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:
4/5
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.

Practicality:
4/5
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.

Appeal:
5/5
Arguably the best looking hot hatch right now, and sporty aerodynamic parts just add to that aggressive look. 
Fun factor:
4/5
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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