Indeed, the oldest car manufacturer in the world has set new standards in its segment with the new A-Class: the car looks stunningly good, and drives beautifully. We tested the smallest and most frugal Diesel version with the new six speed manual gearbox. It was a delight to drive and use, and provided not only broad smiles behind the wheel, but also at the Diesel fuel pump …
Hans Knol ten Bensel
Superb styling in and out…
This Mercedes looks very good from any angle, and the designers have said farewell to the MPV-like looks. They are replaced by fluent, sleek lines. The radical form language of the Concept A-CLASS is largely maintained in the series production car. It reflects the new design strategy of Mercedes: a two-box design with distinctive character, an exterior which awakens sporty emotions, and this combined with an interior which has a high-class look and “feel”. The car is 409mm longer, 16mm wider and 16mm lower than the previous generation.
The stylish coupe-style looks have had a big impact on the boot dimensions however. Its opening is narrow,it's more than 90 litres smaller than in its predecessor’s.
Typical features of the long, sporty front are its pronounced V-shape, the separate headlamps, the radiator grille with central Mercedes star and double slats to either side of the star, as well as the additional air intakes on the sides. It really makes the car look very good indeed.
The light modules and LEDs behind the headlamp cover glass have been arranged in such a way as to create the characteristic "flare effect" for the daytime driving lights and indicators.
We also like very much the tail end, and its proportions. The tail lights also continue the line of the muscular shoulders back towards the rear. Their horizontal orientation emphasises the car's width.
High value interior…
The interior breathes quality, both in terms of the materials used and the consistency of the design. All trim elements have been given an electroplated finish, resulting in real metal surfaces with "cool touch" effect. The instrument panel incorporates five round vents. The outer rings of the round vents have a high-quality electroplated finish. The free-standing display screen features a black piano-lacquer-look front panel and a flush-fitting silver frame.
The instrument cluster comprises two large round instruments, each with a small dial set within it. When at rest, the dial needles stand at 6 o'clock. Superb, they might do with a little more solidity, but they are nevertheless very nice to look at, and yes, I am an “instrument dial-fan”, so they are very important to me.
A central dial between the front seats (see photo above) allows you to choose between the sat-nav and entertainment menus. We found that the knob, which allows you also to select the radio station of your choice, can too easily be touched inadvertedly with your elbow, and then, oh misery, you can land on a (noisy) radio station you do not want at all.
A very willing “base” engine…
I tested the A Class with the “entry-level” 109 hp 1,5 litre Diesel engine, and it performed very convincing indeed. Plenty of torque (for the manual transmission, its 260 Nm between 1750 and 2500 rpm) and pulling power, somewhat noisy when pushed hard and revved higher, but on the whole a very quiet and vibrationless unit.
The performance is quite convincing, and the A 180 CDI is by no means a sluggard with this engine. 0-to 100 is reached in a mere 11,3 seconds, and the top speed is an impressive 190 kmh. What is also excellent is the low CO2 emissions of 98 g/km, and an average fuel consumption between 3,8 and 4 litres/100 km. It was indeed no trouble at all for us to achieve average consumption figures of around 4,5 litres.
For the A 180 CDI with manual transmission Mercedes-Benz has had recourse to its cooperation with Renault to achieve fuel economy advantages from a compact, lightweight, low-friction engine which has been rigorously downsized. The common-rail four-cylinder with a rail pressure of 1600 bar is currently in its sixth generation, with more than 1.3 million units produced each year. With 98 g of CO2 per kilometre, it is among the most environmentally friendly diesels in the compact car segment. The turbocharger features variable turbine geometry (VTG).
The unit marries very well with the 6-speed manual we had in our test car, and the gears are very well adapted to any driving situation. Where the 180 CDI or let’s say the A-Class in general behaves masterfully is on the motorway at constant (high) cruising speeds. There the Mercedes engineers have surpassed themselves by giving the car a superbly stable ride at speed, and on top of that you are treated to a virtually inaudible engine and very low wind/road noise. This “little” A class behaves like a top-of-the-range Merc when it comes to Autobahn cruising, and that is no small compliment indeed.
In terms of ride comfort, the suspension on the whole is rather firm, and buyers can opt for either the sport or comfort suspension set-up. We would in any case always prefer the comfort version… The car handles sure footed and pleasant, with very neutral behaviour when cornered hard.
The seats are comfortable and well upholstered, the wide range of adjustment on the steering and front driver’s seat means you can get a good driving position whatever your size. Legroom in the back seats isn’t very large, so larger (over six foot) persons might feel a little cramped but there’s still enough headroom to feel comfortable.
And safety is written quite large…
Mercedes has long led the world when it comes to safety, and the new A-Class continues that tradition. The car gained a full five stars when it was tested by Euro NCAP in 2012. By the way, every model comes with ESP and Collision Prevention Assistance.
The extra equipment and accessory list is of course quite long, but it is good to know that the car comes standard with alloy wheels, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity and air-conditioning.
Certainly this A-Class will have a lot of followers: good looks both inside and out, excellent motorway cruising behaviour, good quality and finish, being quite frugal and offering good seating comfort and room for four.
Add to this pleasant handling, the willing engine(s), even in this “base” version, and you will agree that there are plenty of (very) good reasons for this car to be a new star on the car firmament…
Hans Knol ten Bensel
Photographers notes: these photos were taken with the surprising FUJIFILM FinePix S4200, a camera offering excellent performance for a quite moderate cost. We underexposed the interior shots to get richer, darker colour saturation. Even in low light conditions, lens contrast and sharpness is excellent.