keep the car planted.  I threw the car into corners a couple of times and it was just glued to road.

Handling of this car is magnificent as it almost effortlessly points exactly where you want it to.  The car feels very balanced and not as nose heavy as most FWD cars nowadays.

I haven't driven the A45 AMG yet, so I cannot really comment how much more advanced that little monster is over this A250.  But considering that AMG division played a role when this car was built, it is definitely worth the price.  For those that think that 6.4 million for a hatch is ridiculous, just get this.  It's a brilliant little car!

Cost of ownership:
The 2L inline four is proving to be very economical and there is also a bonus of lower engine size tax bracket in Japan.  Car will probably require frequent oil changes and maintenance.  Tire swaps should also be considered into running costs as performance tires with that size are pricey.

The limited cabin space in this compact car is efficiently used, and front occupants feel very spacious.  That cannot be said about the occupants in the back if longer trip is required.  There is plenty of storage, but I've seen more with easier access in the same car class.

Arguably the best looking hot hatch right now, and sporty aerodynamic parts just add to that aggressive look. 
Fun factor:
Brilliant handling and very responsive and powerful engine will keep the owners happy.  Sadly there is no 4WD option yet, but this may change as A45 AMG is 4matic as is a CLA250.

As Always, thanks to Mercedes Benz Connection Tokyo for letting me drive this car.
Mercedes Benz A250 Sport is available from Mercedes Benz dealers across Japan for 4.2 million yen.
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First Look: Mercedes Benz A45 AMG Edition 1

Please go here for full review and test drive of A45 AMG

Mercedes Benz is on a roll, and they have no intention of slowing down.  In a surprise move during somewhat quiet summer season they have just unveiled the CLA and CLA AMG for Japan, all that while the world is preparing itself for the S class debut.  What a year it has been for the Stuttgart automotive giant, so in today's post I will do a visual introduction of the phenomenal A45 AMG Edition 1, which went on sale in Japan on July 1st.
When Mercedes Benz unveiled the replacement for the soccer mom uneventful A class the whole world froze in amazement as it took a little while to sink in.  Nobody could find anything similar between the old and new A Class, and that’s definitely a good thing.  Once it went on sale, everyone also recognized that it wasn't just looks, the A class was also a great fun to drive.
Then the AMG division came in and said: we'll make it even better! And so they did.  They took the world by storm when the A45 AMG was finally uveiled earlier this year as a lot of skeptical journalists were looking for a flaw, something to criticize... and they couldn't find anything!

Now that I see it in front of me, it is obviously clear how amazing this car is.  Attention to details is phenomenal as it borrows luxuries from other models and shows all other hot hatches how it's really done.
It does feel luxurious inside. The seats are made from top quality leather, central console storage cover is soft and comfortable, and aluminum accents are beautifully incorporated into elegantly curved dash. Red stitches, accents, and seatbelts blend beautifully with all black interior components creating a very joyful but at the same time comfortable atmosphere.
All dials and controls are top quality, just like in any other Mercedes Benz model.

Despite the smaller size of the vehicle there is room in the back for two adults to enjoy a long trip.
And there is plenty of storage space as well.  Rear trunk panel is removable, and seats are collapseble.  This is indeed a perfect family hatch, which maintains its focus on perfomance and fun.
Aluminum paddles behind the leather and alcantara wrapped steering wheel and are same as you would find in other higher end AMG models.
Overall interior is very roomy and nicely designed, definitely appealing for variety of tastes. The only two negatives I could point out is the cheap looking snap-on Command NAV system screen and central console made from hard plastic.
But let's not get carried away with the luxuries.  This is not what this car is all about.

It is about raw power, and lots of it.  Delivered from a small 2 liter engine it sends whooping 360 horses to all 4 wheels (most of power goes to front) via 4matic torque vectoring system that allows rear wheels to get up to 50% of torque when needed.  This is very impressive machine, and while I am not new to automotive tuning world, where 360 horses out of 2 liter engine has been done before, never it has been accompanied with a 3 year unlimited mileage warranty.

What they've done here is show how far ahead of the game Mercedes Benz really is; not only in terms of technology and innovation, but also how the whole corporation functions as a single unit. This car is result of excellent team work, dedication, and progressive corporate culture. 

Engineers at Mercedes Benz have been perfecting diesel engines for quite a while and have achieved very impressive efficiency and performance numbers.  What they haven't achieved with diesel engines however, is an appeal to car enthusiasts.

