Mercedes loads tech into its new small A-Class hatchback
Connectivity and practicality a priority as the premium brand pursues increased sales volume
The fourth generation A Class debuted in Amsterdam on Friday night promising to use its greater practicality and tech to lure more buyers to the premium hatchback offering.
Irish buyers prefer a traditional ‘Merc’ so it is no surprise the E Class remains top dog.
Yet if the brand hopes to deliver on promises to be the best-selling premium brand by 2020 the A Class needs to pack a greater sales punch. It’s also the model Merc hopes will further reduce the age profile of owners thanks to its relatively youthful and dynamic character and certainly the new car and its new cutting edge technology will continue that trend.
Mind that elk!
The latest A Class has come a long way since its launch in 1997. The original version was notable for its brilliant yet flawed design. The one time laughing stock has its sights set on becoming the premium class leader with artificial intelligence at its core. The original mini MPV seated five effortlessly thanks to a revolutionary design that featured a raised cabin on top of a clever sandwiched floor.
A lot of the car’s technical bits and pieces were located underneath and not out in front under the bonnet like its rivals, even the engine was mounted at an angle. The design delivered a remarkably compact car with a very big cabin. The centre of gravity was high yet Mercedes-Benz was confident the front wheel drive car would pass all safety tests. In a frontal collision the engine and gearbox were engineered to deflect under and not into the cabin.
There was, however, one test the German firm failed to take into account, the moose/elk test. The infamous ‘Elchtest’ avoidance test was unknown to drivers in this part of the world in 1997 but a key test in Scandinavian markets.
Carried out by Swedish motoring publication Teknikens Värld and repeated at that year’s European car of the year test event in Tannis, Denmark, the violent swerving action proved too much for the A Class’s ESC and suspension and it toppled over. Production was halted and a recall took place to retune the car’s suspension and electronic stability control, but the damage was done.
The platform and layout was changed to a conventional hatchback in 2012 for the third generation. The A Class became an utterly conventional compact hatchback. This A Class lost boot space and height but gained length and width. Inside was cramped by comparison plus the car only stood out from the crowd thanks to its enormous Mercedes-Benz grille. The new car is a revised version of the third generation and continues this body style but there are a number of notable changes. The car’s aerodynamic performance, particularly the underbody, has been reworked to reduce drag to a very impressive 0.25cd. This aids a reduction in fuel consumption and emissions. Another by product of the aero work is a significant reduction in wind noise. Underneath the new A Class should be a comfortable cruiser. A torsion or twist beam rear suspension features on standard models and a more sophisticated multi link rear suspension set up features on higher performing models and the 4Matic four wheel drive variant. Adjustable dampers will also feature with this axle that will allow the driver choose the level of suspension stiffness at the press of a button. Noise vibration and harshness (NVH) is lower thanks to new insulation and additional floor damping methods. An additional bulkhead between the engine bay and cabin has been added to reduce interior noise.
Now to something new
The new A Class gets a slightly wider track and longer wheelbase. Inside the A Class gains more shoulder-room (front +9 mm, rear +22 mm), elbow-room (front +35 mm, rear +36 mm) and headroom (front +7 mm, rear +8 mm) but it is still cosy inside. Rear access has been improved. The boot is slightly bigger with a capacity of 370 litres up 29 litres. The redesigned split rear light cluster facilitates a 200mm wider tailgate opening. The boot floor is longer too at 1150mm. Access to the cabin is better and the rear doors open a lot wider than before. The new found boot width is impressive and practical.
The cabin dashboard with its marvelous display is the star attraction, well at least the top of the range version presented to us. Those familiar with the range topping widescreen display on the E Class will recognizes its origins. The ambient quality is impressive and there are lovely touches like the multifunctional steering wheel taken from the S-Class.
The standard widescreen cockpit is impressive. The dash is free-standing, and there are no cowls above the instruments. The car’s low roofline should help shade the instruments but I wonder how glare-free it will be in Irish weather or with a sunroof option letting in more light.
Three versions of the widescreen display will be available: with two 7-inch (17.78 cm), one 7 and one 10.25-inch (26 cm) or with two 10.25-inch displays. For the latter two variants Mercedes-Benz uses bonded glass technology. Optional seat climate control is also new to the A Class. In each seat cushion there is a radial fan. Air is taken in through the perforated seat cover and flows through the seat structure where it is vented downwards and to the rear. Mercedes-Benz says this surrounds the occupants with a pleasant flow of air. Even in hot weather when the interior has been heated up, the seat climate control rapidly cools the seat surfaces by taking in cooler ambient air. The ventilation level is adjustable in three stages.
New in-car technology features under the acronym of MBUX, Mercedes-Benz user experience. At its heart is a volume hatchback debut for artificial intelligence and augmented reality. Mercedes-Benz says the new A Class has the ability to learn from the driver’s behavior.
The main party trick is the ability to activate some of the car’s functions by saying “Hey Mercedes”. Tech lovers will be already familiar with this type of interaction with certain smartphones and home assistants with saying Hey Siri or Hey Alexa etc. Conspiracy theorists will deduce that the availability of this feature implies that the car is listening to its occupants all the time.
Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction movie 2001 A Space Odyssey looks more like a documentary as the A Class potentially could do a good impression of Hal the renegade computer. Various optional packs that are being finalised will be available to help keep you safe.
Mercedes-Benz says with the new A Class it has applied the same safety standards as an S Class. Level 2 autonomy is available, so things like steering assist will intervene should you stray out of your lane. The new A Class will also use map data with its automated systems to anticipate the likes of road junctions or when approaching roundabouts or tolls for example.
Raising the bar
A nice new function will keep the blind spot indicator active for a few minutes after you’ve stopped to help avoid opening the door on a passing cyclist or pedestrian. Another nice touch is Mercedes-Benz Pre-Safe Sound. This helps cut down the noise of a collision in the cabin by producing a sound through the stereo that causes a reflex in the human ear that shuts down its sensitivity and helps to protect your hearing.
Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer Daimler AG said: “The new A-Class embodies the next stage in our design philosophy of sensual purity, and has the potential to usher in a new design era... The interior presents modern luxury at a level previously unattainable in this class, and transports the user interface into the digital age.”
Ciaran Allen, sales manager for Mercedes-Benz passenger cars in Ireland is excited too “with the new A-Class, Mercedes-Benz is set once again to raise the bar in the compact segment”.
Mercedes-Benz is on track to reach its target of becoming the world’s number one premium brand but in Ireland the new A Class will need divine intervention to catch up with the class leading Audi A3.
In 2017 the A3 was ranked 36th in overall new car sales with the A Class back in 86th place. The run out model is still selling well 100 units sold in January. The new A Class will arrive in Ireland in to dealerships in late April.
Two engines will go on sale initially; a 180 diesel with a Renault sourced 1.5 litre engine and a 200 petrol featuring a new 1.4 litre (1.33 to be precise) with cylinder on demand technology. The turbocharged engine produces 163hp and 250nm. A short shift six speed manual gearbox is standard and a 7-speed dual clutch DCT automatic gearbox is available.
Three grades will be available starting with Style, followed by either Urban or Progressive (the later moniker is used in Europe) and AMG Line. A 7-inch touch screen is standard and the Hey Mercedes option comes with the optional 10 inch screen. Mercedes-Benz Ireland is finalising pricing but we are told to expect a moderate price increase.
First impressions are good and there is now a real wow factor to the interior that was missing before.