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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - A-class - A190 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Clever packaging, best performer of A-class range
Room for improvement
Ride compromised thanks to optional 17-inch wheels, grabby brakes

16 May 2001

THE A190 offers qualities not always associated with Mercedes- Benz cars - it is affordable, nimble and quick off the mark.

Introduced here in September, 1999, the A190 is aimed at buyers who like the clever packaging and unusual styling of the A160, but want a bit more performance.

The 1.9-litre engine certainly delivers in this respect. It generates 92kW at 5500rpm and 180Nm at 4000rpm, endowing the car with sprightly response - both off the mark and on the move.

Relaying power to the front wheels is a clutchless five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic transmission.

Operating the clutchless manual is simple - you just change gears as you would with a conventional gearbox, but there is no need to depress a clutch because electronic wizardry takes care of it for you.

There are no discernible flaws in the transmission, although stamping on the throttle from standstill can result in a slight delay, followed by the car jolting forward as the clutch engages.

However, this is not the case if the throttle is squeezed rather than tromped on. Smooth gear changes require little more than lifting off the throttle slightly while shifting the stubby gearlever.

The gear ratios are well matched to the characteristics of the smooth, flexible engine, providing good in-gear acceleration as well as impressive cruising ability.

Exploring the upper reaches of the rev band is rewarding not only for the impressive forward thrust that results but also the sporty, hard-edged exhaust note.

Overall refinement levels are impressive, even though the A190 does not seem to convey the feeling of absolute solidity that its bigger Benz brothers do.

Although a capable handler, the A190 does not feel as well tied- down as the longer, wider and lower C-class when tackling twisty, undulating country roads.

Its ride quality also cannot match its larger siblings for sheer compliance. It should be pointed out though, that the test car was equipped with optional 17-inch rims shod with low-profile tyres.

The upside was that it gripped the tarmac tenaciously when hurrying through corners. Its handling is generally foolproof, tending towards predictable understeer when pushed hard.

Refinement levels are generally good although the odd creak and rattle was evident in the test car provided.

Strong retardation is provided by the four-wheel disc brakes, which are governed by an anti-lock system.

However, the brakes have a tendency to "grab", which means the driver can inadvertently bring the car to a grinding halt even when gently gliding to a standstill was the intention.

The 190 is available in one trim level only - Avantgarde - which means equipment levels are generous.

Standard features include dual front and side airbags, Electronic Stability Program (ESP), anti-lock brakes, traction control, remote central locking, power front windows, air-conditioning, alloy wheels, a CD player, fog lights and a leather-bound steering wheel.

The interior is spacious and airy, thanks largely to the large windows all-around. The tall-boy stance provides a high seating position, affording the occupants a panoramic view in all directions.

The seats are comfortable and would be well suited to covering large distances without undue fatigue. The instrumentation and overall layout are unmistakably Benz, even though the plastics and other materials used in the cabin are not of the same quality as found in larger Benzes.

Front and rear leg and headroom are more than adequate, but luggage space is limited with the rear seats upright. Carting two golf bags and buggies requires the rear seats to be folded down.

The A-class's looks definitely fall in the love-it-or-hate-it category.

Its radical one-box shape is a distinct departure from the Mercedes-Benz norm and should win the marque a younger generation of buyers - although it may alienate some three-pointed-star aficionados in the process.

The A-class is also unlikely to have the snob value that comes with owning the more stately C-class, E-class and S-class sedans.

However, in its favour are affordability and a high degree of practicality and manoeuvrability. Despite its compact dimensions, it also stands out in a crowd more than its bigger brothers - which is handy if you like to be the centre of attention.

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