2015 Mercedes A 250 AMG at a glance
- Handling: ★★★★☆
- Comfort: ★★★☆☆
- Performance: ★★★☆☆
- Costs: ★★★★☆
IT USED to be so easy: drivers who wanted a hot hatchback but weren’t all that keen on looking like a boy racer with a shellsuit, back-to-front cap and an Asbo would choose the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The GTI has always been a model of restraint, free from frippery and the sort of getup that can make some hot hatchbacks look like the equivalent of a fake tan, nail extensions and heels so high you need a step ladder to get into them.
Now, however, the GTI may not be the default sober-but-sporty choice it once was because for 2015 Mercedes has been tinkering with its A-class hatchback and come up with a new A 250 AMG model.
If ever a car failed to meet its potential, it was the A-class. Here was a hatchback that would have people swooning at first sight (post-2012, at least, when the third generation “W176” model was launched). In showrooms, whenever someone said they were interested in an A-class, Mercedes salesmen rubbed their hands in delight at the thought of a dead-cert’ sale.
Its suspension could shake a mouthful of fillings loose faster than any dentist could dig them out
There was a problem, though. After a test drive, drivers would emerge with one hand holding their back and the other cradling their jaw. Its suspension appeared to have been tuned to suit a freshly laid racing track with a surface as smooth as glass. Introduce a typical British road into the equation and it could shake a mouthful of fillings loose faster than any dentist could dig them out.
So the engineers in Germany have had a fiddle. Who knows, perhaps they even came over to our back yard and experienced British roads for themselves? At the same time, they have replaced the A 250 Engineered by AMG with the more succinct A 250 AMG – and it’s snapping at the Golf GTI’s heels.
In a nutshell, this is a front-wheel drive, 2-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged hot hatch that has 215bhp and sends this to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox (a seven-speed automatic is an option). That’s all wrapped up in one of the best-looking hatchback bodies going.
This is a car that does the numbers. It can accelerate from 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds (a shade quicker than a GTI) and the top speed is 149mph. And like many other hot hatches, the A250 AMG’s fuel economy is sensible: 41mpg on the combined cycle, and CO2 emissions are 158g/km (although the Golf GTI, at an official 47mpg and 139g/km, is more impressive still).
So it ticks the prerequisite for many drivers who own a hot hatch: that it must be a 24/7, 365 days of the year car.
Sink into the deeply sculpted sports seats, and the cabin’s design looks minimalist but it all looks suitably racy, the quality feels good and, most importantly for any car that takes the business of driving seriously, those seats, the chunky sports steering wheel and well positioned pedals mean it’s easy to get comfortable.
Unlike some competitor cars, there’s no touchscreen interface for Mercedes’ infotainment system, which gets Garmin navigation. So this remains one of the few cars that looks as though someone has left a tablet computer on their dashboard.
The other issue with the A-class, which is fairly fundamental for drivers who regularly carry passengers, is that the small back doors and low roofline make it decidedly snug in the back seats. Putting babies and toddlers into child seats is more of a back-breaking affair than usual.
Enough about child seats, though. Let’s drive. The 2-litre engine is packed with muscle low in the rev range. It gets into its stride from 1,200rpm – the point from which it offers maximum torque – so building speed, and overtaking, is easy-peasy.
But there are subtle differences when compared with a Golf GTI’s motor. This car’s engine doesn’t particularly seem to enjoy being revved to the red line; the power tails off beyond 5,000rpm and with so much torque you’re inclined to shift up a gear early rather than let the rev counter spin round to the red line.
As for the manual gearchange, it’s not half bad. Mercedes manual gearboxes have a reputation for being as obstructive as rip-off energy companies, but this six-speed unit is acceptable, if not as good as a Golf GTI or Honda Civic Type-R.
Mercedes has also fitted the A 250 AMG with Dynamic Select, which means the driver can pick between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual, to alter the response of the accelerator and weighting of the steering. But not the suspension, which as standard is a lowered, sports suspension said to have been tuned by AMG (so the car is not just riding on the tuner’s name).
Then there’s the road holding. It’s good, with lots of grip — even on greasy, damp roads — and pretty good balance through turns, enough feel through the steering and acceptable comfort levels.
But the Merc doesn’t ever put its hand down the driver’s trousers and rummage around. There’s no thrill or excitement. For whatever reason, the A 250 AMG feels a little cold and clinical: it gets the job done, but doesn’t go the extra mile. And it’s hard to see how the optional 4Matic, four-wheel drive version (£31,945 and only available with the seven-speed, DCT automatic gearbox) could improve on that.
That said, it isn’t twice as slow or half the fun of the more potent, four-wheel drive Mercedes-AMG A45, which costs £39,995. So in that respect, the A 250 AMG is something of a bargain. Better than a Golf GTI, though? No.
2015 Mercedes-Benz A 250 AMG specifications
- PRICE: £28,995
- ENGINE: 1991cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged, petrol
- POWER: 215bhp @ 5500rpm
- TORQUE: 258 lb ft @ 1200 – 4000rpm
- TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
- ACCELERATION: 0-62mph in 6.3sec
- TOP SPEED: 149mph (electronically limited)
- FUEL: 41.5mpg (combined)
- CO2: 158g/km
- ROAD TAX BAND: G (£180 for first year; then £180)
- RELEASE DATE: On sale now
Mercedes A 250 AMG rivals
Audi S3 Sportback, £31,850 (view cars for sale)
- For Offers a lot more power and performance for not much more money
- Against Could be more exciting to drive
Volkswagen Golf GTI 5dr, £28,155 (view cars for sale)
- For The benchmark in so many areas
- Against Some may find the A 250 AMG more desirable