NO model has done more to enhance Mercedes-Benz's youthful appeal than the compact A-Class hatchbacks.
Well-priced at entry-level, stunning to behold inside and out across the range, and with the AMG A45 flagship a devastating performance offering, the baby Benz is something of a hero.
The A-Class line-up - consisting of five models - has been given a mild makeover for 2016 with an emphasis on being "sportier than ever, and ready for a new generation." But youth orientated or not, the broad appeal of these hatches means buyers of all vintages - from well-heeled teens to in vogue baby boomers - covet these little Mercs.
Originally introduced in 2013, these next-generation cars bring subtle exterior enhancements and spec changes across the models. Entry level is the A180 at $37,200, mid-range are the A200 petrol ($42,800) and A 200 d diesel ($43,300), while you need to fork out an extra $10k+ to move into the all-wheel drive A 250 Sport at $53,500.
Then there's the mad dog. The Mercedes-AMG A 45 ($77,900) has the most powerful production four-cylinder in the world, with a staggering 280kW and 475Nm, and can now crack the 100kmh sprint in only 4.2-seconds. A mighty leap to usurp Audi's pesky RS3 by 0.1-seconds, and claim the quickest hatch crown. We'll review the A 45 in full next week.
Across the range we see slight improvements in acceleration figures and fuel consumption, while all feature a seven-speed automatic only. The A250 Sport was previously front-wheel drive but is now an all-paw just like the A 45.
Typical premium Benz here, with the right blend of practicality and wow factor.
A column shift (for all but the A 45) keeps the centre console clean, the 8-inch screen (which I'd prefer to be touchscreen personally) is brilliantly crisp and the control unit simple to operate.
The A250 Sport truly lives up to it is name inside. Seats are firm and racy, while red for the seatbelts, turbine air vent outlines and stitching give you a special sporty smile. The flat-bottom steering wheel is a delight and carbon-esque trim has been executed very well indeed - get fake carbon fibre wrong and it can look a bit cheap.
The A 45 ramps the sportiness up further with seats you'd probably not want to endure a road trip in (but are sublime on the track) - while across the range the five-door A-Class does rear space pretty well. Two adults in the back is no problem as long as they're not too tall or long of leg.
On the road
Naturally you'll choose your A-Class engine relevant to your needs, but interestingly, 60% of Australian sales are of the AMG A45 and A250 Sport. Proof, if it were needed, that we like our baby Benz with performance.
Diesel sales are minimal and we didn't have the chance to test one at launch, nor the A180. The A200 was on hand and it made the most sense, quite expectedly, as the best everyday proposition with decent enough shove from the 115kW four-cylinder, and enough torque to get up to speed rapidly.
We have always been smitten by the A-Class chassis, and nothing has changed. Even in the lower end of the range, the A200 is very surefooted through the curves. And worth noting, also offers the most cossetting ride in a range where suspension leans towards the stiff.
This shows up quite markedly with the A250 Sport on poor road surfaces. It does ride quite harshly here, even in Comfort setting (worse so if you option 19-inch wheels), but on decent motorways it proves easy to live with, and on decent twisty roads and the race track is a revelation, that all-wheel drive making it incredibly easy to drive fast.
The A250 Sport's engine is a cracker, and if you're not planning trips to the track offers enough performance to satisfy on any back road fling.
All cars come with Dynamic Select to enable the driver to choose between Comfort, Sport, Eco and Individual. It's a superb system, with the ideal often being selecting Individual and Sporting up the engine and leaving the suspension on Comfort.
What do you get?
From entry level A180 you score 17-inch alloys, 8-inch colour display, navigation, blind spot assist, park assist, reversing camera, gear shift paddles, keyless start and drive mode select function. Move to the A200 or A200d and you get 18-inch alloys while seats, trim and steering wheel all "premium up" a tad.
The A250 Sport really boosts the sports style and swagger. There's all-wheel-drive of course, while the Merc-signature diamond radiator grille with chrome pins, 18-inch AMG rims and AMG body styling amplifies the exterior desirability markedly.
Want to be noticed? Go the A250. Inside you get carbon fibre look trim, red marker rings around the dash air vents (which look stunning), red contrast stitching through the cabin (also stunning), red seatbelts, flat-bottomed steering wheel and a panoramic sunroof. AMG Ride Control sports suspension is also standard, but even at $53,500 you have to fork out extra for the likes of smartphone integration and electric seats. That hurts.
The A45 is of course a whole other beastie with very select shoppers. As standard the Merc-AMG set enjoys an AMG Speedshift gearbox, a Race setting for the Ride Control, 19-inch AMG alloys, performance exhaust and high-performance brakes.
Inside are AMG performance (i.e. pretty damn firm) heated electric leather seats, AMG nappa leather steering wheel, smartphone integration, Harman Kardon surround sound, Thermotronic dual-zone climate control and a leather dash top.
And as you're already spending $77,900, track day enthusiasts should tick the box to option the newly developed front axle diff lock with A45's AMG Dynamic Plus Package at $1990, improving grip during fast acceleration out of bends.
Look to offerings in the Audi A3 Sportback (from $35,900) and BMW 1 Series ranges ($36,900), while A45 shoppers should also sample the Audi RS3 ($78,900) and incoming BMW M2 (from $89,990).
Eye-catching across the range, but buyers of the A180 and A200s may want to treat themselves to the AMG Line pack ($1990 and $1490 respectively) to enjoy the likes of carbon-effect trim, red stitching, leather sport seats and AMG body styling and rims. The A250 Sport's diamond grille with chrome pins still looks superb, and the A 45? Life doesn't get much funkier, especially when it's dressed in Elbaite green metallic.
Prices for the 2016 A-Class may be up a few grand over before, but now scoring standard sat nav, larger 8-inch media screen, reverse camera and blind spot assist across the range more than justifies it.
Beyond that, the baby Benz is as before. Good looking, a premium interior, cracking chassis and decent engine line-up. Try the range to see which suits your personality and none will disappoint, from hip city cruisers to track day heroes.
Model: 2016 Mercedes-Benz A-Class range (A180, A200, A200d, A250 Sport 4MATIC, Mercedes-AMG A 45 4MATIC)
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive (A180, A200, A200d) or all-wheel drive (A250 Sport and A 45) premium compact hatchbacks.
Engines: 90kW/200Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder (A180); 115kW/250Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder (A200); 100kW/300Nm 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel (A200d); 160kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder (A250 Sport); 280kW/475Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder (A 45).
Transmissions: DCT 7-speed automatics across the range, except A 45 with AMG Speedshift DCT 7-speed auto.
Consumption: 5.8-litres/100km (A180); 6.1-litres (A200); 4.2-litres (A200d); 6.7-litres (A250 Sport); 7.3-litres (A 45).
CO2: 135g/km (A180); 141g/km (A200); 111g/km (A200d); 156g/km (A250 Sport); 171g/km (A 45).
Bottom line: $37,200 (A180); $42,800 (A200); $43,300 (A200d); $53,500 (A250 Sport); $77,900 (A 45), all before on roads.
What matters most
What we liked: Design of all of the models - inside and out - is a triumph, big choice of models in the range depending on your performance needs and budget, AMG A 45's turn of speed and sheer ease to drive very fast indeed.
What we'd liked to see: Smartphone integration standard across the range, monitor to be touchscreen, plus likes of electric/heated seats should be included in A250 Sport's price
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited km warranty. Servicing is every year or 25,000km (A 45 is every year or 20,000km) First three-years capped price servicing available.
Driving experience 17/20
Features and equipment 16/20
Functionality and comfort 16/20
Value for money 17/20
Style and design 19/20