Even in the smallest Mercedes-Benz, bigger is better
MERCEDES-BENZ A 250 LIMITED EDITION
Base price: $63,900.
Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four, 165kW/350Nm, 7-speed automated dual-clutch transmission, AWD, Combined economy 6.6 litres per 100km, 0-100kmh 6.2 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4419mm long, 1440mm high, 2729mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 370 litres, 18-inch alloy wheels.
We like: Great value for $3000 over the A 200, A-plus for cabin presentation.
We don't like: Price climbs rapidly with options, MBUX takes some time to get used to.
Part of the appeal of the new A-class is that it's not only the newest Mercedes-Benz on the market, it's also the cheapest. Even the entry A 200 model gets you the same high quality of build and engineering as the marque's much more expensive models.
So it might surprise you to learn that we reckon the extra money spent stepping up into a higher-end A-class variant is still well worth it.
So what's new?
The A class was launched in 200 guise last year, with a hi-tech 120kW/250Nm 1.3-litre engine that can shut down half its cylinders in certain driving conditions to save fuel.
The A 250 has now joined the range, with a 165kW/350Nm 2.0-litre powerplant and all-wheel drive.
The key thing about the A 250 Limited Edition is that it's only $3000 more expensive than the A 200, despite the extra power and drive to the rear wheels.
It's a "Limited Edition" because ultimately the A 250 will be a very highly specified model, but at the moment production constraints mean M-B NZ has to take this new model in essentially the same specification as the A 200; the only extra you get is Apple/Android phone integration.
You can of course dress the "basic" A 250 up as much as you want via the options list, which is what's happened with our test car. It has Sport AMG Line, Seat Comfort, AMG Exclusive and Driving Assistance packages, as well as 19-inch AMG wheels.
So it's pretty close to what the updated A 250 will be when it arrives; our car is $73,550 with all those extras.
How does it all come together?
The A 200 is a beautifully engineered machine, but the powertrain is not exactly exciting: the little 1.3-litre can sound raw under load and the dual-clutch transmission slips into lethargy during city driving sometimes.
The A 250 takes things up several notches in terms of performance and handling. The A 200 doesn't always drive like a $60k-plus car, but the A 250 feels truly impressive for its $65k starting tag, with enough punch to really make use of that automated gearbox and AWD to exploit the power.
It's not just the extra grunt and traction: the A50 has independent rear suspension, a big step up from the A 200's torsion beam.
Much of the A-class's wow-factor comes from the futuristic interior, with its cinematic virtual display and M-B User Experience (MBUX) voice assistant. Again, it's not as clever as it first seems... but it is clever.
The widescreen display is just two joined together of course; the striking design element is that there's no cowl like you have over a traditional dashboard.
MBUX - activated by saying "Hey Mercedes" - can do a lot of stuff, but it's not something you can truly get to grips with in a week-long review.
It doesn't help that voice activation for sat-nav is currently AWOL in the A 250 (a software patch is coming). However, you can still adjust the climate control and ventilation direction, access vehicle settings (nothing to do with driving functions though), operate your phone, control the audio and ask for trip computer information. The list goes on... and it learns your habits.
There are hundreds of individual functions possible through the MBUX voice assistant (many are subsets of the major menus), and of course it's future-proofed because it'll become more sophisticated as updates roll around.
Any other cars I should consider?
There's no doubt the A 250 has its Audi and BMW equivalents licked for design and technology: the former's A3 is pretty conservative, the latter pretty long in the tooth. True, you don't yet get the choice of a true high-performance offering with the A-class yet, but those Mercedes-AMG models are on the way.
What else? Maybe a tricked-up Mini five-door, or you could swap some prestige for sheer power with the Volkswagen Golf R.
But here's more fuel for thought: the price of our optioned-up A 250 would get you into a Hyundai Kona Electric, which is a small hatchback that's hi-tech in a different way.