In the past, when I’ve thought “Mercedes-Benz,” my mind has never really gone to the smaller side of their model lineup. To me, the best Mercedes were the big ones – the E-Class and big-boy S-Class sedans. Doubly so if they’d been breathed on by AMG, Mercedes’ in-house tuning shop, to make ridiculous noises and leave elevens away from every stoplight.
Mercedes-Benz themselves has seemingly thought along similar lines, as its newest technologies have typically debuted in the S-Class and trickled down later.
So when I was handed the keys to the Mercedes A220, their smallest offering with its smallest engine, I was doubtful. Our Instagram followers openly shared their thoughts – “have fun with that Mercedes Corolla” and so on. In the end, I came away pleasantly surprised by the little Baby Benz.
What Is It?
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz A220 is the brand’s smallest sedan. Though the A-Class has been offered in other markets for decades, the car is new to the United States this year. For those who think “smallest” means something the size of a Toyota Yaris, fear not. This A220 is nearly identical in size to the mid-1990s “W202” C-Class and just a hair larger than the relatively-legendary 190E of the 1980s. It is, frankly, the perfect size unless you’re routinely hauling several people around.
Every A220 sold here comes with a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 188 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 221 lb-ft of torque at 1,250 rpm. The sole transmission option is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (DCT), and while the most basic A220s are front-wheel drive, most will be sold in 4Matic all-wheel drive guise.
My A220 loaner was relatively lightly optioned, a welcome reprieve from more traditionally-loaded test cars. Painted basic Night Black over black “MB-Tex” heated vinyl seats, the only notable options were the adjustable suspension dampers and dual 10.25″ screens running Mercedes’ newest MBUX infotainment system with augmented reality navigation. The MSRP of my loaner came in around $41,000.
Driving the 2020 Mercedes A220
Before I get in the weeds of how the A220 drives, it’s worth mentioning the seats. The basic, vinyl-covered no-frills seats in my A220 were fantastic. No multi-contour this or ventilated that necessary, spend your dollars on other options.
Speaking of options, my A220 came with the adjustable “Adaptive Damping” suspension, which firms up in Sport mode and goes softer in Comfort. Mercedes also offers their standard “comfort” suspension and a lowered variant, both with non-adjustable dampers, on other configurations of A220. I found the Adaptive Damping suspension to be rather under-damped in Comfort mode. Compression and rebound alike were not well-controlled and the car crashed through bumps in the city. But, in Sport mode, the suspension suddenly felt very well-balanced, with very good body control over bad roads and through fast, sweeping on-ramps.
The 7G-DCT transmission also proved frustrating. Under gentle throttle, it slips the clutches and engages rather slowly. I had to check to make sure it started in first gear (which it does) as there was a noticeable delay in acceleration while it engaged from a stop. Heavy-throttle starts were jerky at best. Shift logic in the city could be better, too. “Ah, but it has paddle shifters! I’ll use those!” you say. Paddles in a dual-clutch gearbox should provide snappy shifts – that’s the whole point. Pulling these resulted in shifts provided at a glacial pace that would simply thrill Miranda Priestly. The gear requested would be held for a period of time until it wasn’t, and the gearbox decided one higher was a better idea.
But once on the move in Sport, with city streets, potholes, and red lights left behind, the A220 comes into its own. It’s a composed little highway cruiser and feels very competent on back roads, where the DCT’s brain wakes up and figures out how to deliver ratios to keep the boosted four in its healthy power band. Some will curse the front-drive bias of the A220; most will buy 4Matic and care very little about “bias” when the car can send up to 50% of torque rearward anyway. Mercedes claims the A220 4Matic can hit 60 in 7.7 seconds, which sounds about right and feels quick enough in the real world.
So, the A220 isn’t the most refined city car. But it does feel like a great place to soak up some miles on the open road, no matter how straight or curvy it may become.
The Mercedes-ness of the A220
My A220 came with Mercedes’ augmented reality navigation, powered by their MBUX software. This is an example of an innovative new technology that, historically, would have debuted in the flagship S-Class. MBUX debuted in the Sprinter van and A-Class – two good vehicles, but hardly “flagships” in the traditional sense. AR uses a front-facing camera to show a live feed with arrows, street signs, and building numbers overlaid throughout your route, helping indicate where to turn or exit. It’s tremendously cool and works well.
Flashy navigation aside, I found myself impressed with the general “Mercedes-ness” of their smallest car. Everything feels relatively solid and well-built, like a proper Mercedes-Benz. I’d probably ditch the adjustable suspension in lieu of Mercedes’ wonderful ambient lighting and excellent Burmester sound system. Both options would elevate the A220 but find its MSRP within spitting distance of my loaner.
Perhaps my favorite feature of the A220 was its physical size, or lack thereof. I was reminded of all the compact sedans of the ’90s that I’ve owned and driven. It was easy to maneuver, easy to park, and relatively tossable in a way that larger sedans simply aren’t. Sight-lines are good and the dashboard is low. There’s no “bathtub” feeling here.
Though I appreciate that one can build an A220 with an excess of features and a MSRP over $52,000, my particular A220 loaner was nearly a Goldilocks build. Not too basic, not too optioned-up, but just right. Mercedes has recognized that some simply don’t want a big car, and succeeded at producing a compact sedan that feels just as premium as their larger offerings.