THE completely new Mercedes-Benz A-Class has shaken the prestige small car segment with technology that trumps its rivals. Now a more powerful A250 4Matic version has joined the party.
There's an argument that people buy an A-Class simply because it's an A-Class, so they're beguiled by its sleek styling, 18-inch alloys and brace of high-resolution 10.2-inch digital screens in prime position in its leather-trimmed cabin.
With such features in base specification, they buy the cheapest version, which - until the A180 arrives in a few months - is the A200 at $47,200.
Intending buyers should put away their chequebooks to contemplate this - for a short time, Benz is selling the A250 4Matic version (the previous generation's bestseller by some margin) with the same rich specification as the A200, for a mere $2300 extra.
Unless you genuinely have no interest in driving, it appears a no-brainer. You're buying a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo with 165kW and 350Nm (the A200 has a 1.3-litre with 120kW/ 250Nm), there's all-wheel drive, plus multi-link rear suspension rather than the lesser model's more rudimentary torsion beam set-up.
If the last sentence didn't register, buy the A200. If you have blood in your veins and can tolerate fuel economy of 6.6L/100km over the A200's 5.7L (about $180 more to spend over 15,000km), the A250's the pick.
Rather quirkily, these A250s are early production models that Benz Australia secured in the same specification as the A200.
But in a few months (Merc can't say exactly when), they will be permanently replaced by an A250 4Matic with sporty AMG Line package and higher specification as standard, and a price tag nudging closer to $60K.
You can up-spec this A250 with an AMG Line pack, more luxury, comfort and active safety - so you have to wonder why Benz doesn't just retain this sub-$50K model and encourage buyers to tailor it exactly to their budget and desires.
After all, the A250 is fruit-filled already. It has a glorious cabin with the dominant digital screens bristling with driver information, excellent voice recognition, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, latest USB-C ports and wireless phone charging.
Throw in adaptive LED headlamps, satnav, touchpad controls and safety functions including brake, parking, lane keep, blind spot and traffic sign assist and this "lesser" A250 is hardly poverty-spec.
Next year the AMG A35 and A45 models will cover the proper performance end of the
A-Class range. For now the A250 4Matic is the driver's pick.
The A200 takes 8 seconds from rest to reach 100km/h - the A250 aces it in just 6.2 seconds. That's quicker than a VW Golf GTI, a car costing only a few thousand less than the prestige Benz. Some sales may be stolen there.
The A250 doesn't try to be a hot hatch. The engine has a sporty note, progress is rapid enough but gear changes sometimes feel hesitant through the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Taking control via paddle-shifters soon fixes this.
The suspension does a good job of absorbing all but the harshest bumps, it corners and grips with Germanic aplomb and the steering feedback is excellent through the leather and brushed aluminium flat-bottom steering wheel.
It never truly thrills but with its blend of composure and ample performance it creates a brilliant all-rounder.
The A250 adds more sporting credibility to the A-Class range, which is already flush with incredibly advanced features and a supreme cabin. Act quickly.
MERCEDES-BENZ A250 4MATIC
PRICE From $49,500 plus on-roads
WARRANTY/SERVICING 3 years/unlimited kilometres, $2480 for 3 years
SAFETY 5 star, 9 airbags, AEB, blind spot and lane keep assist
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 165kW/350Nm
SPARE None; repair kit