2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class first drive review: A better baby Benz

The route south from Seattle to Yakima, Washington, winds through the Mount Rainier National Park. Streams and valleys bracket the road, the scenery changes from green to brown, and Mount Rainier stands majestically in the distance, snow-capped even in September.

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class is a lovely car for this scenic drive and a step up in every way from the current “baby Benz,” the CLA-Class, except perhaps, in looks.

Adept dynamics

The A-Class owes its combination of sporty dynamics and ride comfort to the mistakes of the CLA.

“The CLA was flawed from the start,” a Mercedes chassis development engineer tells us. He’ll go nameless here because he probably wants to keep his job, but he further explains that Mercedes aimed for sportiness in the CLA at the expense of ride quality. The previous A-Class, which was offered as a hatchback and never sold in the U.S., was too stodgy, so Mercedes engineers erred in the opposite direction for the swoopier CLA.

2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

As a result, the CLA is fun to drive as long as the roads are glass smooth, but the ride becomes buckboard hard when the road turns rough.

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class supplants the CLA as the brand’s entry-level car, though it is related to the CLA, which arrived with a price below $30,000 (before the mandatory destination charge) in 2013. The A-Class rides on the MFA 2 platform, the second generation of the Mercedes Front-drive Architecture adapted from the CLA’s underpinnings. It’s an evolution of the same platform, with a new central underbody and 30-percent stiffer mounting points for the chassis components. The latter allowed for softer spring and damper settings to retain the CLA’s sportiness and ease up on the kidney liquification.

I take the wheel under a tunnel of trees just outside the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. The steering immediately presents as weighty and direct with rock-steady on-center stability.

I’m in a particularly attractive version of the A-Class that boasts optional 19-inch wheels and the AMG Line package, which adds AMG body styling, a chrome-finish diamond-block grille, perforated front brake discs, and a suspension that is lowered 0.6 inch. The A-Class offers 17- or 18-inch wheels as well, so this should be the stiffest riding model, but the ride feels more planted and supple than rigid. The road here undulates and the A-Class responds with some bounding, especially from the rear. That’s likely more due to the short 107.4-inch wheelbase than stiff suspension tuning.

I leave the park and enter the Yakima Valley, where farms and apple orchards dot the open land. Here, the A-Class proves fun to toss into the occasional sharp corner. The steering is quick enough with its 14.4:1 ratio to turn in crisply, and the car suffers from little body lean. I find no esses here, but the short wheelbase and minimal lean should make the A-Class quite agile. I’m looking forward to the AMG A35 and A45 models that are likely to follow.

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