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Here is the Mercedes-Benz A 250 Sport — the sportiest version of the new W176 A-Class facelift range, save for the limited-run Motorsport Edition, and range-topping A 45.

Priced at RM238,888, the A 250 Sport is negligibly more expensive than its predecessor. On the surface, you get new looks, an updated powertrain and a few other cosmetic and mechanical revisions — more than you may initially think, as you’ll soon discover in this review.

My colleague, Anthony, has already sampled the new A-Class range in Germany, with his report detailing the model’s updates and its new performance characteristics on foreign turf. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the local-market A 250 Sport alone and see how the changes shape up in a more familiar setting.

Starting with its looks, we tip our hats to its designers for tweaks that dramatically refresh the A-Class’ appeal, noticeably outdating the pre-facelift model. Speaking specifically about the new A 250 Sport, you can see that its AMG Line bumpers have been re-profiled with more flowing lines, while maintaining its variant-specific red highlights on the front and rear aprons and brake calipers.

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Up front, the Sport model gets the A-Class’ standard diamond radiator grille with chrome pins, flanked by new LED High Performance headlamps (previous xenons). A familiar set of 18-inch AMG five-spoke alloy wheels reprise its role on the A 250 Sport, wrapped in 235/40R18 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT rubbers. Dual exhaust tips (now fully integrated into the bumper) and LED tail lights (with new graphics) feature at the rear.

The cabin has largely been left untouched, except for the updated AMG Line-specific three-spoke steering wheel, new instrument panel design, slimmer eight-inch media display screen and flat face buttons on the front fascia. Other familiar items include the red topstitching on the upholstery and door cards, Artico/Dinamica sport seats, and those gaudy designo red seat belts.

But just as before, the A 250 Sport (and the entire A-Class range, including the AMG A45) lacks several key items that you would normally expect in a RM239k vehicle. There is neither a keyless entry system nor an engine push-start button. And if we could so choose, a premium-looking leather-covered dashboard wouldn’t hurt — only the A 250 Motorsport Edition and AMG A 45 get this.

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For someone my size (185 cm with a belly), the A-Class’ cabin is not very accommodating — you will be better off being slightly shorter and slimmer. From my seating position (lowest possible), the centre rear-view mirror obstructed my frontal view to the left quite a bit — visibility beside and behind me was just fine. Those with a different build may have a different experience.

On to actual driving impressions, and we start off with the A 250 Sport’s M270 2.0 litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. As before, the mill develops 211 hp at 5,000 rpm and 350 Nm of torque from 1,200 to 4,000 rpm – we miss out on the newer 218 hp setup due to our fuel quality. Still, the A 250’s zero to 100 km/h time has been cut from 6.6 to 6.4 seconds, thanks to a new Launch Control function.

Prior to driving the new A 250 Sport, I had a brief go in the pre-facelift model just over a month ago, and the opportunity helped me outline the new car’s performance improvements. Clearly, the facelift Sport model feels quicker than before, despite there being no power output changes on paper.

The improved acceleration largely comes from an updated 7G-DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission for the new A-class range. But, do remember that the Sport variant here gets its own special set of upgrades too. This includes a modified ESP configuration, a sportier transmission setting, an AMG-tuned sports suspension that lowers its ride height by 15 mm, and a sharper Direct Steer speed-sensitive power steering.

The new A 250 Sport’s throttle response now more accurately corresponds with your expectations of its three preset Dynamic Select modes (Eco, Comfort and Sport), easing in the power in Comfort and completely letting it loose in Sport. The Individual mode lets you customise a drive mode with your preferred characteristics of the powertrain, steering and air-conditioning.

Even the characteristics of the accelerator pedal itself has been revised. The pre-facelift model’s pedal had long travel and a loosely sprung feel — this new one feels firm and doesn’t waste an inch of travel. These are obviously great for fast driving situations, but they also make driving in urban, stop-and-go territories a lot more natural and enjoyable.

The only negative observations I’ve made have about the A 250 Sport’s powertrain are to do with its dull exhaust note and unrefined ECO start/stop function — the latter restarts the engine too aggressively. All other performance-related areas of the car appear improved, and coincide with our findings in Germany.

The AMG-tuned sports suspension appears more refined than before too. I recall wanting to get out of the pre-facelift A 250 Sport after just five minutes of driving in Subang Jaya because it was just too brash to ride over tarmac imperfections. For the new A 250, Stuttgart has seemingly unsprung some of that tension and made things more tolerable.

The initial shock you get when hitting a bump is as unsettling as it would be in any hot hatch, but there’s seemingly more cushioning of the effect than before. Recalling our drive in Germany, Anthony and I soaked up the miles effortlessly on Dresdan’s smooth surfaces without complaint. Plainly, the terrible quality of Malaysian roads are a match for the most refined suspension systems in the market.

From a handling perspective, everything still feels the same. Thanks to its special AMG engineering, the front-wheel driven hot hatch has loads of mechanical grip to offer. Unlike the A 200 model, the A 250 Sport is fitted with AMG-specific springs that lower its ride height by 15 mm, perforated front disc brakes and a Direct Steer power steering.

Speaking of powered variable ratio steering racks, I’ve always regarded the Volkswagen Group’s progressive system as one of the best in the segment – available in the Golf GTI and Audi TT, for example. But after my time in the A 250 Sport, its solution seems equally capable. The steering’s weightiness and variable turn ratio react and respond perfectly with your preferred drive mode and concurrent speed.

I’ll be the first to admit that the previous A 250 Sport was a bit of a ragamuffin – powerful, harsh and unforgiving. But Mercedes-Benz has certainly refined the experience for act two, which brings it up to par, if not ahead of, the current benchmark for everyday performance hot hatches, the Mk7 Golf GTI.

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For all its improvements, the A 250 Sport may still not be for everyone. Its ride, regardless of its new refinement, is still very firm and to some, the Sport model’s specific appointments may not be worth the higher price it commands. Fortunately, you do now have a wider spectrum of A-Class variants to consider.

The 1.6 litre A 200 AMG Line is your next closest bet, wearing almost exactly the same look as the Sport model, but equipped with an even more tolerable suspension. Being RM23k cheaper, you’ll also have to settle for a modest 156 hp and 250 Nm, but the rest of it remains nearly identical to the A 250 Sport – in my opinion, the A 200 gets nicer 18-inch AMG multi-spoke wheels too.

If a performance hatch is what I was after, the A 250 Sport is what I’ll have, hands down. I don’t mind the harsh ride or the flashy red trim, because that’s just how I’d like my AMG-engineered hot hatch every day. From an everyday perspective, it’s quick, has four doors, sufficient boot volume and almost all the right creature comforts you could ask for — not forgetting the brand’s kerb appeal.