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New Cars Review: Mercedes-Benz A-Class is a practical, stylish hatchback with impressive technology

MB A Class hatchback pix Photos by Petrina Gentile 20180423_102750.jpg

Petrina Gentile

Base price: TBA

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo 4-cylinder with 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque

Transmission/drive: Seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission/front-wheel or 4MATIC all-wheel

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Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBA

Alternatives: Audi A3, BMW 1-Series, Volvo V40

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class debuted as a production model at the Geneva Motor Show in 1997 and since then, has been sold around in the world in more than 170 markets - excepting Canada, until now.

The remodelled hatchback is to be sold for the first time in November and, if you’re a fan of Google Home or Amazon Alexa, you’re in luck. The new Mercedes Benz user experience system (MBUX), controls the infotainment system and allows you to connect to your car at a whole new level.

“You can speak to your Mercedes. It listens to you and answers you. You can speak completely naturally. You don’t have to learn any new commands,” says Thomas Eireiner, MBUX specialist, at a rest stop along our driving route from Trogir to Split, Croatia.

Using AI technology, the voice-controlled assistant can do a range of things from telling you the weather to changing the interior ambient lighting along the dashboard, doors, and circular air vents to one of 64 shades of the rainbow.

MB A Class hatchback pix Photos by Petrina Gentile 20180424_032631.jpg

Petrina Gentile

And it’s easy to use. Simply say, “Hey Mercedes,” to activate. It relies on the onboard software and the cloud to understand speech and respond to a long list of commands such as “Hey Mercedes, close the sunshade.” In seconds, the sunshade on the sunroof closes immediately.

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It’s intuitive. You don’t have to say long commands, choose from a pre-selected list of robotic options, or say multiple instructions such as - “Climate control”, “Change temperature,” “Set temperature to 21.” Now, you can use indirect speech such as, “Hey Mercedes, I’m cold.” And it understands. The system will raise the temperature by one degree, every time you repeat the phrase “I’m cold.” If you ask, “Hey Mercedes, do I need sunglasses today?” It’ll tell you the local forecast.

For the most part, it works well and understands my voice.

The AI tech also has predictive features. It can anticipate the driver’s habits and make suggestions. For example, if you usually call home on the Monday night drive home, the system will suggest on the display on Monday night to call home.

The technology can be creepy at times, invading your privacy. At one point, out of the blue and in a maternal voice, the system actually scolds me, “Now, now. Be nice!” Still it’s entertaining to test its capabilities. When asked, “Hey Mercedes, tell me a joke,” it responds, “Sorry I have German engineers.”

Or, “What do you think of BMW?” The response: “They’re nice. I like seeing them in the rear-view mirror.”

MB A Class hatchback pix Photos by Petrina Gentile 20180423_102823.jpg

Petrina Gentile

Available in 23 languages including “French Canadian,” it does have difficulty understanding my Italian commands and another journalist’s Russian vocabulary. “There are some languages where we are heavily working on. Russian is one of them. From a linguistic side, there’s a lot of special words in Russian. Some languages need improvement. If you try German, English, or Spanish - they’re pretty good. We’re continually improving and working on the other languages,” says Eireiner.

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Over time, the system will be able to learn new buzzwords or changes in language. And the new content can be transmitted via over-the-air software updates, similar to a smartphone.

Other impressive technology? A map display for the navigation system that incorporates augmented reality. While driving, a video image of the surroundings is augmented and superimposed directly onto the touchscreen map. It has useful information such as house numbers, speed limits, and directional arrows and pops up intermittently at busy intersections or in towns so it’s easier and faster to spot what you’re looking for.

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class will be available as a hatchback or sedan, in FWD or 4MATIC all-wheel drive. Prices aren’t available yet, but expect to pay less than the MB CLA-Class, which starts at $35,700. Not bad, for a 3-pointed star.

TECH SPECS: 2019 Mercedes-Benz A 250 hatchback

RATINGS

Looks

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Hot little hatchback with aggressive lines, sporty 17 or 18 inch wheels, shiny chrome accents, and a bold diamond radiator grille with Mercedes star as the focal point. Love the matt grey colour of my tester, too - it’s eye-catching.

Interior

Upscale, spacious interior that feels more like a higher-end S-Class than an entry level A-Class. Say goodbye to conventional dials - big dual horizontal displays on the dashboard are modern with HD graphics that are clear, crisp, and easy to read. Finally, touchscreen capabilities, too! Excellent head- and shoulder room in the front and rear seats. Legroom is a bit tight in the rear.

MB A Class hatchback pix Photos by Petrina Gentile 20180424_042553.jpg

Petrina Gentile

Performance

Peppy engine with nimble, sporty, and agile driving dynamics. At idle, the engine is noisy and sounds a bit like a diesel at a standstill.

Technology

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Bring on the AI! It works like a charm, acting like Google Home or Amazon Alexa, in your car. It lets you control many aspects of the infotainment system by simply saying “Hey Mercedes”. Works impressively well. Also includes plenty of other driving technology such as Blind spot Assist and Active Brake Assist.

Cargo

With 370 litres of cargo space, it’s a practical little hatch. A long floor, wide tailgate opening, and low entry make it easy to load and unload items, like heavy suitcases, from the cargo area.

MB A Class hatchback pix Photos by Petrina Gentile 20180423_085731.jpg

Petrina Gentile

The Verdict: 9

Finally, the A-Class makes it to Canada. Smart move - it’s a practical, stylish little hatchback with impressive technology. And even though it’s the new baby of the Mercedes family, it’s anything but small.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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