Go small, live large

by Andy Bryenton

Cars are getting bigger. The health and safety police have had their say, and then our consumer demand for electronics and creature comforts added a few more pounds here and there as well. Between the heated memory foam seats and the crumple zones, there was only one way to go, and it was up.

Hence a new Mini bigger than the old Honda Civic, a new Honda Civic nearly as big as the old BMW 3 series, and a BMW 3 series so big they have slotted in a new 2 series underneath in the lineup to deliver that zippy, fresh feeling of owning a small, nimble car. No surprises — people love them. Which is why Mercedes have made a sedan from their popular A-Class and equipped it with the kind of performance you may remember from such hits as the spicier 190e models of yesteryear, with their lovely chassis and suspension and a bit of fire under the hood. Witness, then, the A 200, with more than 160 horsepower from a 1.3 engine, 0–100 in eight seconds and an interior from space.

It’s no insult to mention the 190e here, even despite the gulf of years. When Benz devised the original E it was designed as an entry level, sportier, smaller Merc for those who wanted quality but didn’t want to park the Imperial Star Destroyer sized W126 S-Class. At the time, it was radical. In fact, the Cosworth version has similar power and acceleration as the new A-Class, which is great, because it’s exactly enough to be fun. The A 200 is still revolutionary, thanks to a cockpit that’s all bright, wide touchscreens, and big improvements to ride quality and gearbox response over the old A-Class. 

So, a smooth ride, as one would expect from the inventors of the motor car, a host of electronic connectivity and comfort options, and a footprint both in terms of fuel usage and parking space, which is smaller than the smallest C-Class. The big rival for this baby Benz is certainly BMW’s 2 series but if it comes to a duel, wouldn’t you rather see the M sport version of the 2 battle AMG’s boosted and fettled A-Class? I’d volunteer to drive both.