So, a little while back I took a Mercedes 260E for a test drive.
It was a late Eighties W124 model, and a car that as a teen seared itself into my psyche from the moment I first saw one. Three decades later that 260E’s lines still seemed crisp, it still seemed bank-vault solid, awesomely over-engineered, and its 125kW still seemed punchy.
But it was just a little tatty and tired. Just a little. And maybe unrealistically the W124 I’m looking for needs to be time-warped, or close to it, right down to still having the original first aid kit.
It also so happens that the 260E was the SA Car of the Year in 1987, my matric year.
The new A-Class, meanwhile, is also the current 2019 SA Car of the Year, and so the first Benz to take the title since the 260E. And just as 260E was all those years back, it’s an impressive piece of kit.
But things have moved on just, um, a little in those three plus decades, and some aspects of the A250 would have seemed borderline sci-fi back in 1987.
Among them, the 165kW from its turbopetrol two-litre mill, its 7G-DCT self-shifter – the 260E made do with a four-speed auto – and the sort of levels of kit that weren’t even in their gestation back in the Eighties. Chief among them, the new MBUX multimedia system.
Mercedes bills it as a “revolution of the user experience in the car,” and that’s no press-releasy hyperbole. One of this clever system’s biggest party tricks is its intelligent voice control, which makes a mockery of other, older systems.
Just say “Hey Mercedes” and your wish is the system’s command, allowing you to adjust the air-con, open the sunroof, or find the quickest route to, say, the city centre. It’s awesomely intuitive, with a near-inexhaustible novelty value.
Watch MBUX in action
The A250 – the range starts with the A200 – also turns in the sort of performance that back in 1987 was simply devastating, while its safety features are stellar. A 1987 Ferrari 328 GTS, for instance, hit 100km/h from rest in some 6.4 seconds.
The A250 – and bear in mind this is merely a swift Merc hatch’ not a Wagnerian AMG model – does it in 6.2 seconds, thanks to that 165kW and 350Nm, topping out at 250km/h.
The upcoming Mercedes-AMG A45 S halo model, meanwhile, makes up to 310kW, with an acceleration time of a claimed 3.9 seconds.
The 1987 Lamborghini Countach LP5000S QV, featuring as a poster on virtually all teen boys’ bedroom walls back then, made 313kW. Enough to hit zero-to-100km/h in 4.9 seconds, according to the factory stats.
Now of course space like life is short, and I indeed reported on the A-Class when it was launched last year, so besides adding that the A250 is a clever, compelling little machine, its 2019 COTY win was no fluke.
Some of the (worthy) cars it was up against included the Porsche Cayenne, the Suzuki Jimny, the Suzuki Swift, and the Lexus ES, winners all in their respective categories. The A-Class, of course, was the overall winner – as well as scooping the Family Sedan/Hatch category.
And while this is a little after the fact, for the first time in the competition’s history, members of the public could also cast a vote for the most deserving car. Rather interestingly they came to the same conclusion as the COTY judges, namely the A-Class.
Pay about a bit over half a bar for the entry-level A200 Hatch through to R596,969 for the A250 Hatch I had the pleasure of driving. Since its launch last year, meanwhile, the range has also been boosted by sedan variants, plus a turbodiesel model.
Worthy machines these. Tech-rich, competent, compelling, with the Benz badge no doubt singing a siren song to many.
But I can’t help wondering if three decades down the line the current A-Class will be as covetable and collectible, timeless and, well, terrific as that near-indestructible old 260E is today.
Time will tell.