Features
23 Aug 18

Fleet innovator test – Mercedes A-Class: Sprechen Sie MBUX?

As the first model to be fitted with the revolutionary MBUX interface, the new A-Class catapults its competitors from Audi and BMW back to the stone age. Or does it?

Market positioning

A lot has changed since 1997, the year in which the first A Class – yes, the one from the moose test – was launched. 3 million units, 2 decades and 3 generations later, Mercedes’s smallest model has evolved into a sporty hatchback that wants to be more than just best-in-class. Its exterior design isn’t exactly shocking but wait until you see the interior. The BMW 1 Series and Audi A3 suddenly seem to stem from a different millennium. They will be replaced next year – and that’s not a minute too soon.

Look & feel, practicality (14/20)

The shark-nose of the new A-Class pleases most beholders, and so do the more balanced proportions and rounded off rear. The longer wheelbase creates more legroom in the back, but don’t expect to fit three tall teenagers – let alone an Ikea Askvoll, Bostrak or Pax wardrobe in there. With 370 litres, the boot is average in size. The tubular design theme of the dashboard contrasts nicely with the big horizontal slab that is the MBUX interface. The materials are easy on the eye and the fingers. The illuminating air vents are perhaps a bit over the top, but maybe that’s just us getting old. 

 

      

 

Infotainment & HMI (16/20)

The digital dashboard is a showstopper. Its impressive graphics are sharp, displaying any information you want, how you want it. We’re not convinced that the micro touch pads combined with plenty of buttons on the steering wheel was the best choice ergonomically speaking, though. The central pad with haptic feedback is adequate, but sometimes it is easier to just swipe and tap directly on the touch screen. The ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice command system did not live up to our expectations because it was at a loss of answers many times. Siri and Alexa seem to have enjoyed a more elaborate education.

Safety and ADAS (14/20)

The new A-Class hasn’t been tested by EuroNCAP yet, but 5 stars are to be expected. Every A-Class leaves the factory fitted with a basic AEB system, which warns for an imminent collision and assists the driver while braking. Equally standard is an active lane keep assist, which brakes the car when it is about to cross a solid white line. It scared the living daylights out of us twice - unnecessarily. So did the rear cross traffic assist. The system functions too simplistically and abruptly. It wasn’t present on our test vehicle, but we reckon the Driver Assistance Package is more advanced and therefore recommendable.   

Driving fun & street cred (15/20)

We tested the 163-hp A200 petrol engine mated to the 7-speed dual clutch transmission. The brand-new 1.33 four-cylinder unit impresses with its eager nature. It’s a bit loud once the rev counter sweeps past the 4,000-rpm mark, without however becoming intrusive. The dual clutch transmission with 7 gears is not on a par with VW’s DSG. It reacts rather brutally when you drive off, unless you switch to Efficiency mode. Also, it changes up quite slowly, like a good old conventional automatic with torque converter. Fortunately, it reacts swiftly when a kickdown is requested. The chassis and steering are two peas in a pod and work together to deliver a delectable driving experience.

TCO & fleet cred (15/20)

At 120 g/km (NEDC correlated), the A200 DCT is an apt pupil. After 600 km divided over 50 percent motorway, 10 percent city and 40 percent interurban roads, the fuel pump said we used 43.2 litres of unleaded, resulting in an applaudable average of 7.2 l/100 km. The A-Class carries the heaviest price tag in the C segment, but it is also the newest kid on the block and probably the best car among the German trio, resulting in strong residual values and competitive lease rates.

As far as the integrated online navigation is concerned: we were constantly faced with outdated maps and incorrect speed limits. It also calculated routes that were not the fastest, nor the shortest a few times. We used two Nav apps on our smartphone to compare. The augmented reality of Mercedes own system adds value, though, as it projects arrows with street names onto live images of the front camera.

The bottom line (74/100)

Even after a week’s test drive, we were still discovering new features on the new A-Class. That’s positive and negative. It means that there are plenty of goodies to benefit from, but also that you need to take your time to get accustomed to the MBUX system. Even though it doesn’t entirely live up to the expectations its high list price and marketing discourse raise, the A-Class is probably the best hatch in the premium C-segment today. Audi, BMW and Volvo better get cracking to close the gap with the A3, 1-Series and V40.


PROS

  • Driving fun: chassis, steering, handling
  • Impressive digital dashboard, connectivity
  • Flawless fit and finish, build quality, robustness
  • Outstanding performance-to-efficiency ratio

CONS      

  • Brutal 7-DCT transmission
  • Complex human-machine interface, corrigible voice command
  • Intrusive driver assistance systems
  • Outdated map data, poor route calculation

Direct competitors: Audi A3, BMW 1 Series

Explanation of the rating: 12/20 = average/satisfactory; <12/20 = below average/disappointing; >12/20 = better than average/exceptional. All ratings take into account the category/size of the tested car.

Authored by: Dieter Quartier