Thursday 26 April 2018

Cars: 40 shades of green - and Mercedes chose this one

Colour of A-Class not only criticism

Reverse gear: Mercedes A1 Class
Reverse gear: Mercedes A1 Class
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I don't often feel this bad about a car. Virtually nothing did it for me in this particular version of the revised Mercedes A-Class. From the eye-watering colour - they call it Elbaite Green metallic - to the worst reverse gearshift of the year, it irked me.

DJ Larry Gogan would, in his inimitable fashion, say it didn't suit me. That is putting it in plain language alright.

I'll admit I grew partially accustomed to it as the week wore on but overall no, it was just one of those instances where either I or the car never seemed to be in synch.

It was a bit like the car was trying to do a foxtrot and I a waltz - and both of us missed a beat.

I have to say that many people looked at it with a mixture of interest and surprise.

Some sneered at me in it. Others gave it the thumbs up. I'd estimate the count was 60/40 in favour. Not including me of course.

I went from:

* Feeling like a chump as uniformed students made derogatory hand signals while having a good laugh as they traversed a pedestrian crossing at Sandyford Industrial estate

* To being pleasantly perplexed by people coming into the driveway, or up to me at the shops and admiring it.

The latter took the sting from my personal criticism of the colour which some loved and others agreed was shocking.

But none drove it, so I can claim prerogative and say few would disagree that getting reverse gear in this 6-speed manual was unnecessarily awkward and difficult.

I had to pull upwards - hard - on the handle and then shove it to the left and back. Frankly, nobody needs that sort of gear gymnastics.

Combined with the most counter-intuitive electronic handbrake I have come across in a long time, I repeatedly cussed whoever came up with the idea every time I had to use either. Which, in city traffic and doing a few bits and pieces of shopping, was quite often.

On top of all that the little diesel engine was, betimes, too throaty for my liking. Any time I asked it to dig out a bit of pulling power or pick-up, it seemed to emit a slightly wheezy echo for a few moments before, in fairness, giving me what I was looking for and showing a good turn of foot.

The pity is I could see what they are trying to do with this model. The A-Class is a younger person's car and they want it as jazzy as possible - hence the nod to 'performance' by calling my test version the AMG Line - and the eye-catching colour.

Incidentally, to make sure I wasn't being an old-fashioned grump about the colour I turned to the two daughters - cornerstones of taste and decorum. When they agreed with me, without prompting, I felt I was on reasonably secure ground. Such agreement is rare - I should be thankful to the A-Class for that.

Was there anything positive? To be fair there were lots of things I noticed.

Leaving aside the colour, I have to say this is a really smartly designed car. I liked the front a lot.

The cabin was a decent combination of comfort, practical and styling, though rear-seat room wasn't the best.

It's not Mercedes' fault, but I also struggled to get the seating/steering wheel (flat-bottomed) combination the way I wanted it.

And for all my criticism about the engine and gearshift, they worked particularly well out in free-flowing driving.

I do think the Audi A3 Sportback has a better all-round feel to it, however, and the BMW 1-series takes the lead on handling and liveliness.

But neither can match that brilliant front on the A-Class.

Maybe Mercedes have tried too hard to be too smart too quickly. I don't know. They certainly have radically altered how their cars look and drive.

And there is no denying how the A-Class has embraced a whole new set of drivers.

But I would appeal to the powers-that-be to do something about that reverse gear-change. There is no escaping how messy and annoying it felt over the course of my drive.

Forgive the awful pun: but it, above anything else, coloured my view of the car.

Facts & figures

Mercedes A-Class compact executive hatchback. Diesel A180d AMG Line; 1,461cc, 109bhp, 4.1/3.7litres/100km, 101g/km, €190 road tax, 6spd manual.

Standard spec on test car included: several airbags/safety elements, air con, auto headlights, ISOFIX fittings, USB, stop/start, Attention Assist, Bluetooth/audio streaming, Collision Prevention Assist, reversing camera, heated front seats, cruise control.

Options included metallic paint, 8ins display screen, remote online and panoramic sliding sunroof.

Prices start from €33,365.

Total cost with extras: €36,702.

My side of the road

I could not believe how strong the sun was in my eyes the other evening. Now that it sits so low in the sky, it can blind you for a critical few seconds. It has happened me a few times in the past weeks. Which just goes to show how I didn't listen to a kind expert's advice: always have an old set of sunglasses in the car -for winter as much as summer.

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