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Image credit: Roberto Baldwin / Engadget

Mercedes A-Class First Drive: Top-level tech comes to an entry-level car

“Hey Mercedes.”
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"Hey Mercedes."

"How old is Maury Povich?"

The automaker's MBUX infotainment system which makes its debut in the A-Class thinks for a few moments and then informs me that the day-time talk show host and collector of human DNA is 79 years old. It's a silly joke, yet it shows that Mercedes-Benz is investing in one of the more important features of new cars: How we interact with them.

Gallery: First Drive: 2019 Mercede-Benz A-Class Sedan | 33 Photos

With MBUX, drivers and passengers aren't limited to random questions, they can also control aspects of the vehicle, including navigation and climate controls. All of this happens with natural language. No scripts and no need to push a button. Just say the wake words, "Hi Mercedes" or "Hey Mercedes"

Between random commands and questions, I was able to adjust the climate control of myself and the passenger. I could turn on and off the heated seats of both. I also found four-star or greater Mexican restaurants in the Seattle area and figured out how far San Francisco was (and the height of Mt. Whitney).

I was also able to find locations, start navigation and add waypoints with a Starbucks (which was closed for construction, booo) along my route all without taking my hands off the steering wheel. As more and more systems require us to take our eyes off the task at hand to do simple tasks, it's important to find ways to focus on the road. MBUX does this. But it's not completely without issues.

If MBUX can't answer a query or complete a task, it doesn't inform you of this limitation. It just keeps asking what it can help you with. So you never know if you're asking the question wrong or if you're not in an area with strong enough signal for questions that require the cloud. Also, you can't use it to do tasks like adjust the volume and turn the lights on/off. Mostly for the sake of safety.

For folks that don't want to talk to their car, you can reply via the touchpad which Mercedes has used for years (or via the new touchscreen). These are both connected to a new UI that surfaces most of the major items we care about (navigation, media, radio, phone, settings) to the top. It also uses AI to learn about your behavior and creates favorites for things like the person you call the most or the location you navigate to on a regular basis.

One of my favorite new features is the AR that puts directions and street names over a real-world view of your route at low speeds. The map on the center display is replaced by a view of the world in front of the car and blue arrows point you in the right direction.

Oh, and it's very fast with very little latency thanks to the automaker using the latest Nvidia hardware.

The A-Class sedan that wraps around MBUX should do very well once it hits US shores. Its aggressive low stance gives it the air of a luxury German sport sedan far more expensive than something that starts in the low-to-mid $30,000 range (Mercedes should have final pricing details available in a few months).

This is the first A-Class to make it to the United States and while we sadly won't be getting the amazing looking hatchback that's available in Europe, the sedan should turn heads and open up wallets here.

The A-Class A220 has a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that puts out 188 horsepower and 221 foot-pounds of torque. It's not exactly ready to race the rest of the Mercedes line up, but around town that powerplant should keep folks more than happy.

It's available with FWD (front-wheel-drive) or Mercedes' AWD (all-wheel-drive) 4Matic system. After driving both, I'd go for the 4Matic. But if you don't plan on hitting switchbacks anytime soon, the FWD version should suffice around town and in the highway. Although the 4Matic version did seem to have a bit of a harsher ride over rough roads. Because the cars are preproduction I'm not sure if that's a bug or a feature for better handling.

Along with MBUX, the A-Class supports all the fancy new driver assistance features found in the S-Class. So in addition to adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, the A-Class outfitted with the Driver Assistance Package will also get route based speed adaptation (the car will slow down at corners on its own while in cruise control) and can change lanes by itself. All that for probably $2,250 more.

The interior is typical Mercedes: comfort mixed with luxury. If you opt for the 64-color ambient lighting system, it's a bit like being in a Virgin America cabin. Throw in the large propeller-esque vents and the A-Class seems like the car a young Howard Hughes would have enjoyed driving around in between plane crashes.

Young is what Mercedes is going for with the A-Class. It's a fun compact Mercedes that's packed with technology and has a starting price that should lure folks with a bit of cash (and a desire to step up their car into the showroom). The vehicle will be available in early 2019 and once we get our hands on a production vehicle, we'll have a full review.

On occasion Engadget will accept travel and lodging from auto manufacturers to test drive vehicles not yet available for review from a local fleet. We do this to make sure our readers have the latest information about new vehicles. This is standard practice in the automotive journalism world. This in no way colors our editorial coverage of the vehicle or of the automaker themselves.


Video
Presenter: Roberto Baldwin
Script: Roberto Baldwin
Camera: Mercedes-Benz
Editor: Liviu Oprescu

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