So what they did here is utilize the knowledge, technology and components designed for high pressure diesel engines and create a brand new petrol engine.  Result is phenomenal power, response, fuel efficiency, resilience and reliability up to Mercedes Benz highest standard.
Perhaps the only evidence of incorporation of diesel engine technology is red line of 6250 RPM with peak power at 6000.   

Priced at whooping 6.4 (over 7 million for Edition 1) million yen, the car is not cheap, but because of these factors it is very reasonable to own.  A bonus for Japanese market is that it sits in the same vehicle tax bracket as Subaru Impressa WRX or Suzuki Swift Sport!

So far this is turning out to what appears to be one amazing car.  It may not be for everyone, but it does raise the bar for all that follow.  I can't drive it yet, because it is yet to be street legal in Japan, but as soon as Mercedes Benz Japan has one available there will be a full review here! 

Thank you for reading everyone.  There will be more A class goodness in the next update as I take the A250 Sport for a spin around Tokyo.

Please go here for full review and test drive of A45 AMG
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Driving the American Dream: Dodge Challenger RT!

In the previous post I mentioned that I couldn't get lucky and drive a Mustang V8 or get a Corvette for a road trip. But my luck was not all bad as I was able to drive the magnificent Dodge Challenger not just once, but on 3 different occasions, One of which was a 700 mile road trip from Los Angeles, to Las Vegas, and all the way to Phoenix through Grand Canyon!
Having driven this car several times during the 2011 and 1012 I could see the evolution of the model with few design changes in the 2013 model facelift.

Most of the changes were on the inside, where it finally got the paddle shifters, as well as central display, and slightly more modern look overall.

But of course the most amazing feature of the 3rd generation Dodge challenger is its looks.  It is absolutely stunning.  The amazing blend of classic muscle car shape, modern lines, ideal portions and very beefy curves has created a true masterpiece of car design.

The car looks amazing from any angle at any time of day or night.  It looks and feels very American in every aspect, and that's a good thing.

At any part of the country the car was getting stares of appreciations and occasional thumbs up, even in the up-scale Beverly Hills area.  This car is a rock-star.

And it felt right at home cruising the Las Vegas Boulevard while tuning into Classics Rewind on the Sirius XM radio, which comes as standard on the RT.

But there is no better place to take it than the open road.  It absolutely absorbs the miles while it sails through the long straights of American highways.  Once the road gets curvy, however it feels a lot less planted than Camaro.  Its enormous weight is felt during cornering as there is plenty of body roll, while steering feels loose and lacks precision.  I think this can be resolved by installing stiffer and shorter springs, anti-roll bars, and set of high performance tires.

However, I often have to remind myself that this is not a sports car; it's a cruiser and from that perspective, this car is brilliant.  Even fuel consumption in this beast is reasonable.  It comes with the cylinder shut off system and variable valve timing, and together they do amazing things to fuel consumption, which really is noticeable during long road trips.

What may also come as a surprise is how practical this car is.  It has very roomy and functional interior; passengers in the back can sit comfortably during a long drive.  They also can be rest assured that their luggage will fit, as this car has by far the largest trunk in its class.

So there you have it, a winner in my book.  Out of the 3 muscle cars this one has the most character, best looks, and best sounding exhaust note.  It is also better as a daily driver and long distance cruiser.  Numbers?  I will let the magazines take care of that.  This one put the biggest smile on my face.

Cost of ownership:
The 5.7L V8 is surprisingly gentle on the fuel on the highways, and the car should be fairly maintenance free due to its simplicity.  However, those large rear tires will probably need frequent replacement, and while upgrades are recommended, they aren't cheap.

Out of all muscle cars, or sport coupes this one has the largest trunk and most room in the back.  If anyone is looking for practicality, this is the car to own.

This car turns heads.  People think that you are Dominic Torreto and Dukes of Hazard all in one.  Get it in orange, you won't regret it!

Fun factor:
While straigh line acceleration and the grunt of a V8 will send you through a pistonhead euphoria, it lacks in handling department and will not be that much fun around a track or a twisty mountain road. If that's your thing, handling upgrade is a must, or opt for SRT8 version that is $6000 more.

Thanks for reading everyone, please don't forget to like, follow, and share.
On this note I would like to conclude the California special and take the blog back go Japan.
Next stop: Mercedes Benz Japan.

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