You have to wonder why it took so long. As much as the original A-Class marked a significant departure for Mercedes-Benz back in 1967, so the latest iteration moves decisively away from the upright, van-like stance of that car. Faithful to the knockout Concept car of two years ago, the new clean-sheet A-Class fits perfectly in the compact hatchback mainstream.
The A-Class also raises the bar in respect of engine power, with powertrains ranging from 80 kW to 155 kW. Suddenly, they’re talking “sporty hatchback”: the car stands as much as 160 mm lower than previous models, with consequently lower centre of gravity and seating position. It’s plain that the company is aiming at a younger audience.
At the same time, Mercedes-Benz is emphasising its traditional buyers won’t be left behind, saying that the new model is as premium a vehicle as its bigger siblings, not least when it comes to safety. Standard specification includes the radar-based Collision Prevention Assist, Attention Assist and PRE-SAFE. The latter is able to detect an imminent loss of control and automatically tensions safety belts, closes side windows and optimally positions powered seats. The overall package, says Mercedes-Benz, provides the highest standard of safety ever seen in this vehicle class.
Even in base configuration the A-Class has a formidable features list: air conditioning, Audio 5 USB, electric windows Headlamp Assist and 12-button multifunction steering wheel are standard. High-tech features from more upmarket model lines are available, too: the list includes Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Blind Spot Assist and Linguatronic voice control.
Efficiency lies at the heart of the car’s design. Unusually aerodynamic – its drag coefficient is said to be a class-leading 0,27 – the A-Class also features ECO start/stop function as standard. The engines can be combined with the new six speed manual transmission or optionally with the 7G-DCT dual clutch automatic transmission; fuel consumption is down by up to 35 per cent, but overall power is up.
There’s a choice of three diesels and two turbocharged direct injection petrols. The baseline 80 kW/260 N.m A180 sips just 3,8 litres/100 km and emits 98 g/km of CO2 – a massive improvement over the A160 it replaces. At the top end, the A250 Sport with 7-speed double clutch transmission produces 155 kW and 350 N.m, yet consumes 6,1 litres/100 km.
The original A-Class’s tall, top-heavy stance was at odds with the requirements of enthusiastic driving (elk test, anybody?). In the new car, a four-link rear axle with three control arms and one trailing arm per wheel has been laid out at the rear, with the aim of combining stability and agility. In fact, there are three chassis and suspension set-ups from normal to extra-sport. A new Extended Traction Control (XTC) aids cornering by acting on the front and rear wheels located on the inside of a bend.
Getting social: In a nod to the Facebook generation, the new A-Class offers comprehensive, seamless iPhone integration in the form of “Drive Kit Plus for the iPhone”. Digital content such as social networking, real-time traffic information and online searches are further integrated via an app.