2020 sees the return of the Baby Benz

The Baby Benz is back. The 190E filled the role of “small luxury sedan” back in the mid-1980s and into the early 1990s. Its best year, 1986, saw 21,897 190Es leave the showrooms, but sales declined to fewer than 15,000 by the time Mercedes-Benz pulled the plug on its compact sedan in 1993 and shifted to the larger C-class.

Interestingly, in a time when sedans of every size have been succumbing to the enduring SUV craze, Mercedes-Benz has gone all in with an entry-level compact luxury car, now in its second year. But worry not — Mercedes-Benz offers eight SUV models, ranging from the compact GLA to the rugged G-Class. The German automaker isn’t retreating to its roots in the luxury-sedan market.

The A220 is a lot like the 190E in many respects. It’s equipped with a fairly mild-mannered 188-horsepower 4-cylinder engine. It’s luxurious yet sporty, handling like a sport sedan should. It also has many of the same defects as the old 190E — notably, a small trunk (8.6 cubic feet) and virtually no knee room for rear-seat passengers if those in front don’t give up most of theirs.

The A220 we test-drove was a true luxury sedan. Among its many desirable features were all-wheel drive, panoramic sunroof, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, power driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment, blind-spot monitor, cross-traffic alert, heated front seats, adaptive cruise control, and active steering, blind-spot, lane-keeping, lane-change, speed-limit and evasive-steering assist. That’s a lot of infotainment and driving-control technology in one small package.

It’s obvious, however, that Mercedes-Benz has not adopted the South Korean strategy of offering an expansive array of value features in every model. The 2020 A220 sedan starts at just $32,800 for a front-wheel-drive model — $34,800 for an A220 with all-wheel drive — but many of the features listed above cost extra. The sticker price on our white test car was $43,745.

Bottom line: The base model barely clears the near-luxury bar and certainly doesn’t reach luxury status.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A220 4Matic Sedan

Price: $43,745

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline Four, 188 horsepower, 221lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 7-speed automated automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Weight: 3,417 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 18x8-inch black twin 5-spoke

Tires: P235/40R18 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 8.6 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 13.5 gallons

Fuel economy: 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway

Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline

That said, in many respects the A220 is easy to live with. It’s easier to access and egress than most of the compact sedans we’ve driven, and its road manners are impeccable. Buyers of European sport sedans have come to accept a hint of roughness in the ride, in exchange for sharp handling, but that largely has been engineered out of the A220. Interior materials are of exceptionally high quality. And, while we struggled with some of the interior controls, we were able to figure out the infotainment and climate-control systems without difficulty.

To be fully truthful, we still don’t care for the touch-pad controller, preferring beefy dials between the front bucket seats. We also found ourselves wishing for a traffic-light prism like many 1950s cars had; the low-slung windshield made traffic signals hard to see.

The A220 delivers good fuel economy for an all-wheel-drive car with a turbocharged engine — 24 mpg city, 34 highway — but pricier premium gasoline is required.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.