2020 Mercedes A Class

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There’s a leveling going on. A good one, for once.

Entry-level new cars are expected to come standard with features that used to be available only in luxury cars – AC, power pretty much everything; a pretty good stereo, etc. And entry-level luxury cars like the new Mercedes A-Class come standard with – or offer – features that as recently as two years ago were only available in top-of-the-line Mercedes models like the E and S-Class sedans.

Like massaging seats. A full-width 10.3 inch configurable LCD flatscreen instrument cluster. Ethereal glow ambient interior mood lighting.

The equipoise and placidity of someone who’s got it made.

These features – and more features – have trickled down to entry-level models like the new A-Class, which also offers features you couldn’t get at all even in a six-figure S-Class just two or three years ago, like an augmented reality driving directions system that projects street names and other details on a livestream video feed in the driver’s line-of-sight.

You do get less car  . . . physically.
The A is smaller on the outside than the E or the S.

But size is about the only point of difference.

Well, that – and price.

What It Is

The A is Mercedes new entry-level subcompact sedan.

It occupies more or less the same spot in Mercedes’ lineup as the CLA “coupe” – which is actually a sedan and priced similarly that’s about the same overall size as the A – but with a much lower roofline (hence “coupe”) and much less head and legroom.
Especially in the back.

The more upright A may not be quite as dramatic-looking as the CLA – but it’s just the ticket is for people who need a practical small luxury sedan.

Prices start at $32,500 for the front-wheel-drive A220. Adding the optional 4-Matic all-wheel-drive system bumps the sticker price up to $34,500.

That, by the way, is loaded Camry territory.

For a Mercedes.

What’s New

The A-Class is Mercedes’ latest class.

It takes the place of the CLA – which (for 2020) will move up a notch in size.

Mercedes will also be offering a high-performance AMG version of the A-Class as 2020 rolls along – probably by next summer. The A35 AMG will have at least 302 horsepower (the standard A has 188) and be capable of doing the 0-60 run in 4.6 seconds.

Which – for the record – is quicker than S-Class AMGs used to be not all that long ago.

What’s Good

Entry-level price; high-end amenities.

Subcompact exterior footprint; almost mid-sized interior spaciousness.

FWD is better in the snow than RWD (and makes buying AWD less necessary, if you live where it snows a lot).

What’s Not So Good

Looks like we’re not getting the hatchback version that’s available in Europe.

Comes standard with Automatic Stop/Start system.

Gets E-Class pricey when optioned out.

Under The Hood

Both the FWD and AWD versions of the A come standard with a 2.0 liter four cylinder engine, turbo-boosted to 188 horsepower and 221 ft.-lbs. of torque.

It’s paired with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Whether you stick with the FWD version or choose the 4-Matic AWD version, the A gets to 60 in about 7 seconds, according to Mercedes.

Gas mileage isn’t usually a major selling point for a luxury car, but the A can tout almost-economy car MPGs: 24 city and 35 on the highway for the FWD version and nearly the same for the AWD version (24 city, 34 highway).

The fact that the A is a FWD-based car is a selling point – for people who want better traction in snow than you get with a rear-drive car  . . . unless you buy it with AWD.

Assuming it’s offered.

The A goes both ways.

Which lets you skip the other way – with less risk of getting stuck.

A FWD car with good snow tires can be more tenacious in poor weather than an AWD car with sport tires – which negate the snow-advantages of AWD – in part because of the tires, of course.

But also because of the weight.

Of the engine, over the powered wheels. The weight pushes down on the wheels, helping the tires to bite, which  is what helps to keep you from getting stuck. It is also better – from a snow-day point of view – to pull rather than push.

There is cost to consider, too. Not having to buy AWD -in order to avoid getting stuck when it snows – is another perk of the FWD layout. You can buy the AWD for even more grip. But the FWD version doesn’t lack it.

The main downsides of FWD used to be torque steer – the tendency of the front wheels (and so, the steering wheel) to jerk to the left or right under hard acceleration, as the tires fought to put the power down and steer the car.

That’s been all-but-eliminated from modern FWD cars via the traction/stability control system.

