Making a lot of noise about Merc's new baby A-Class
Big step forward for five-door executive hatch
Things were going grand with this week's review motor until Yer Man mentioned how noisy he thought the cabin had been when he'd driven the week before. Up to then, I hadn't noticed anything of the kind and was inwardly singing the praises of the new Mercedes A-Class 5dr executive hatchback.
Cabin noise is something I usually avidly seek out/detect as a matter of course. Indeed, my critics say I overdo it (you'd be surprised what annoys people). Such noise can stem from several sources; often tyre rumble combined with a big, roomy cabin can amplify things.
Admittedly, I'd driven only 250kms or so, almost exclusively on well-surfaced roads, when Yer Man, for whom I have great respect, raised the issue as we chatted pre-flight.
He was insistent. So much so I began to slip into my usual bout of self doubt. I couldn't wait to get back from driving BMWs and MINIs in England to see if he was right.
If he was, I'd have to reassess my attitude to the car in a significant way because noise can reduce the status and stature of everything else.
Before I tell you how I got on, let me first talk a bit about this new A-Class and why I was so well disposed towards it up to that juncture.
It may be a 'baby Merc' but its arrival has coincided with smart new technology coming on stream.
Which means it has stuff in the infotainment area that other, larger models have yet to enjoy. As you know it usually works the other way around; smaller cars get the hand-me-downs.
I also think it looks a good deal better; it's longer, lower-slung, almost estate-like. Because it is built on a new platform, they were able to squeeze bits of extra space here and there.
That manifested itself most tangibly with a bit more rear-seat knee and head room (thanks to clever roof design). Boot space is improved too, though it is not outrageously generous. Nor are the seat adjustments great: disappointing.
But for me the winning combination was the mix of solid/sporty chassis, impressive suppression of engine noise (!) from the excellent 1.5-litre diesel, a slick auto gearbox and direct steering.
The result is something that's difficult to achieve: a feeling of lightness and ease on-the-move with true response from suspension, steering and engine. The Audi A3, a key rival, is a favourite of mine for its solid sportiness but this has shifted things.
It isn't altogether that long ago I penned a most unflattering review of the previous A-Class. This new one leaves it totally in the shade. It is that good.
And the cabin is something of a gem: with two touchscreens (infotainment centre-dash; normal cluster behind steering wheel) catching the eye. That's against a backdrop of smart, clean lines and few buttons (the ventilation outlets are a major design feature, too). It's the best-looking cabin in its class now.
I'm not always great with all this interactive technology stuff, but the new MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) multimedia system with, they claim, the 'ability to learn' (artificial intelligence) made me feel not just in control but involved.
I had several avenues to get things done with this debut element: touchscreen, touchpad on central console (rarely used it), buttons on the steering wheel, or her good self 'Mercedes'.
Dealing with 'her' provided a glimpse of what's going on in connectivity and infotainment. So much techno-help is at our disposal these days. All I had to say was: "Hey Mercedes" and 'she' would ask how she could help - and would mostly deliver.
So I'd look for 'her' to call someone, change radio frequency or whatever. That was not just a convenience and driving-safety feature but a bit of fun too, betimes - I laughed at how she pronounced 'Don, The Very One' when connecting me to a dear cousin's number.
But that was all before Yer Man raised the prospect of a noisy cabin and the possibility of demoting much of what had gone before.
I was out of the airport like a slingshot and, as soon as I could, took it on to rippled, rough surfaces. It was only as I did so that I remembered how I'd previously driven the car - at its European launch - over several kilometres of stony, rutted roads (satnav let us down). Those roads were much rougher than anything I travelled on here.
Strive as I might I couldn't criticise the car for cabin noise. There isn't one built that can be quieter, of course. But there was no noticeable intrusion during my drives.
The only cabin noise that mattered, as far as I was concerned, was 'Mercedes' asking how she could help. She and her techno-team helped a lot in making this A-Class as good a car as I've driven for some time. They are entitled to make plenty of noise about that.
Facts & figures
Mercedes A-Class 5dr hatch, A180d AMG-Line auto (1,461cc, 116bhp) diesel; 4.1-4.5l/100kms, 111g/km, road tax €200.
Price: €35,505; with extras €39,805. Range from: €31,600 (diesel); €33,910 (1.3-litre petrol).
Spec included: array of safety and comfort technology, lowered suspension, MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) multimedia system, reversing camera, auto climate control, Artico leather, 18ins alloys, multifunction steering wheel, AMG bodystyling, sports pedals, direct steer, heated/sport front seats, LED headlights.
Extras included parking package, 10.25ins display, speed limit assist.