Monday, 10 March 2014

SUGARHOUND ROAD TEST: the Mercedes A- Class.

As I said in a previous post, 2013 was a pretty good year. It wasn't perfect, but we hit a lot of personal goals, had some good things happen and decided that we needed a (new) car for my wife. We wanted to remember 2013 as "the year we bought a new Mercedes and travelled to Japan", among other things, NOT as "the year we aspired to buy a Hyundai i30 and had a trip to the Dubbo caravan park" (sorry, Hyundai and Dubbo, but I have never experienced either, and am not about to).

The new Mercedes A-class came out earlier in the year and we ordered one very quickly, aware that there was a 5 month wait. We chose the A180 as it was to be my wife's very first car, so getting the more powerful version for a P-Plater (Provisional Licence) wouldn't have worked. After the traditional round of spluttering surprise from our respective families (that my wife finally got her licence; first go, I might add, and that she bought a Black AMG-styled Mercedes as her first car), the day finally arrived in the middle of a rainy, miserable Ballarat winter when we actually picked the thing up: 


The first things to go in the car were aftermarket, thick rubber mats. 

As far as options went, we chose the "Becker Maps and Becker 6 CD stacker", of which the sound quality is absolutely brilliant. Second, the AMG styling pack, which included the AMG bodykit, black/silver 18 inch AMG light alloy wheels with Continental repairable run flat tyres, and AMG interior, including a carbon fibre-look dash, AMG seats, leather wrap AMG steering wheel and AMG-embossed mats. We avoided the sunroof because in Ballarat, there ain't much sun for 8 months of the year, and for the remaining 4 months, it's way too hot to have a gaping hole in the roof inviting unwanted UV's in to kill us. As it rains every other day in Ballarat for those 8 months of the year, we thought a sunroof would just be something else that could leak. In short, we are not "sunroof" people, if that makes sense. 

We decided to also forego the Xenon lights. They look cool, but at $450 a pop for the module when they go out, and they aren't under warranty, we gave it a miss. Tinted windows also came as part of the option packages we chose.


Interior. 

Well, we just love the interior of this little car. The retro-styled air vents add a nice touch, as does the carbon-fibre look dash (it's a fabric weave; I would hate to impact with carbon fibre. It'd hurt). The central command jog-dial takes a bit of getting used to, because it pretty much controls everything on the car's audio, media, communication and navigation.

How about the rest of the cabin? Bloomin' marvellous: 



The seats in the front are absolutely magic. I drove from our home in Ballarat to Adelaide, approx 600 km, without the usual accompaniment of a sore bum or back. However, the rear seats are another matter for adults, at least. Legroom is limited, the seats are relatively upright, and it's fairly claustrophobic for back seaters due to the high waistline of the body at the rear. Very nice centre armrest front and rear, though. 

The centre console is  excellent. It holds two drinks and has an additional three cubbyholes that will easily swallow valuables, such as mobile phones or wallets. My small DSLR camera will fit comfortably in the larger storage pocket under the centre armrest. There are also two hard-shell storage compartments at the front of each (front) seat, with ample room for "smalls" like a wallet or mini handbag/purse. Each of the four doors has enough storage for a drink bottle and a folded pullover in a pinch.The glove compartment is tiny, and is encroached by the Becker maps module. The car manual and service book won't fit. The traditional Mercedes storage netting is there at the passenger's feet in the front, also the back of the front seats. I haven't had the need to use them yet. 

The centre console is uncluttered from controls other than the nice jog dial; there is no central handbrake or gear selector in this car. The emergency brake is electronic and is a button on the dash, low and adjacent to the steering wheel. As in most Mercedes vehicles, the gear selector and cruise control binnacles are at the right and left of the steering wheel respectively, like an indicator stalk.

Climate control

The air conditioning in this car is incredible. We have had a few days where the mercury hit 44 degrees C this summer, and I was concerned that a black car with no rear outlets would be the death of us. Not so. The kids were asking me to turn the AC down because they were getting too cold. Heating and demisting work quickly and effectively as it should on a $44,000 car.

Nifty standard fare

The car has a huge Mercedes emblem on the grille that doubles as a radar pod. This tells you in a hurry if you are tailgating a car in front, by means of a bright red triangle (light) that hits you in the face. 

It also has this thing called "Attention Assist" that scans your face and detects if you are nodding off, and reminds you via audible beeps like a smoke alarm.. I'm a pretty attentive driver, used to travelling long distances, so it hasn't smacked me yet.

This car , like many others on the market, is almost impossible to see out of the back. Tiny back window. Huge rear pillar. Solution? A really big screen and rear camera, with sensors all around the fore and aft. "Parktronic" also makes pretty short work of reverse parallel parking. Scares the hell out of you the first few times, but is an absolute Godsend. I love it.

The car also has "start stop" technology called "BlueEFFICIENCY", which can be turned off, but I dislike it. (It means that every time you are stationary, the engine switches off to save fuel. Put your foot back on the accelerator, and it immediately sputters back to life).

But really, how much fuel could you really save in a 1.6 litre, seven speed, turbo car?


The ride quality and driveability

Here's where the trade-off lies. This thing is low. Too low for the concrete buffers at the Bakery Hill Coles carpark. It has stiff AMG suspension. Virtually no body roll. It rides on low profile 18 inch run flat tyres. If the road isn't perfect, you feel every bump. If the tarmac is that rough stuff, the road noise is very noticeable. (Maybe that's why they put in such a great audio system). 

The gearbox, as previously stated, is a seven speed dual-clutch auto. It is silent and you can't tell when it changes gear. To make things more interesting, the car has a "Manual" mode that is controlled by steering wheel paddles and is fun to use. It also has an automatic "Sport" mode that actually makes the little 1.6 litre engine snarl with a nice exhaust note. Finally, the Economy mode is the default mode and is relatively sedate. Good for "wives dropping off kids to school", mode.

The car takes 95 RON fuel and above, so it's a bit more costly to run. But, seeing the thing costs twice as much as a Hyundai i30, saving a few cents a litre doesn't become much of a consideration. 

Conclusion

This car is very tight. It feels like quality. The interior is faultless. It looks great. It drives well. Would I buy one again given what I know? Yep, absolutely. We drove to Adelaide for a New Year's getaway with three adults and a five year old with all of the usual luggage, and bought up big at Ikea while we were there, and it all fitted in without resorting to the kids sitting on an IVAR shelving system and a BJORN set of collapsible boxes, and half a dozen DWERP curtains all the way back to Ballarat. (I just made those ridiculous names up).

Score: Five out of Five (three-pointed) stars.