Mercedes-Benz A200 BlueEfficiency AMG
The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class is a revelation compared to the old model. Gone is the boxy, MPV-like design and in has come a modern, desirable hatchback.
My pick of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class range is not the most powerful nor the most fuel efficient offering. It's the A200, which features a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with a power output of 156 bhp. The closest competitor to this in terms of badge prestige and performance is the BMW 116i, which also features a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Both cars promise to be easy to live with and good fun out on the road.
So which is best?
Well, it all depends on what you look for in a car. I'm torn between the two. On the one hand, the new A-Class is striking to look at and far more stylish than the new 1-Series. On the other hand, the 1-Series is more fun to drive and will probably retain its value better. If I was forced to choose, though, I'd have to go for the A-Class.
The styling of the new A-Class is what potential buyers will notice first. It's simply a gorgeous car. The front grill and lights are unmistakable Mercedes-Benz, and are stylish and aggressive at the same time, something which is sure to lure younger motorists in; it makes the new Astra and Focus look very humdrum indeed, and sat alongside a 1-Series, it's hard to prefer the BMW which is soft and welcoming by comparison.
Inside, quality on the A-Class is good. The whole dashboard is smothered in soft touch rubber as are the door cards, and the steering wheel is wrapped in leather. The seats are stylish, comfortable and supportive, and a particular highlight are the air vents which are taken directly from a Mercedes SLS. You get the sense with the A-Class as soon as you sit in it that the engineers wanted this to be a sporty yet practical car.
Thankfully, it is. The 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine sends horses to the front wheels and the total power output of 156 bhp is easy to extract. The engine offers a high level of flexibility, too, and so driving in the mid-range is easy to do. When the twisties come up the A-Class grips in hard in AMG trim, which nets you bigger alloy wheels and a lower suspension. Sadly, it can't quite match the dynamics of the 1-Series though, which with rear wheel drive is simply the more responsive of the two machines. Neither car is breathtaking in a straight line, but they are both respectable.
The Mercedes-Benz A200 BlueEfficiency AMG costs £24,265 brand new. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, cruise control, heated electric mirrors, CD and MP3 connectivity, alloy wheels, Bluetooth, split / fold rear seats, passenger and side airbags. Optional extras include climate control (£530), power seats (£790), heated seats (£300), power folding mirrors (£310), automatic transmission (£1,450), satellite navigation (£495), leather seats (£1080), reversing camera (£300) and a lane departure warning system (£770). The A-Class is slightly better equipped than the 116i M Sport, but it costs over £2k more.
Frugal motorists may prefer a diesel engine; the A200 CDI uses a 134 bhp, 1.8-liter diesel unit that’s smooth and flexible, delivering its 221 lb/ft of torque from 1600 to 3000 rpm. The A200 BlueEfficiency is my pick, though, because the rev-happy engine is good fun to work.