Merc needs a technology win to show that the world’s first car maker can still be relevant in a world that is demanding ever more from the automobile. The new A-Class may just be it.
The new baby Benz hits all the basic hatchback benchmarks with significant interior space increases over its predecessor as well as an improvement in luxury materials and general fit and finish. A-Class also keeps pace with its Teutonic rivals (Audi A3, BMW X1 and, to a lesser extent, VW Golf) by adding value through standard specification – the trade-off here being a higher cost of entry, but at least customers won’t get stiffed on the spec sheet. Local pricing has not yet been released, but base model will almost surely be north of R450 000.
You get a fair deal for your money, though. Including the star of the show: MBUX.
The dash board is in line with S-Class styling.
On test at the global launch were three variants; A 180d, A 200 and A 250. A 180d gets the Renault-developed OM 608 1,5-litre four cylinder diesel engine that’s good for 85 kW and 260 N.m peak performance, while the two petrol variants are powered by a 1,4-litre four cylinder (M 282, 120 kW and 250 N.m) and 2-litre four cylinder (M 260, 165 kW and 350 N.m), respectively.
Launch vehicles were all mated to a 7-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox in various states of optimisation for the torque delivery. There is a 6-speed manual gearbox that was developed for the new car, but local availability is not yet confirmed. South Africa will however be getting the previous generation of that 1,5 diesel because the latest incarnation’s 2 000 bar injection pressure is not compatible with our inferior diesel.
The refined 1,4 petrol uses cylinder shut-off technology
(Details are also sketchy on the A 250’s arrival in our market, but prospective customers could probably bank on a slightly early Christmas present to themselves.)
By process of elimination the A 200 was then the only true reflection of the immediately forthcoming South African experience – albeit in left-hand drive guise – and the first impression is a good one. Does it offer revolutionary performance? No. But it does do some fuel-saving cyclinder shut off wizardry under low load as well as benefit from active air intake grille flaps which open and close according to engine cooling needs.
There’s a lot of clever engineering underneath the A-Class skin. Spray on noise-dampening material, a stiffer body structure that still manages to shed over 20 kg from outgoing model and, of course, the new MBUX system.
You’re probably wondering why you had to wait so long to read about the new technology. The answer is simple: much like what Porsche did in the upcoming Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz have pretty much developed a smartphone operating system for its new cars. All variants get the signature dual-screen treatment, with only smaller sceen size (7-inch) being the entry-level differentiator. You can also only benefit from the “Hey Mercedes” voice interaction if you opt for the navigation system as well. Although the impact of skipping out on that is mitigated by Android Auto and Apple Carplay support.
Mercedes-Benz took 5 years to develop MBUX
The highlight of MBUX is by far the Me Connect function which allows you to create a unique profile that you can marry all your personal settings to. Share the car with your spouse, for instance, and the two of you can transform the car to your personal taste with the touch of a virtual button. Yes we’ve had seat and mirror memory functions on cars for donkey years, but this will save your preferred user interface theme, screen layout, driving mode, interior and exterior lighting and mapping preferences. You can also then take those settings to another compatible Mercedes through a simple app sync.
Outside of those conveniences, A-Class gets exclusive car sharing functionality in supported markets. You can, according to the demo, schedule a timeslot when the car will not be in use and share this with trusted people. The person can then view the car’s availability, request the car and then unlock it with a smartphone. There’s a connected key that stays inside the car that will only be functional in the alloted timeframe. This is a surprisingly future-facing solution that embraces the increasingly popular idea of democratised mobility for a luxury vehicle mnufacturer. Merc in the past went heavy on the “everybody must have their own car” marketing push.
The secret sauce of MBUX and the Me Connect harmony is a 52-month, no added cost data plan which covers all the MBUX connected features and software updates. An embedded SIM enables this functionalty, but also allows flexibility of an additional user-paid data plan for media consumption.
Boot space received a significant increase. Old model could fit 4 beverage cases, new model can load 6
A-Class shows a much more consumer-focused side of Mercedes-Benz that was often overshadowed by a relentless pursuit of performance metrics. This car is a giant leap into the future of personal mobility which significantly closes the yawning technology gap that rivals like Tesla and Volvo have opened over more traditional luxury manufacturers. MBUX is well integrated with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, and the standard safety spec (forward collision avoidance) pulls the Merc entry-point neatly in-line with significantly cheaper options from the likes of Ford and VW.
Now we wait and see if Merc can get the pricing in line with South African consumer pockets.