Mercedes-Benz has repeatedly had to relearn a simple lesson: An air of European sophistication doesn’t make a car sold overseas play in America. The circa 2001 C-Class hatchback was a poor fit, but the GLA and CLA have since then come closer to the right formula for both sides of the Atlantic. The new A-Class, coming to our shores as an A 220 sedan, is even better suited to our tastes.
Note that this isn’t a CLA replacement. The CLA is a “four-door coupe”, and the A is a proper sedan. They’re certainly similar – two front-drive-based four-doors below the C-Class – but the CLA will soldier along for a bit, analogous to the CLS and E-Class situation. So Mercedes says. The new, sharp lines of the A-Class and the age of the CLA, which debuted in 2013, can’t be discounted.
Actually, the styling is smooth and clean; a couple of character creases, but everything else is an exercise in reduction. There’s a more conventional pertness to the rear, a short overhang without the droop present in the bigger C-Class. Contrast the more unusual proportions of the CLA with the A’s smaller, more angular headlights set more flushly into a handsomely upright fascia. Less is more, we think.
188 horsepower isn’t a lot these days, but the torque comes on richly, and the A 220 doesn’t seem to weigh much. About that: we don’t have a curb weight. Mercedes wouldn’t provide even a ballpark. Same goes for a lot of other specs. These are pre-production cars, and the specifications may change before it goes on sale, but it’s frustrating to not even have estimates to share with you.
This is a compact car, but save a lack of driver headroom the rest is reasonably sized. The front seats are bolstered enough to hold the front passengers in place without jostling the kidneys. One tester had full leather seats, the other had microfiber inserts – both looked and felt premium. The rear seats fit my frame nicely (I’m 5’10”, about 155 lbs) although there wasn’t much extra room for knees with the seat in front set for a similarly-sized adult. Behind the seats, the trunk looked big enough to swallow three or four roll-aboards. Again, we don’t have interior volume numbers to share, but no part of the interior seems unusually cramped.
What it can do, theoretically, is ambitious. Natural language recognition and cloud-based processing should allow you to ask it for “the top-rated Mexican restaurant with burritos nearby” or a similarly-complex query, and it’ll actually parse that and give you a few options. In the real world, not every question like that generated a real response. More aggravatingly, MBUX won’t tell you what about the question was unclear – not that we expected it to, since that’s not in the billing for MBUX. But after using it, that’s what we want.
At least the competition is slim. The A3 has a minimalistic appeal, and Virtual Cockpit is neat, but the A 220 has up to 20.5 inches of screen to show off. Mechanically it’s basically a draw, but the A 220 is also not insignificantly bigger. BMW doesn’t have a direct competitor, but the 2 Series is within striking distance – and rear-drive based. Were it not for its stablemates muddying the sales pitch, the A 220 would make greater waves.