* Prices as at date of publishing
Mercedes-Benz A Class - A Class on its Own
by Carl Wepener
It was with great anticipation that I looked forward to the launch of the Mercedes-Benz A Class, as reports from Europe, after its launch there, called it a ‘revolution’, ‘outstanding’ and a ‘fresh breath’ for Mercedes-Benz.
Well, not only is it one of the most beautiful premium compact cars that I have tested in a long time, but it is also a totally different car from its predecessor. In fact, there is no comparison, and I don’t mean this negatively. It is a totally new, sporty and luxury compact premium car.
Dr Martin Zimmerman, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Mercedes-Benz South Africa, says the ‘A’ in ‘A Class’ stands for ‘attack’! Mercedes-Benz is attacking the future with its new models and it wants to be number one at the end of the decade in all sectors where its products are competing.
If the Mercedes-Benz A Class, and some of the models still to be launched, is a reflection of this approach, then the opposition had better take this attack seriously.
Demand for the A Class worldwide makes up about 60% of Mercedes-Benz products. It is expected that this tendency will continue in South Africa, with the A Class probably making up 50% of sales of Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles. The newest customer trends are towards compact premium, luxury and sporty cars of high quality. The new Mercedes-Benz A Class is really one of the best-looking compact cars, with a progressive design from conception. It sets the benchmark for future designs and has a Cd of .027. Mark Fetherston, who was responsible for the exterior design, tells us that he was inspired by life experiences, other cars, the history of Mercedes-Benz cars and wildlife when he sketched the A Class. The A Class, he says, is a true Mercedes-Benz, as it will be recognised as part of the stable even at 100 metres away.
Ergonomics in the A Class are near to perfect and the highest-quality material has been used throughout. The interior is modern and all trim elements have been given an electroplated finish, resulting in real metal surfaces with a ‘cool touch’ effect and feel. It has the most practical air vents that I have experienced in a car and incorporates five round vents. The outer rings of the round vents have a high-quality finish. The airflow direction is governed by an insert that is reminiscent of an aircraft turbine and reveals meticulous attention to detail. This, too, has an electroplated finish in silver–chrome. The freestanding display screen features a black, piano-lacquer-look front panel and a flush-fitting silver frame. The whole command centre looks great and is very functional. The instrument cluster comprises two large round instruments, each with a small dial set within it. The pointer inlays are in white, although, with the sportier design and equipment lines such as those in the Urban and AMG Sport, they are red. The dials on the sporty equipment lines and packages are silver with a chequered-flag effect.
The three-spoke steering wheel comes with 12 function buttons. Add to that the lovely red stitching and the panoramic sliding roof and you have a very modern, good-looking and sporty vehicle on the go. Driving the A 250 Sport with the 7G DCT gearbox and its diamond grill is an experience. Taking it through the lovely twists and turns around Constantia and the South Peninsula really showed that this car is not only sporty looking, but also has a sporty performance and roadholding abilities that impress. This car really provides you with outstanding dynamics and a sporty drive. My only complaint is that the suspension is hard for our road conditions. On a lovely road surface, it is very smooth and the vehicles are quiet. There are three settings for the sportier versions, being Economy, Sport and Manual. There is also an Eco setting. Paddles also help in making the driving experience so much more enjoyable, and all of the important controls are right at your fingertips to ensure you can focus on driving. The seating position is very good, with bolstering in the right places. Us old hands would prefer feedback from the steering, especially in a sports car, but the electrically controlled steering does not give any. Nevertheless, it is still secure and gives precise instructions where the wheels must go. I would have loved a sportier sound from the twin tailpipes, but I suppose the A 45 AMG will have that when it debuts later this year.
The A Class is also industry-leading when it comes to safety and has the standard specifications throughout the range, including, amongst other things, the radar-based COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST system, ATTENTION ASSIST and PRE-SAFE. Historically, this was only found in your medium and large premium-market cars. Optional safety systems are distronic, blind-spot assist and lane-keeping assist. I did not get the chance to drive all the derivatives, but the handling characteristics of all the models from the base A 180 to the top-of-the-range A 250 Sport were great. The cars feel the same, drive the same and handle what you throw at them. The only difference is in performance, that is, in how fast you can get from 0 to 100kph, in how fast you can go through corners and in how fast you want to empty your fuel tank.
For our driving, the A 250 Sport’s consumption was 8.9 litres per 100km, and that of the A 180 petrol 7.1 litres per 100km. The A 180 diesel’s fuel consumption was 5.4 litres per 100km. This specific model was also the only model where you could actually hear the engine when it idles. Although the A Class comes out with a six-speed manual transmission, the seven-speed 7G DCT double-clutch transmission is an excellent choice and will be the way to go. The A Class comes in different models and trim lines. It starts off with the base configuration, if you can call it that. With ‘Urban’, ‘Style’ and ‘AMG Sport’ appointment lines, three Design packages (‘Night’, ‘Exclusive’ and ‘AMG Exclusive’), as well as further optional extras, each model can be customised to suit every individual taste. The A 250 is the only model that comes in Sport.
I can only say that the A Class is an expressive and sporty vehicle that is sophisticated and will fulfil the needs of many a new customer, young in spirit and mind, who wants excellence, style, safety and first-rate quality.