So, what is the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, exactly?
Well, if you believe what its various ambient lighting modes say, it could be a “lounge”, a “trip” or maybe just an “experience” (these are all official MB tags). So I guess the manufacturer thinks it can be a lot of things.
For me, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz A220 sedan is an interesting proposition for those that are too freaked out by the CLA either because they see a bunch of knackered examples of them driving around with “Share Now” and “Car2Go” on their doors (though that won’t be a thing for much longer, of course – in fact, it may no longer be a thing by the time you read this), or because the oddly-sloped rear deck and snug back seat just doesn’t scream “luxury” as perhaps they think a Mercedes-Benz should.
The CLA is still being produced, though (and updated soon), so the A-Class has to carve out its own separate niche as a more-traditional and – perhaps most importantly – more affordable example. Thus while the CLA 250 starts at $43,000, the A220 gets a $34,990 starting price. My tester comes in with a $36,990 MSRP because it features 4MATIC AWD.
On top of that, other goodies like the Night Package (black exterior accents, chrome grille, 18-inch wheels), Premium Package (10.25-inch displays for both the gauge cluster and infotainment screen, blind spot assist, power-folding side mirrors, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and more) and Technology Package (LED headlights, adaptive high beams, adaptive cruise) plus a few other bits n’ pieces drive my tester’s price up to $46,455.
These add-ons do help the car look the business, though. If you don’t park the A220 beside a larger car, you’d think it was a larger car – not in a fat and ugly way, but in a muscular and purposeful way that does well to establish the A-Class as an entry-level car that provides entry into the world of luxury motoring. This is a good-looking car, all angular headlamps lenses, squat stance and purposefully-styled two-tone wheels.
Still, you are bumping up close to 50 grand for what is essentially a subcompact sedan. But its luxury segmentation means all sorts of interior niceties like two-tone leather seating, smart use of chrome trim throughout the cabin and that top-drawer ambient lighting we spoke about earlier. The Lounge setting really does turn the A220 into something from another dimension to be sure, what with its neon pink and blue lighting and the way it automatically turns on your radio when you select it. Not sure how regularly I’d use that colourway, but some younger buyers (or perhaps their kids) would surely get a hoot out of it.
A word of caution, however: while you can interact with the system via steering-wheel buttons and a central touchpad, I still found myself spending an inordinate amount of time scrolling/swiping through the menus in order to find how to carry out certain commands. The biggest frustration I felt was when trying to access the audio equalizer, which is hidden in a menu where you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to be. I’m not going to bore you here with the details of how it’s done; just be sure to have the salesperson take you through the system as part of your test drive.
Meanwhile, though adults might not exactly get a hoot out of riding in the back of this supposed subcompact vehicle, the passengers I chauffeured during my test were surprised by just how much room there was back there. Credit to Mercedes for delivering back seats for their 4,549 mm-long car that are actually usable.
Power is rated at 188 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque but numbers notwithstanding, the automaker has done well with its 2.0L turbo-4 over the years, so I was looking forward to what it’s done for this littlest of Mercedes sedan. Put simply, it does not disappoint. Power gets sent to the wheels through the 7-speed auto smoothly and without the lag and spike you sometimes get with turbo motors, although in this day in age, smart turbo tech has made these traditional issues less prominent.
With the A220 4MATIC, you thus get a nice, zippy thrust as you ride a wave of torque that starts all they way down at 1,600 RPM. Peak HP comes a little higher at 5,800 RPM, so you’ve a pretty good power curve to work with. It also sounds surprisingly vocal as it goes about its business; it may not be quite as bubbly as its GLA45 AMG cousin, but the fact that Mercedes has allowed it to have such a voice at all is notable.
While there is AWD here, the variable system employed in the A-Class works mostly as a FWD affair until the system senses you need a little help and sends some power rearwards. Otherwise, the rear axle is freewheeling in order to help fuel economy and unfortunately, it’s on the fronts to do most of the work when it comes to accelerating in dry conditions, where some systems will spread power around in order to help get off the line quicker. So the A220 doesn’t get that little boost, though it is nice to know that you have that safety net if things start going off the rails a little bit.
Which is actually not an easy thing to do with the A220 because it presents a proper sporting attitude as you start putting it through its paces on more twisty roads. The steering – especially in Sport mode – is lively and responsive, doing well to ensure that advantages presented by the A220’s compact size aren’t neutralized by a lazy steering rack. Which they aren’t, the A220 responding to quick flicks of the wheel quickly but not nervously so drives on the highway are comfortable and don’t require the driver to make constant adjustments to stay properly in-lane. The car rides well, too, though some harsher bumps will send a bit of a shiver through the chassis that you don’t always expect.
I think the overriding feeling you get when – and after – piloting the A220 is one of satisfaction. It’s a car that rides like a proper luxury car should but has a few youthful bits here and there that help separate it from more-vanilla Mercedes efforts such as the C400 or E450. The funky lighting, digital displays that look more like examples from a much higher class of car and how it displays a purposeful attitude on the road when you ask it to are all ingredients that make for a less buttoned-down experience, which isn’t always something that can be said of a Mercedes-Benz.
So what is the A-Class? Well, after driving it, I think the bigger question is: why didn’t they do the A-Class in North America before the CLA-Class? To me, that’s the tougher car to understand because of its cramped back seat and somewhat strange profile. I suppose the carmaker thought North Americans would like the idea of a “four-door luxury coupe” better than that of a “compact luxury sedan”, so that’s what they did. Whether that was the right move or know, those looking to get into the luxury world via Mercedes-Benz have a very compelling option in the A220.
Nice junior exec looks
Adventurous interior bits
Powertrain provides good returns
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Infotainment menus can be tough to navigate
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2020 Mercedes-Benz A220 pictures