Mountain Wheels: Getting small with the affordable, capable Mercedes A220 sedan
Do you really, really need a big honkin’ SUV? Good question. Do you really need an Army surplus 0.308-caliber battle rifle, or a 4,600-square-foot house? I guess it depends on your lifestyle.
If you remember what driving used to be like before it too became a weaponized arms race of super-gigantic vehicles, maybe you’ll remember that driving an actual car was a lot more fun. You’re lower to the ground, so you can take corners, and your center of gravity is not so tall and massive that you attract incoming space junk. You can park were you want, without seven-point turns. And you still have room for people and groceries.
Case in point: the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class of actual automobiles. Not a coupe-shaped, upper-midsized SUV. No rugged Western lifestyle-topography-derived names. Just a car, and a pretty good one.
Yes, I know I usually overload you with overloaded reviews of Mercedes performance SUVs (an oxymoron, I realize) that cost about the same price as a Midwestern home. Let’s go a different direction today and talk about a nimble and pleasurable, all-wheel-drive sedan that retails for $34,800, kind of like normal vehicles used to.
Well, being a Mercedes, the A220 that I drove was of course bumped up to $48,295 with the laundry list of options, but keep that $34,800 price tag in mind. Minus 4Matic all-wheel-drive, they officially start at $32,500.
The A-Class is a new deal for the American market, first debuting last year. Though if you’ve traveled in Europe or even in Canada in recent years, you might have seen the older and not necessarily appealing A-Class.
The company knows that not everyone is equipped to spend $75,000 on an SUV, so the A-Class is an opportunity to get much of the Mercedes experience — great driving dynamics, beautiful design and a scaled-down load of the intense infotainment gear of the more expensive models — at a more relatable price point.
And after experiences in two AMG-level hyper-SUVs this summer — both of which were stiff, overly powerful and only capable of encouraging bad behavior in both the driver and other motorists — this was a blessing.
That is, indeed, me saying that a 188-horsepower, four-door sedan was a more pleasurable ride. That was indeed my experience.
Yes, the A-Class is not gigantic, measuring in with a 107.4-inch wheelbase, and not ending much larger than that, thanks to pretty short front and rear overhangs (it’s 179.1 inches overall). But you still get decent room in the front and the back, a reasonable amount of trunk cargo space and a platform that felt solid, smooth and resilient.
The options got me that psycho-luminescent show of interior lighting, heated front seats and a wireless charging port with a tang to help keep your phone in place while cavorting. It also got the side-by-side set of 10.25-inch digital displays, meaning a customizable instrument display and a central touchscreen, a $995 option. The navigation package to make the most of those screens was another $1,150; a less-expensive model will still get you two 7-inch displays. No matter the price, you get gigantic, nozzle-shaped air vents and slick style throughout.
I wring the cars out on twisty mountain roads (many of which are currently on fire this week, which is absolutely terrifying), and in the case of the A220, it achieved the kind of performance that I’d expect from something with double the horsepower and triple the price.
I felt like I had four times the grip as I did in the big AMG SUVs, with wheels and tires upgraded to 19-inchers here. But this was not an AMG vehicle, other than one small package of AMG body work and a shiny black grille; it’s the regular car, and man, did it suck into corners, accelerate, aggressively brake and fly through its seven-speed transmission like nobody’s business. The $850 dynamic body control option was absolutely worth it.
Driving SUVs and pickup trucks, you forget the sensation of really driving, actively, enthusiastically — they’re kind of the automotive version of antidepressants. In the A220, the driving experience comes alive once more. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder kept providing all the power I needed, even if that’s just 221 pound-feet of torque. Here, that works great.
Is there a stupid-fast, moderately expensive AMG version? Of course — that would be the A35, with its 2.0-liter boosted to 302 horsepower. I still think the regular version was surprisingly entertaining and great to drive.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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