On The Road

Small cars aren’t supposed to feel big, but the A manages to not feel small while delivering the  solid – and quiet – ride people who buy luxury cars expect.

It is a front-wheel drive car, so it understeers a little when driven hard – but most people who buy luxury cars don’t, so that’s less an issue than quiet (and smooth) which the A gets . . . As for.

Viewing the road ahead from just behind the widescreen instrument panel (and viewing the holographic info display projected into the driver’s line-of-sight) it is very easy to imagine being the pilot of an E or even an S, especially at night – when the cabin is bathed in the soothing ethereal glow of the best ambient interior lighting system in the business. It is the same system that you’ll find in the E and the S and other much more costly MB models and no one else’s system comes close.

Even the air vents glow.

Turn on the massaging seats; turn up the 12 speaker Burmester surround-sound audio system

It’s almost like being in the womb again.

The biggest difference between the A and the E or the S – and also price-comparable non-luxury sedans – is performance.

As measured by the stopwatch, at least.

Zero to 60 in 7 seconds isn’t slow by any means – and the Benz feels stronger than the numbers suggest because the little four’s peak torque is available at just 1,250 RPM – but the car is about two seconds slower than a V6-powered Camry or turbocharged Accord.

They, of course, do not (yet) offer massaging seats – but the differences there are getting hair-splitting. And when cars like the Camry, Accord, et al do offer things like massaging seats, it will apply pressure on luxury brands like Mercedes to amp up the performance to put some distance between what they sell and what is sold by brands like Toyota and Honda.

The pending addition of the A35 AMG will also put some air between the A and Camrys and Accords, et al.

At The Curb

The A is only abbreviated from the windshield forward  – and the decklid backward. In between the axle centerlines, the car is actually about the same size as an E. (Check out the size of the doors relative to the rest.)

And feels it, once you’re inside.

There’s actually a bit more front seat legroom (41.8 inches) in the A than in the E (41.4 inches) and backseat legroom’s close (37.2 inches vs. 38.2 in the E).

What may impress you more, though, is how much roomier the A is vs. the size-equivalent CLA.

Actually, the size-slightly-larger CLA, which is 182.3 inches long bumper to bumper vs. 179.1 for the A. But the CLA only has 27.1 inches of backseat legroom – a difference of almost a foot! The A also has a couple of inches more headroom in both its first and second rows – 40.3 inches and 37.2 inches, respectively – vs. 38.2 and 35.4 inches in the swoop-roofed CLA

The one area where the A seems small is its trunk – which the specs say holds just 8.2 inches (vs. 13.1 for the CLA). But the stat is misleading. The A’s trunk may not have as much depth or width but its length belies the stated volume of space available.

Pop the trunk; see for yourself.

Though the AMG A35 isn’t available just yet, you can get some of the AMG hardware, including upgraded brakes with drilled rotors and contrast-color powder-coated calipers, a lowered suspension and 18-inch performance wheel/tire package, AMG-tuned steering and AMG exterior/interior trim, including a sport steering wheel with paddle shifters and aluminum pedals.

The Rest

The center console-mounted trackpad is ergonomically designed to conform to the shape of your hand but it can be difficult to use it accurately while the car is moving. It’s easier to actually touch the main LCD display to access/operate the app you want.

Brilliantly simple and ergonomic is the steering wheel-mounted thumbwheel for the audio system/volume.

Mercedes offers the full load of high-end ssssssssaaaaaaaaaaafety electronics in this one – including a very pre-emptive elaboration of Lane Keep Assist Benz calls Evasive Steering Assist (which can and does abruptly brake the car and steer the car when a tire so much as touches as painted line on the road) plus Emergency Stop Assist and a really cloying one styled Active Speed Limit Assist.

Yes, it does what it sounds like it does.

The good news is if you prefer not to be “assisted,” this is all optional. Just skip the bundled Driver Assistance Package.

Us the funds saved to buy the much more appealing massaging seats or the very suave augmented reality driving directions, which is actually of much more assistance than all the ssssssssssssssaaaaaaaafety electronics detailed above. Street signs are often small – or not even there – making it hard to read them before you pass the street. The Benz system pipes this info into the car (via GPS mapping)  before you pass where you wanted turn.

