Every now and then, a vehicle comes my way that just seems to bug me at every turn. I can’t get along with it and everything about it rubs me the wrong way.
Sometimes, the car ticks all the right boxes in terms of engineering, styling and performance, and often comes with top-notch credentials, but it doesn’t make any difference. It is what it is.
In this case, it was the 2019 Mercedes-Benz A 220, which, despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t get comfortable with. It provides decent performance (with a little prodding) and it’s not a bad looker, but … well, what can I say?
Available in two trim levels, the A 220 is powered by a 2.0-turbocharged four-cylinder engine that develops 188 horsepower. Transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch 4Matic and the A 220 is front-drive.
Passenger capacity is five adults – though it’ll be snug with that many people on board – and the trunk is good for some 420 litres of cargo space.
Now, about those annoyances.
Actually, they’re all found in the controls and ergonomics of the car. Mercedes seems to have made some changes – some going back a few years – just for their own sake. These changes really don’t enhance the driveability of the car, but do distinguish it from what may have come before.
The shifter: This toilet-lever-shaped device has been on most Mercedes products for a few years. It’s just silly and is positioned on the right side of the steering column where, on the vast majority of automobiles, the wiper switch lever would be. I suppose one would get used to it eventually but I never did.
Plus, it doesn’t function properly. When parking or backing up, for instance, there’s a delay while the car tries to figure out where reverse is. Considering the fact that this is a pretty basic function, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to locate the shift lever in this way.
Audio system: I’ve never encountered a more obtuse and difficult-to-understand stereo system in an automobile. This system is almost unusable and really takes your attention away from driving the automobile. I never did figure out how to enter station presets and finding radio stations was way more challenging than it should be.
The audio controls in the A 220 drove me crazy. This is a common failing in all Mercedes products: over-thinking something and making it much more complicated than it needs to be. I still remember when Becker made radios for this company and they were among the worst in the industry. Looks like things haven’t changed much.
Dashboard layout: Yes, things like the tachometer and speedometer are very visible, but the whole instrument cluster looks like an afterthought. It’s as if the engineers reached an impasse during the design of the interior and just kind of dropped in something they found on a back shelf somewhere. It looks homemade and not at all upscale, which is what Mercedes is all about, right?
Transmission gearing: The A 220 will get a move-on once you give it some welly, but off the line it’s lethargic and unwilling. This could be a matter of programming, but a car with this size and power-to-weight ratio should be much livelier than it is.
That said, the A 220 is a well-screwed-together automobile. It has almost no road or drivetrain noise, and on the highway it’s a pleasure. Part of the reason for this is because by that time you’re done fiddling with the controls – one way or another – and can focus on actually driving.
And one other slick little feature I liked is a front-mounted camera. When you pull up to a stop light, the camera kicks in and gives you a panorama of what’s in front of you. It’s an excellent idea.
I think part of the problem for me is that the A 220 is not aimed at older drivers who struggle with technology. Younger buyers may find everything on this car completely logical and easy to digest, and appreciate the fact that Mercedes is staying up to date.
I just found it annoying.
Mercedes-Benz 2019 A 220
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Mercedes-Benz A 220: Seven-speed automatic
Horsepower: 188 at 5,800 rpm
Torque: 221 foot pounds at 1,600 rpm
Base price: $36,990
Fuel economy: 9.6 litres/100 km (city) and 7.1 litres/100 km (highway), with premium gas
Some alternatives: Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, Infiniti 50, Acura TLX, Lexus IS, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Subaru Legacy.
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).