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Driving Mercedes-Benz’s first-ever front-wheel-drive sedan
IT’S HARD to believe I was just raving about the brilliant fourth-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatchback last year. And now it’s gone.
Well, not really gone. It’s just no longer available in the Philippine market — a victim of the Filipino preference for sedans and SUVs to showcase their automotive bling. With the exception of the Mini Cooper, the local market seems to have relegated hatchbacks to the budget genre — not something to show off at their high school reunion.
Thankfully, A-Class fans — I’ve been one since the third-generation W176 that was produced from 2012 to 2018 — now have a first-ever sedan model to marvel at.
It’s the fourth-generation A-Class (W177) sedan that was launched globally in 2018 (together with the hatchback) and which became available locally last year. The A-Class sedan is a fabulous way to start up the Mercedes-Benz ladder of stately sedans. The A-Class, after all, stands right at the beginning of Mercedes’ alphabetical nomenclature.
Which begs the question: With Mercedes-Benz’s century-long experience in perfecting the art of the rear-wheel-drive sedan, is a front-wheel-drive version from Stuttgart still a legitimate Mercedes?
Is the Toyota Supra a Japanese BMW Z4? Yes!
Aside from having the power delivered to the front wheels instead of the rear, the new A-Class sedan bristles with all the sensory values you would expect from the three-pointed star brand. The car has been designed and engineered by Germans and made in Germany (in Mercedes-Benz’s Rastatt plant, to be exact). It didn’t get its platform from another brand. The only other cars that the A-Class shares its Modular Front Architecture (MFA) platform with are its CLA and GLA siblings.
I got to test-drive the currently sole variant available — the P2,950,000 A 180 AMG Line — and it proved exhilarating enough in everyday driving, thanks mostly to the generous and very accessible turbo-boosted torque and the responsive seven-speed gearbox with paddle shifters. Under the sloping hood is a 1.3-liter turbocharged inline-four generating 136hp at 5,500 rpm and a more-than-adequate 200Nm available from as low as 1,460 rpm.
Ride and handling can be tweaked from Eco, Comfort, Sport, to Individual. The A-Class is targeted toward the younger set and will superbly deliver the goods for singles, couples with small kids, or even empty nesters who are happy to be relieved of the need to always be behind the wheel of a van or SUV.
Where the new A-Class will deliver universal appeal is with its head-turning styling. It retains its predecessor’s low-slung, ground-hugging profile as well as its aggressive predatory front end. The compelling face boasts a low hood, mean-looking LED headlamps, and a fabulously detailed diamond grille with chrome pins, a single louvre, and a huge three-pointed star taking centerstage. The sharp character lines of the third-gen have given way to cleaner yet well-defined side surfaces on the new model. With its sloping roofline that gracefully flows down onto the front and rear fenders, the new A-Class sedan is arguably the most sensuous small Mercedes-Benz sedan this side of the coupe-like CL models.
The A 180’s AMG Line package automatically comes with an AMG front apron with front splitter in chrome, AMG side sill panels, and an AMG rear apron with chrome trim and beautifully integrated dual chrome tailpipes. The front brake calipers sport Mercedes-Benz branding while a chrome strip adorns the beltline and windowline.
More AMG Line trim comes from the comfort suspension with lowering function, AMG brushed stainless steel pedals with rubber studs, floor mats in black AMG lettering, black fabric roof liner, three-spoke flat-bottom multifunction steering wheel in Nappa leather with perforated grips, folding armrest, black air vents with chrome surround, double cupholder, luggage nets on front seat backrests, and a net in the front passenger footwell.
The beautifully crafted interior of the A 180 Sedan is a revolution with its modern, avantgarde look. The new sedan comes with the brand’s high-resolution Widescreen Cockpit with touchscreen control — a new standard in the segment. It features an all-digital instrument panel that can be switched to different styles from Classic, Understated, and Sport mode. The Widescreen Cockpit is completely freestanding and, for the first time, have absolutely no cockpit cowls above the instruments.
Belying its entry-level status, the new A-Class was also the first Mercedes-Benz model to feature the brand’s completely new infotainment system, MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience). At the heart of MBUX is a virtual assistant, which is activated by pressing a button in the steering wheel or by simply saying, “Hey Mercedes.” It responds to voice commands for infotainment functions such as destination input, music selection, climate control, and ambient lighting. The MBUX comes with a natural speech recognition program that helps it to recognize and understand nearly all sentences from the fields of multimedia and vehicle operation. It’s cool and fun to use, especially when you’re demonstrating it to new passengers. Siri users will be right at home.
Like all Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the new A-Class is loaded with world-class safety features such as Active Brake Assist, Active Bonnet, Attention Assist, dual front air bags, windowbags, knee air bag for the driver, Brake Assist, adaptive brake lights flashing, ABS, ESP, Acceleration Skid Control (ASR), tire pressure loss warning, crash-responsive emergency lighting, Hill-Start Assist, central locking with crash sensor and emergency opening function, reversing camera, and anti-theft with interior motion sensor.
All things considered, the A-Class is one superb and irresistibly priced small sedan whose extensive features list and legendary engineering easily live up to its illustrious brand name. In the rarified world of status symbols, you can’t say that about too many other luxury products.