ASS – Automated Stop/Start – is (sadly) unavoidable. This system – which kills the engine whenever the car isn’t actually moving – has become a de facto standard “feature” in all new cars as the car companies struggle to eke out fractional MPG gains and reductions in carbon dioxide “emissions.”

ASS is more than just a PITAS, too. It will almost certainly result in faster battery death caused by multiplication of discharge/charge cycling from all that stopping and starting, which wears out a battery. Instead of getting four or five years out of one, you’ll get three or four – the cost of battery replacement (about $100) probably more than negating the trivial fuel savings over the same time period.

No “concern” is ever expressed, either, by “environmentalists” about the increase in throwing-away of batteries (full of nasty acid and unpleasant lead) caused by ASS.

Never mind.

ASS also turns off engine-powered accessories like the AC. So you shvitz while you wait for the light to turn green.

At least ASS can be turned off.

For now.

The Bottom Line

The only thing missing here is a couple of feet – and the six figure price.

. . .

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12 COMMENTS

  1. You’re paying a premium price to drive a BENZ, even though this contraption is merely re-badged and wrapped with some MB decorations. I understand it’s the same platform as a mid-sized Hyundai.

  2. In what way is this THING made by the same great company which made the W126 240D? I guarantee this thing won’t run for 500000 trouble free miles, survive minor to moderate road hazards, and give the 35+MPG we got from them in the late 1970s. The whole auto industry needs a reboot.

  3. > A35 AMG

    I wonder if it’ll actually have an AMG engine. Their recent entry-level AMG offerings have pretty been just different software to get more out of the same engine. Like BMW’s M, it’s been diluted by the marketing people.

  4. The cost of a battery replacement in a Mercedes is way more than 100 bucks. They have their own special brackets or something only the dealer can change. Figure like $500. Non stoppable ASS would be a deal killer for me regardless.

  5. No thanks. I sat in the hatchback version of this car at an auto show a few weeks ago and could not figure out how to turn off the radio. My Friend sitting next to me, an AT&T cellular engineer responsible for the entire Mexican state of Jalisco, told me, given a few minutes, he could probably figure it out – but it didn’t happen. After about 30 seconds, our attention was diverted to the video screen operating the heating and air conditioning and we forgot about the muted radio. Despite both of us being avid car enthusiasts, we left the show with no visions of an A Class – or any other vehicle on display – in our future.

    • Laugh out loud— You reminded me of my first experience with Word Perfect, a word processor. Booted it up and my wife and I spent 30 minutes trying to “Exit” the program,,, all efforts failed except one…… Crtl-Alt-Del.

      I did eventually figure it out after reading the instructions but what genius ever does that first.

  6. What a perfectly nice little commuter car. Doesn’t inspire either enthusiasm or animosity.

    One wonders just how far down the price point food chain Mercedes can descend while hoping to retain any hint of upmarket ambiance. Gotta be getting close here.

    • Hi Mike,

      The thing is, they have to. Consider what you can get in a Camry… or even a Corolla. It makes it hard to justify spending $60k… unless you just want the dick-wagging rights.

      • Well, OK. But I can just hear the water cooler conversations now….

        1st person: “My wife kinda liked the Mercedes A Class, but we ended up buying the Honda Accord instead.”

        2nd person: You did?

        1st person: Yeah, it just seemed so much more upmarket. More brand prestige, too.

      • eric, I recall 10-12 years ago Corolla’s were noisy, harsh and got terrible fuel mileage in Texas driving. A friend had one for a company car. He couldn’t wait till they did as they did every couple years, mandate a company car or change to letting you drive your own. He never drove another company car nor did anyone I know do so in the same bidness. My best friend drove a Dodge with the auto seatbelts for a while. It was just plain old rank.

  7. Heads up display, Mood lighting, Vibrating Seats!, ASS, 4 cyl,,, 6-7 years of payment$, In$urance,,, Taxe$

    What more can the common man in this greatest economy ever ask for?

    • 50 years ago we had a neighbor with so many DWI’s he drove a Ford Ferguson 25 miles to the county line and back. Never had a wreck amazingly….but then nearly everybody recognized him and might go into the far barditch just to get around.

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