A bigger engine lifts the spirits of Mercedes-Benz's small family car, giving it a performance edge over saloons that are larger in size
A-class gets a steroids jab Sprinting ahead with a new 1.9-litre engine, the A190

TWO years into its lifespan, the Merc A-class continues to draw a steady stream of varied opinion.

The baby certainly got off to a rough start when, months before its launch here, newspapers around the world began running pictures of the car performing spectacular acrobatics while flunking a simple swerve test.

The A-class was meant to be Mercedes' idea of the future of the small family car. Instead, it was an idea that was turned, quite literally, on its side.

Whether it will ever shake off the stigma of this early shortcoming, the worst seems to be over. Still, it must be galling indeed for owners to have to answer a question like: "Hey, isn't this the one that flips over?"

With that in mind, the last thing anyone would have thought the A-class needed was more power, but with the arrival of the A190, that is precisely what it has. You can now have your baby Mercedes with a not-so-baby 1.9-litre engine.

This endows it with 125 bhp and 180 Nm of torque, which is plenty of poke for something that weighs just over a tonne. Ironically enough, some people tend to think of the A-class as a bit of a wannabe.

Yet, the A190 will outsprint handily the bestselling "adult" Mercedes, the E200, which struggles to muster the same turn of speed that the A190 boasts. In fact, the A190 is quicker than a BMW 320i.

Even if you consider the extra power surplus to requirements, choosing the A190 over the 1.6-litre A160 means getting a more refined car. The 1.9-litre engine is a much better effort from Mercedes.

It revs more smoothly than the 1.6, and because you tend to work it less hard, it provides a quieter ride. The five-speed automatic gearbox needs a bit of work, however, because it delivers jerky shifts. And it refuses to kick down unless you stomp on the throttle, as if squishing a roach.

Once you get the gearbox to react, the A190 will pick up speed smartly, allowing you to dart into traffic gaps or overtake slower road users with authority.

The chassis might not be up to the extra power, however. Despite the fact that the A190 comes with the Mercedes ESP stability system, which brakes individual wheels to correct slides, the car tends to understeer, or plough straight ahead when you expect it to turn.

The A190's entry, along with revisions to the local A-class range, means that there are now three of these chunky Mercs to choose from. The A190 is a sort of "A-class deluxe" version, leaving the A160 room to move down market slightly.

The A160 lacks leather upholstery, a removable passenger chair and sports suspension, which is standard equipment in the A190. But its price tag starts at $125,000 including COE. As tempting as the A160 is at that price, the A190 is a better introduction to the experience of Mercedes ownership. It is more refined and with its ability to sprint, more likely to make passengers go: "Hey, isn't this the one that flips over?".

SPECS

Mercedes-Benz A190

Price: $138,000

Engine: 1,898 cc eight-valve in-line four

Transmission: Five-speed auto

Power: 125 bhp at 5,500 rpm

Torque: 180 Nm at 4,000 rpm

0-100 kmh: 10.2 seconds

Top speed: 193 kmh

For inquiries: Contact Cycle & Carriage on 298-1818

Mercedes-Benz A160 Automatic Clutch

Price: $125,000

Engine: 1,598 cc eight-valve in-line four

Transmission: Five-speed manual with automatic clutch

Power: 102 bhp at 5,250 rpm

Torque: 150 Nm at 4,000 rpm

0-100 kmh: 10.8 seconds

Top speed: 182 kmh

For inquiries: Contact Cycle & Carriage on 298-1818