Greater refinement and a classy, high-tech cabin will be key A-Class draws
Mercedes-Benz promises class-leading levels of connectivity from its new A-Class, which receives a new interior with the most advanced version yet of the German car maker’s Comand infotainment system.
The sixth-generation set-up features a newly developed MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) function that brings touchscreen control, an innovative voice control system and augmented reality navigation not even offered on Mercedes’ range-topping S-Class.
The A-Class will once again be offered exclusively in five-door form when UK sales of the new, fourth-generation version start in June after a public debut at the Geneva motor show in March. It will be the first of up to eight new compact models that are under development and due for launch by the end of 2020.
These include successor models to the existing B-Class, CLA, CLA Shooting Brake and GLA as well as a trio of new models: an A-Class saloon, an SUV model set to be called the GLB and the all-electric EQ A previewed at the Frankfurt motor show last September.
Sales in the UK will start in June after a public debut in Geneva in March
The new A-Class is based on a modified version of the outgoing model’s MFA platform and features a 30mm longer wheelbase and 14mm wider front track. The new Mercedes hatch, which has the internal codename W177, is also claimed to offer vastly improved levels of refinement. This is thanks to improvements in the rigidity of its body structure, altered axle mountings and more comprehensive sound-deadening measures. There are also enhanced aerodynamics: Mercedes-Benz claims a class-leading drag coefficient of 0.25 for the new A-Class.
The styling of Merc’s new entry-level model, initially previewed by the Concept A saloon at last year’s Shanghai motor show, draws heavily on the look of the recently unveiled CLS, most notably at the front. The two cars share what has been dubbed a ‘predator face’, with an AMG-inspired grille and angular headlights that extend back into the front wings, giving it a distinctly more aggressive air.
The newly designed headlights can be specified with optional Multibeam LED technology with adaptive high-beam assist plus, as well as individual city and motorway lighting functions and cornering lights.
New LED rear lights help to make the tailgate aperture of the A-Class 20mm wider than that of the outgoing model. Larger wheelhouses also allow Mercedes to offer 19in wheels as an option on non-AMG models for the first time.
The adoption of the larger platform has led to an incremental increase in the car’s external dimensions. Length is up by 120mm at 4419mm, width increases by 16mm to 1796mm and height extends by 2mm to 1440mm.
An advanced speech recognition system is designed to work along similar lines to Amazon’s Alexa
The increases have enabled Mercedes to improve the overall practicality of the A-Class. The rear door apertures are larger to ease entry to the back seats, and the boot’s capacity is 29 litres bigger than the old model’s at a nominal 370 litres.
It’s inside where Mercedes has concentrated much of its efforts on the new A-Class. The cabin receives a distinctive dashboard-mounted black panel display and switchgear similar to that first introduced on the S-class. The so-called widescreen cockpit comes in three themes: Classic, Sport and Discreet.
As standard, there are two 7.0in displays, an analogue instrument cluster and the first touchscreen infotainment system to be offered in a Mercedes model. Alternatively, customers can specify the car with twin 7.0in digital displays.
To unlock the full potential of its connectivity functions, the A-Class needs to be equipped with the optional extended version of the widescreen cockpit display, which features twin 10.3in screens, with a digital instrument display and touchscreen infotainment.
In this specification, it has a wi-fi hotspot and can also be optionally fitted with high-definition navigation with live traffic updates and car-to-X communication with map updates, a head-up display unit, traffic sign assist, augmented reality navigation and a Burmester sound system, among other functions.
The highlight of the MBUX connectivity system is an advanced optional speech recognition system designed to work along similar lines to Amazon’s Alexa voice service. It permits users to provide spoken commands through a “Hey, Mercedes” function that has been developed to recognise conversational language rather than specifically worded commands.
The new A-Class will be available with the choice of three four-cylinder engines from the start of sales.
The A200 petrol is a heavily updated version of the Renault-Nissan-produced 1.4-litre unit delivering 160bhp and 184lb ft.
The more powerful A250 uses Mercedes’ recently updated 2.0-litre petrol engine, with 221bhp and 258lb ft. As the performance leader of the launch range, it is claimed to have a 0-62mph time of 6.2sec and a governed 155mph top speed.
Two more petrol models are expected later: an entry-level unit sitting below the A200 and a mid-range A-Class falling between the A200 and A250.
The sole diesel choice from the outset of sales is the A180d, which uses a 1.5-litre unit also produced by Renault-Nissan and delivering 114bhp and 192lb ft.
Claimed to return 68.9mpg and with average CO2 output of 108g/km on the combined cycle, it comes as standard with a particulate filter that uses a urea solution to reduce emissions. A more powerful diesel will also arrive later.
