I recently had the chance to drive the new 2019 Mercedes-Benz A220, which is now the cheapest Mercedes-Benz model in the lineup. You may have thought the CLA was the cheapest Mercedes-Benz, but isn’t anymore: the A220 starts around $32,500, which is about $700 cheaper than the CLA. We have a new baby Benz.
So what exactly is it? The A220 is a small luxury sedan designed to compete with vehicles like the Audi A3 — and few others, as most luxury brands have ditched entry-level luxury cars in favor of SUVs. It’s powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 188 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, and it’s front- or (if you pay two grand extra) all-wheel drive. The A-Class has been offered in Europe for years as a hatchback, but it’s only now coming out in North America — for now, solely as a sedan.
More importantly, the A220 is rolling out impressive updates to the infotainment system — and interior — which will eventually find their way into other Mercedes-Benz products. One example is the MBUX system, which has a feature like Apple’s Siri, where you can say “Hey Mercedes” and then speak a command, such as “I’m cold,” and the car will turn up the heat. This is different from most other voice control systems, where you have to be more direct and specific about what you want the system to do.
These new updates have me quite impressed with the A220. The technology is good — the latest round of Mercedes-Benz infotainment is fantastic, with an ultra-responsive touchscreen and a responsive trackpad that provides little jolts of feedback to your fingers to let you know when you’ve moved through a menu item or option. Don’t like the trackpad? Use the touchscreen. Don’t like the touchscreen? You can use the steering wheel for many features. And there are even redundant climate control buttons for people who don’t want to deal with any of it.
I recently reviewed the Mercedes-Benz CLA, and it wasn’t particularly charitable to it, largely because the technology was so mediocre. It’s almost amazing how head-and-shoulders better the new A-Class is, as its large screens include many, many features that almost make it feel like an S-Class — a difficult thing to do in a car this size. You also have an improved steering wheel over the CLA, improved interior materials, and the attractive and futuristic Mercedes-Benz dual-screen setup (one for the gauge cluster, one of the infotainment system) that you also see in other, high-end Mercedes-Benz models. With the A-Class out, I see absolutely no reason to buy a CLA.
Which, of course, prompts the question: why does it exist? Or, why do they both exist? Why not just redesign the CLA with all of this technology and not offer an A-Class at all? Interestingly, the question gets even more complex when you discover the CLA will be redesigned soon, likely this summer or fall, to offer the same technology, interior, equipment as the A-Class. So what’s the point?
My feeling is Mercedes plans to do the same thing with the A-Class and the CLA that they do with the E-Class and the CLS: one is the “normal” one (the A-Class) and one is the “sporty” one (the CLA). This jives with the driving experience: the A-Class is zippy enough for around-town commuting, but it’s hardly fast, and it doesn’t feel especially engaging or exciting. You get the feeling that it could, as the chassis is small and the car is relatively light, but Mercedes didn’t go there — probably to save room for the CLA. The A-Class does offer impressive interior space, especially in the back, which further solidifies my point: the A-Class, which is larger inside than the CLA, is the “practical” one, to the CLA’s “sporty” one.
And in that sense, you start to understand why there are now two baby Benz models — even though, frankly, in a market obsessed with SUVs, Mercedes may have been wiser to put two models there, instead. Still, the A-Class is here, it’s high-tech and it’s surprisingly well priced: the one I drove, which had the best in-car technology in the “entry-level luxury” class, had a sticker price of just under $40,000. That’s a good figure for a high-tech new car with a 3-pointed Mercedes-Benz star on the front.