By: Steven Winter, Columnist, International Director
It is not exactly simple for Mercedes-Benz to enter a new class. They have a certain standard to achieve, a certain image to maintain. Whether they are producing a van such as the Vito, or a luxury cruiser such as the S-Class Coupe, one thing is certain—they have to be among the best, if not the best. The same happened in 2012 when they entered one of the most challenging segments on the planet: the segment of compact cars. A small MPV (multi-purpose vehicle)—the A-Class—was transformed into a sexy five-door compact car. Obviously, in 2012 we got acquainted with the Mercedes-Benz compact. Six years later, Mercedes-Benz has started with something new—making the A-Class as advanced as a compact can be. At this point in time, I doubt that there is a more advanced compact car on the market.
Although Mercedes-Benz never directly admitted it, it is quite obvious that they are trying to create a whole lineup of similarly capable vehicles, only differed by size. In essence, the A-Class should be able to do all of the advanced stuff the S-Class can, and vice-versa. In that regard, we are not presenting here only a new compact car, but an intelligent machine that will be able to provide basic self-driving capabilities and luxury far greater than in any other hatch.
In order to achieve this, Mercedes-Benz reengineered the A-Class. Quite extensively, mind you. Sure, the dimensions were not massively changed, but the new A-Class is a tad bulkier with a longer wheelbase. Also, it changed appearance. Now its appearance is in line with the latest Mercedes entries—the new AMG GT4 and the CLS-Class. As a third car that takes the prospects of the new design language, the A-Class became a bit sharper with a slightly hunkered-down front-engine cover. Obviously, this is one of the steps Mercedes-Benz had to take to develop an even more aerodynamic A-Class. The Germans achieved an aerodynamic drag coefficient of 0.25. An extremely tough nut to crack for hatchbacks, but they managed.
Although the design now evokes a certain sophistication and elegance the first compact A-Class lacked a bit, the main shape remains. You won’t be hard pressed to guess which car this is when you see it.
Now if you, by any chance, get in it without seeing it first, you would be hard pressed to guess where the hell you are! Mercedes-Benz’ interior design spruced with the latest E-Class is an excitingly successful story about luxury, refinement, ergonomics and convenience. The A-Class does not seem to move away from that path. The dash is dominated by a massive slab of two connected displays. One acts as an instrument cluster, while the other, on the center, takes the role of the main infotainment display. Top-of-the-line versions have two 10-25-inch displays, while the less expensive cars get a 7-inch central screen. Nevertheless, the screens are fantastically incorporated into the dash. Jet-styled vents give another breath of sophistication and high-class aura. Finally, one may find all the control necessities on the central tunnel. With it, the driver can choose a number of different styles of the infotainment and the instrument cluster. Do not think, however, that these aren’t touch-screens. They are.
Sure, if you are looking to dish out a lot of money, Mercedes-Benz offers a wide personalization program giving you options usually reserved for buyers of higher-class cars. Yet, as I noted at the beginning, this may well be as high-class as one can go within the constraints of a compact class.
Now, the third A-Class has not exactly been the roomiest car out there. Thanks to more room between the wheels and reimagined layout of the cabin, the fourth A-Class gives more room for shoulders, head and knees. Furthermore, with 370 liters of cargo capacity, it can haul more stuff than before. And one can find more room under the central armrest, too. Neat.
So, the new A-Class is more luxurious, more efficient, larger on the inside and more sophisticated on the outside, but it also provides a glimpse into the deep well of the Daimler tech department.
Depending on the version, one can expect to find this in the A-Class:
New Mercedes-Benz User Experience–MBUX—“It combines intuitive and natural operation with intelligent, learning software,” says Ola Källenius, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG responsible for Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars.
Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC as a part Driving Assistance package—this tech can automatically and predicatively adjust speeds before bends, junctions or roundabouts.
Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC with Active Steering Assist—this system makes the A-Class almost a self-driving car. From 0-210 kilometers per hour, the system will successfully maintain distance from the vehicle in front of the A-Class, and it will also give steering input, actually steering the car on the road. What is more impressive is the fact that up to 130 kilometers per hour the system can function regardless of lane markings. Perfect for rush hours when you can just let the A-Class handle the boring bits.
Exciting bits, on the other hand, are reserved for the properly motivated A250 with a 4Matic. With a turbocharged petrol motor, 224 horsepower and four-link rear suspension (stiffer than before and not a part of the lesser A180d and A200), the A-Class should justify that sportiness, dynamism and emotion that Mercedes-Benz highlighted.
As far as other advanced systems associated with the new A-Class go, I’ll list them here for your amazement:
Active Brake Assist, Active Speed Limit Assist, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Active Brake Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Traffic Sign Assist, Active Parking Assist with PARKTRONIC, and more.
Obviously, safety is a big thing with the A-Class. So big that the car features an active bonnet helping unfortunate pedestrians in case of an accident. It is not exactly a new system—the Volvo V40 has had it for quite some time in this segment—but it definitely proves safety credentials.
This compact concoction would not be complete without advancements in the engine department. In that regard, the biggest news may be the 1.33-liter turbocharged engine developing 163 horsepower and 250 newton meters of torque in the A200. It is linked with a 7G-DCT dual-clutch transmission or a six-speed manual.
The diesel engine in the A180d comes with 115 horsepower and 260 newton meters of torque. It is exclusively linked with the 7G-DCT. Same as the A250 with the two-liter petrol unit with 224 horsepower and 350 newton meters of torque.