The A200 is equipped as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox. The A250 and 180d both receive a standard-fit seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Although Mercedes has developed a new nine-speed dual-clutch gearbox for transverse-engine applications, it is not expected to be used for the A-Class until the latter half of this year.
A newly developed 4Matic four-wheel drive system will also be offered. Now featuring electro-mechanical operation instead of the electro-hydraulic set-up used on the outgoing version of the A-Class, it provides a fully variable apportioning of drive between the front and rear axles for improved traction.
In a further departure from its predecessor, the new A-Class will also be sold with the choice of two suspension systems, depending on the model.
All feature a MacPherson-strut front end, but Mercedes has decided to provide certain models, including the A200 and A180d, with a new torsion-beam rear end in a move similar to that undertaken by Volkswagen with the Golf.
The more powerful models, including the A250 as well as those running the optional 4Matic four-wheel drive system, are fitted with a modified version of the old A-Class’s multi-link rear end.
The standard suspension on all models is tuned for a so-called comfort set-up. It is mounted 15mm lower than before and comes with Mercedes’ Dynamic Select system, which allows the driver to alter the characteristics of the throttle, gearbox and steering. Buyers can also opt for active damping control. This offers the choice of both comfort and sport settings via the Dynamic Select system.
On sale in the UK in June, the initial range will start from around £24,000 for an A180d manual. The later arrival of a petrol A-Class to sit below the A200 will bring the entry price for an A-Class to approximately £22,000. Three trims will be available: Sport and SE, Sport and AMG Line. The latter currently accounts for 50% of A-Class sales.
A-CLASS IS MERC’S UK SALES HERO
The A-Class started as the Vision A 93 study, revealed at the Frankfurt motor show in 1993. The front-wheel-drive concept became the precursor to Mercedes’ entry into the compact model segment four years later.
The arrival of the A-Class brought criticism: a journalist’s manoeuvring test of the car found safety issues. Mercedes responded by giving the car a revised suspension system and electronic stability control as standard.
The outgoing, third-gen A-Class, launched in 2012, is now the largest-selling Mercedes model in the UK. In 2017, it sold 43,717 units, also making the UK the biggest global market for the model.
TWO PERFORMANCE VERSIONS ON THE WAY
Mercedes will showcase the first of its two AMG-badged A-Class performance models later this year. The A35 4Matic – a Volkswagen Golf R rival – is set to be unveiled at the Paris motor show in September prior to the start of UK sales in 2019.
Positioned above the A250, which is the range-topper at the standard A-Class’s launch, the new go-faster variant will have an advanced mild-hybrid driveline under the ‘EQ Power’ banner that Mercedes has reserved for all new models featuring electric driving or boosting capability.
Based around the M260 petrol engine used by the A250, the driveline features a belt-driven generator and 48V electric architecture that contribute to a wholesale increase in performance through the operation of an electric motor that assists the 2.0-litre four-pot. Mercedes-AMG sources indicate that the A35 4Matic will deliver 302bhp.
In a higher state of tune, the same engine will provide the A45 4Matic successor, due to be revealed next year, with an even more potent 414bhp – an increase of 20bhp on today’s first-generation model.
As their names suggest, both models are set to benefit from a modified version of Mercedes’ 4Matic four-wheel-drive system, featuring individual AMG tuning for a more rear-wheel-drive distribution of power than in standard A-Class models. Both will also be sold in hatchback and saloon guises.
Remember the first-generation A-Class? What a clever little car. ‘Little’ being the operative word, because at just 3.57m long, it packed loads of space into its interior, thanks to intelligent ‘sandwich’ packaging, which enabled the engine to be pushed beneath the passenger cell in an accident. The original A-Class was light, too, yet despite the compact length and light weight, it could squeeze 390-1740 litres of luggage space into that 1000kg door-stop body.
Problems? It wasn’t cheap enough to make and maybe too few people bought it, although it did top a million sales during its life. Deservedly so, because it was, conceptually, brilliant.
When it comes to radical invention on today’s A-Class, look to the headliner: new communications and entertainment systems, and semi-autonomous driving. This is what makes an A-Class special these days and that’s fine: it’s what sells, after all, and what customers like is the current A-Class.
So it grows, as conventional cars do, to give more room inside, so it also gains more outside. The body itself is stiffer, which should let Mercedes improve the dynamics and ride quality, too.
But here’s the thing: with a length of 4.42m, the new A-Class is 0.85m longer than that 1997 version. To cram in more interior space, see. So much that the boot is now only 20 litres smaller than the original’s…