REVIEW DATE: 22 Nov 2007
The Latest Mercedes-Benz A-Class Looks To Take Up Where Its Predecessor Left Off, Selling Predominantly To Woman Motorists - Like June Neary?
The original A-class was the car that Mercedes owners had been waiting for. Prior to its introduction, many bought a C-class, an E-class or an S-class, then had to compromise on a lesser vehicle as a second car and a local runabout. With this model in the line-up, they didn't have to - assuming they could afford the A-class asking price. The second generation A-Class model I'm looking at here must still fulfil that role - but it must also be capable of undertaking regular longer journeys if necessary. And it must also be sassier, in order to attract those wanting something a little sportier. And it must do all this without alienating its traditional core female/family clientbase. A tough call? I wondered that before getting behind the wheel.
But does this dinky Mercedes still suit the female motorist? Certainly, I liked the looks both of the five-door and the new three-door version. This car makes sense, too. Take a look at the indicators mounted in the door mirrors for added visibility for example. Someone has thought long and hard about this car. Depending on your point of view, you could see the A-class as a Supermini, an MPV, a sporty family hatch or a compact executive saloon. Certainly, it can perform all these roles and cars from each of these categories can be considered as potential rivals. None, however, is as compact, none as multitalented and none as prestigiously badged. The first time you climb into one, you'll be astonished at the way that the A-class manages to pack so much into such a small exterior length, though that has increased (by 232mm) along with needed extra width (45mm more). Its dimensions are now more akin to a regular supermini than its predecessor's tall, short and narrow measurements ever were. Prices start from £13,892 but you can easily spend over £20,000 on one of these cars. Three or five-door, there's as much front and rear passenger space as you'll find in Mercedes' own C-class saloon and more room for luggage than you'll find in many small estates - certainly more than in an average family hatchback. All this is possible thanks to the ingenious monospace one-box design. In other words, the whole length of the car is one single passenger compartment. The mechanicals lie underneath, below a unique 'sandwich' design floor. I worried about accident protection but apparently this is no problem. The engine is designed to slide underneath the floor in a crash, instead of intruding into the cabin. Moreover, because they're sitting higher, passengers are also out of range of many side-impact accidents. Sitting high up of course, is I find, one of the attractions of the new breed of mini-MPVs (Renault's Scenic for example), larger in size than the A-class, if not in space. The Mercedes can mix it with the best of these, thanks to a huge number of rear seat variations. One of the things I really noticed about this latest generation model is the vastly improved interior. The dashboard looks like a scaled down version of the E Class fascia - think premium not Palitoy - and has been developed with the help of a shiny Berlin customer clinic where everything from materials to switch feel to door slam and indicator sounds have been exhaustively tested. I thought the first generation A-Class models woefully short of Mercedes Benz look and feel inside, although later models rectified this to a certain extent. The second-generation car features soft touch fascia surfaces, sleek switchgear, and a glove compartment lid that closes like an Asprey's jewellery box rather than a CD case. As our Road Test Editor recently said, about the best compliment you can pay it is that it now actually feels like a Mercedes.
The engines have grown that little bit more powerful to grow into the car's increased capability. The petrol line up opens with the 95bhp A150, then there's a 115bhp A170 and a punchy 136bhp A200. Mercedes even offer a 193bhp turbocharged version of this engine, something that would have been unthinkable in the old car. The diesel engine range shows greater innovation. All units are Euro IV compliant and start with the 82bhp A160CDI, the mid range being marked out by the109bhp A180 CDI and the premier diesel powerplant is the 140bhp A200CDI, a car that should be an absolute blast. A six speed manual transmission is the default gearbox but all models are available with an optional Autotronic CVT gearbox.
Certainly - if I could afford the car to start with. The A-class is still a whole new way of looking at small cars - Mercedes' view of the future. I rather like it.
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