The latest A-Class is proof that following the crowd has its advantages.
That’s precisely what Mercedes-Benz did when it dropped the original A-Class’ “sandwich bar” platform. This design debuted with the first-generation model in 1997 as a safety feature, directing the heavy engine and associated gubbins down and under the squishy humans in the event of an accident. It was a novel approach, but it made for a deeply odd-looking vehicle. Merc went mainstream for the third generation, and sales kicked up. That brings us to this, the fourth-generation A-Class, which debuted as a sedan for the first time on these shores last year.
With the CLA continuing on as the style-conscious car that it is, the A 220 is now the entry-level option in the Mercedes-Benz lineup in America and Canada. That’s a good thing, since it offers a tech-laden, upscale experience that sets a new class standard.
(Editor’s Note: Mercedes-Benz Canada didn’t have a 2020 A-Class on hand for our test. It did clarify the differences between MY19 and MY20 are small, however: Climate Comfort seats are now available as standalone options, and a new Intelligent Drive Package bundles a collection of driver assist tech together. The 2020 is mechanically and visually identical.)
Worthy of the badge
The previous CLA was a triumph of style over substance. Its shrunken-CLS form meant rear-seat occupants suffered. Those sitting up front faired a little better, with a clearer view of some decidedly low-rent interior trim. The C117, to give it its in-house designation, was for those who simply wanted to say they drove a Merc.
Things are different with the A-Class, here in A 220 4Matic trim. I could lament the continued ballooning of cars this class—this small sedan is longer than the C-Class was 15 years ago—but the 14.9-foot long A 220 has proper small-sedan proportions. The front end is simple and assertive, especially with the diamond-block grille. The three-dimensional design is part of the optional Sport Package, which also adds the eye-catching 18-inch wheels. If you want to go an inch bigger that’s an option too: in fact, the options list is extensive. It’s so extensive that it’s too easy to reach C-Class money. Whether you consider $40,000 and change an acceptable amount for something this size is up to you.
Clambering inside, however, the A-Class has anything in this price range licked for sense of occasion. My tester’s light grey and black interior looks sharp, dropping German gloominess for something a little more airy. The standard panoramic glass sunroof helps there as well. Not only do they look good, but the seats are comfy too. Mercedes’ traditional door-mounted seat adjustment settings make it simple to find the right setup, and they offer plenty of support for either spirited driving or long highway schleps. At 5’10” I could easily sit in the rear seat, though my thighs sit slightly above the seat cushion. The trunk is ample for something this size as well.
Everything a normal user touches inside the A-Class is pleasant. Meanwhile, the dash architecture is pleasingly sculpted, lending the car a proper sense of upscale luxury its predecessor lacked. If something as simple as the vent design can elicit joy from passengers, then Merc has done something right. Friends will marvel at the configurable ambient lighting too: a steal as a $310 standalone option in the US, it offers 64-color customization and can cycle through pre-designed themes as well. It makes driving at night a treat.
Teutonic tech powerhouse
Changing lights are only the tip of the A 220’s tech iceberg. My tester comes with the Premium Package, an important option that bumps both the instrument cluster and central infotainment screen to 10.25-inch items. It’s here that the Merc really flexes on the competition.
Running the new MBUX infotainment system, both screens are high-res and responsive. The one in front of the driver is eminently customizable: you can swap dial designs as well as what each gauge holds. I elect to drop navigation right in the middle for most trips, swapping over to audio info when I need it. A small touch-pad on the left of the wheel handles it all flawlessly, keeping your attention where it should be: on the road.
The centrally-mounted screen meanwhile does a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s a touchscreen now, though the driver can also use the touchpad on the center console if they so choose. There’s a lot to dig through here—new owners should certainly spend the time getting to know all the options—so Mercedes has also included a digital assistant to make it easier. Simply say “Hey Mercedes,” and the car immediately conjures up all four original members of the early-aughts midwestern emo band of the same name. Just kidding: it will respond to commands (“get me directions to Firehouse Subs”) as well as more natural statements (“I’m cold” will result in an increase in temperature).
During my week the voice controls functioned largely as expected, though there were a few instances of over-eager activation, and one time it wanted to put me on a 13-hour drive instead of the 90-minute desired one. In the system’s defense, the location was pretty rural.
Another feature sure to delight is the optional augmented reality navigation. When active, it feeds the front camera onto the central screen, overlaying arrows as you approach turns on your route. It’s much more natural than reading a map and keeps you abreast of what’s happening on the road as you do glance down. Smart.
Okay, but how does it drive?
The A 220 is no bahn-burning AMG model, even if it wears wheels from Affalterbach. It does, however, feel reserved in its ride, smoothing out bumps in the rutted February roads around our test area. It never feels over-taxed either. The all-wheel drive probably helps, but to be honest I barely noticed any power shuffling from one end to the other. On takeoffs the A-Class will send power rearward for fleeter progress, and same too if it senses a loss of grip up front. But largely, it functioned as a front-driver and never felt lesser for that fact.
The steering is consistently weighted, as is the brake pedal. There are different driving modes, which modify steering weight and transmission mapping. I barely left the Comfort setting, though. Like many cars, the Eco and Sport modes both feel too heavy-handed, either trying to keep revs as low as possible or refusing to shed them, respectively. Even in Comfort mode, the seven-speed dual-clutch does sometimes second-guess itself at low speeds.
Mercedes quotes just 188 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque for the A 220. In all-wheel drive form, it also tips the scales at 3417 lb (1550 kg). It feels far stronger than that to me, easily making it up to highway speeds on even the shortest of on-ramps. The mid-range torque is addictive, and best of all, it didn’t cost me at the pumps. The week averaged out to just under 30 mpg. That’s better than the 28 mpg the EPA quotes, with 24 and 34 mpg ratings for city and highway. It does drink premium fuel though.
The Verdict: 2019 Mercedes-Benz A 220 Sedan
I really enjoyed my time in the A-Class. It felt truly special each and every time I got in. It even felt worth the asking price, which is saying something, because it ain’t cheap. My Canadian-spec tester rang in at a slightly eye-watering $47,430 CAD. That includes a $2,450 destination charge, but that’s still almost ten grand above the base MSRP in Canuck coinage.
Americans can get into a front-drive A 220 for $33,795 USD, or opt for all-wheel drive for $2,000 more. That’s slightly below the aging Audi A3 and nearly $5,000 less than the opening bid for BMW’s incoming 2 Series Gran Coupe. The BMW, it should be noted, will only come with all-wheel drive, so the difference is closer to $3,000.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Acura ILX A-Spec Review
Don’t let that make you think the A 220 is some kind of bargain. The $2,200 Premium Package is essential, as it transforms the interior experience. I can’t imagine many dealers will stock one without it.
Thoughtfully-specced versus the kitchen-sink approach, an A 220 sedan can come in around the $40,000 mark. That’s still a lot of money, but if you want the best in the class, the A-Class is it.