Mercedes-Benz A-Class : First Drive
After the most radical about turn in its contemporary small car history, Mercedes-Benz aims, and delivers, a spunky fresh package which injects new verve and appeal in the cut throat premium hatchback segment globally. Adil Jal Darukhanawala plots the development story behind the stunning new A-Class which is headed to India in 2013
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Talk about Mercedes-Benz going on the war path, to attack every segment of the car market without devaluing its premium positioning and in the process attempting a paradigm shift – rolling back years of baggage to appeal to a younger, more energetic set of car buyers. Now haven’t we seen this happen before as well is another question one might well ask but hey, that was supposedly in the late 1920s and early 1930s when newer smaller cars were indeed made in the thousands by Mercedes-Benz enabling its sustenance as a car maker of repute. It was only after the Second World War that Mercedes-Benz started with the mid-size compact sedans and began to grow the portfolio. Small cars weren’t its forte and heck it owned Audi for a li’l while in the late 1950s and early 1960s but as it didn’t see itself saddled with smaller machines, it sold the brand to Volkswagen! While the reasons for such were valid then, this is not the story we want to focus on!
Things are different in the second decade of this century because it is all about perception and also about being quick footed to handle change. Unfortunately for a car maker it is impossible to react within weeks or months to address niches or models from rivals because the process is so time, effort and resource intensive. However, in the mid-1990s the three-pointed star did think about going small and came up with a small car – the W168 A-Class in 1997, of the size of the VW Golf but innovative in its design, build and engineering.
It was somewhat complex for the segment with its innovative engineering and double floor design but somehow somewhere an elk upset many a plan meaning that the car had a topsy turvy debut. Nonetheless, Mercedes-Benz solved the handling problems and the A-Class chugged on to decent numbers and a fairly respectable life span. The second generation – W 169 in 2004, was an evolution of the first and it carried on stolidly to sell over a million units but the overall package just didn’t have that pizzazz to distinguish itself in the company of cars like the VW Golf.
The winds of change were blowing somewhat within the corridors of power at Daimler-Benz in Stuttgart in the early years of the last decade and the Mercedes-Benz planners realised that getting back to traditional values didn’t mean doing stodgy cars. This was the biggest change which was given the go-ahead by the hardliners and so a major thrust on design and style was given the green light while another message was to accelerate even further on core traditional strengths of engineering innovation and build quality to deliver rock solid reliability and also offer performance at high levels.
While the early manifestations of this new Mercedes design and style language have all been seen on the big saloons and roadsters over the past seven to eight years, what we are now seeing is something else altogether and it is not without reason that Dieter Zetsche says that Mercedes-Benz is in attack mode and the attack is on minds, perception and preconceived notions. Of course philosophy can point you in the right direction but can’t take you there and so to back up the thoughts and the combined vision of the planners, designers and engineers, get ready to say hello to the most radical modern day Mercedes-Benz ever – the third generation A-Class (Mercedes-Benz A-Class, A 180 CDI : Exteriors).
Before we get to the drive proper, a bit more on the gestation of the W 176 series which in itself is based on the Mercedes Front-Wheel-Drive Architecture (MFA) which is so radically different from any other car it has done in the past. The MFA already lends itself to the B-Class which is already a major success in Europe and headed to India this September and the A-Class is the second model it underpins with three more in the pipeline.
After the Daimler-Chrysler pairing didn’t work out, nor did the joint development with Hyundai and Mitsubishi, Mercedes-Benz did seek others to partner it for this project (BMW and PSA were two of the big name car makers it spoke to) but when there were no encouraging signs emanating from there, it decided to go it alone. One clear reason why the B-Class made it to market before the A-Class! However there is an all-new family of smallies underway and this could be just the start of modern mainstream cars that are targeted at the new urbane dynamic populace who more often than not could be found in the VW Golfs, Audi A3s and BMW 1 series!
SLIDESHOW: Mercedes-Benz A-Class (Design Evolution)
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