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Kingdom of Bahrain
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When this revving reporter started his job, test driving some of Bahrain’s coolest cars was right at the top of my story wish list. I waited and waited, surfing the local market and test driving cars for myself, as Bahrain’s summer blitzed by.
Finally, I was called on to the test drive circuit. Last Thursday, Al Haddad Motors unveiled its new Mercedes A Class and it was the perfect car to pop my car review cherry.
Now, to be completely honest, I have never been one of “those car guys”. I have not penned poetry dedicated to the power of horses and I do not wax poetic about torque and engines on my first dates.
But I have a bit of testosterone instilled in me and every time a particular energetic engine zooms by, I feel a certain thrill. That’s not to mention the countless doughnuts done in parking lots during my careless university days.
These days, I am much more sensible with my driving, or at least as sensible as Bahrain’s roads let me be.
As I stepped into the 2020 Mercedes A200 and started it up, I felt an amalgam of my crazier and common-sense days. Putting the car into sport mode and zipping down the highway to Seef, I could feel the beast roaring with delight as 120 tiny little horses worked overtime to carry it to 100 clicks per hour in eight seconds.
When I first read the spec list, I figured 120bhp emanating from a 1.3 litre four-cylinder engine would be a nice easy smooth ride. After all, my regular Japanese ride, powered by 100 valiant horses, is a comfortable commuter.
But what I hadn’t factored in was the tuning Mercedes puts its vehicles through and how they can convert those extra 20 horses into Arabian steeds.
While I drove to the Crust & Crema in Seef to grab breakfast with the Al Haddad team, I took a few minutes to get to know the star of the show. With stylish two-tone leather and fabric interiors, carbon fibre on the dash and an all-screen dashboard interface, it looked like the inside of a Star Trek space pod and the 250 Nm of torque made it feel like one too.
I even had a chat with Mercedes herself, or rather; the on-board digital assistant and she informed me that bright sunny skies awaited me. She played my music and a few minutes before I reached, connected me directly to Imran Ali, marketing manager of Al Haddad, to confirm breakfast plans.
As I pulled up outside the restaurant and backed into my parking spot with the help of the Parking Assist system and sensors, I felt a few educated eyes turn my way and scan the saloon with curiosity.
After all, so far, the A Class has been available in hatchback format, targeted mainly at single millennials who want a zippy car for a fun night out. The new A Class however is part of Mercedes-Benz’s New Generation Compact Cars. The chassis is longer, the seats are wider and there is more trunk space to stow party supplies, I mean, groceries in. The ambient lighting is still available on request, AMG trim and performance options are still there and the sound system can still start a party on demand.
By the time I was done admiring the new styling and testing out the digital assistant’s functionality, Imran and marketing executive, Jawad showed up and we sat down for a hearty chat with a side of big breakfasts.
“With this car, the tires are a bit wider and the trunk is bigger,” said Imran as he chowed down on his omelette. “This now falls into the category of a proper saloon vehicle. It’s got a little bit for everyone, the singles, the couples and young families can all enjoy it. And Bahrain is the first country in the Middle East to launch the A-Class.”
Bahrain’s love affair with Mercedes has always been a family matter at Al Haddad Motors. Since 1958, the family has been the sole authorised distributor for the German brand in the kingdom. Their showroom used to be in Manama, close to where the American Mission Hospital now stands but after outgrowing the facility, they moved to Tubli. What didn’t move was an unwavering commitment to impeccable customer service.
As I tucked into my eggs benedict and Imran sipped on his large Americano, he added: “Through the years, Al Haddad has gone through many changes. We started with cars and then took over commercial vehicles. Mercedes has gone through many changes and many more are coming by the end of this year. But what matters most to us at the end of the day is that the customer has an amazing experience, no matter what Mercedes car they buy.”
As we finished up our breakfast and engaged in some unnecessary decadence with a pancake each, Imran and I got into the car and he showed me some of the features I had missed. Heeding his wise words, the vehicle adjusted the internal temperatures, illuminated us with the reading lights and if I didn’t have a review to finish, I would have probably driven it to the beach and chilled inside the car while finishing up Lewis Hamilton’s autobiography.
Instead, we drove to The Avenues, Bahrain and took a look at the A Class shipping container shaped booth, continuing to serenade the A200 along the way.
“The thing with the A Class is that it punches above its weight,” added Imran. “It may only have four cylinders, but its torque, especially in sport mode is fantastic. And of course, we also have the Eco mode for the efficiency and environment conscious drivers.”
Sometimes, I am wary of the one-size fits all approach because it gives everyone involved an inferior experience. But the A Class has it all, including an economical entry-level price of BD14,999.
Even Jalal, our sales and marketing manager and a die-hard family man, smiled like a teenager on his first joy ride as we blitzed down a deserted road. We both also nodded appreciatively at Imran who went through all the safety features, from the proximity sensors that help you avoid accidents to the speed limiter, which, with the flick of a button, will help you avoid that inadvertent speeding ticket by keeping your velocity in check.
Imran left us with the A200 for the rest of the day and it was fascinating how small mundane things like parking or finding out the weather became a delight with this machine. Mercedes has always been about the experience of being a car owner and that was definitely in the lime light as we drove to Furn Bistro & Bakery at The Westin City Centre Bahrain for our Eating Out review and then along the beach to get the full island driving experience.
It was with a twinge of sadness that I handed over the key fob in the evening after a spectacular day, driving the car and getting to know the folks at Al Haddad who work incredibly hard to make every purchase an exquisite experience.
The A200 was a spectacular car to start my auto reviewing journey, a magnificent machine that always roared to the occasion and with a puckish personal assistant on hand to attend to my most whimsical wants, I found myself on the verge of abandoning my sensible car budget in favour of an A Class experience.
To book your own A Class test drive, visit the showroom in Tubli or call 17785454.