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
Getting to the interior (Mercedes-Benz A-Class: Interiors), depending on model and trim specified one can get the carbon treatment or maple, chrome also abound should you feel good about it in the accents. The aviation-inspired round air vents are the stand out feature of the dashboard with its cool touch surfacing as also the Apple iPad-like TFT pallet in the centre of the dash for the infotainment systems.
The seats are pretty good and supportive though I would have loved to have a bit more surface area, especially on the bottom bolster! The steering wheel is a neat new design with function switches on the central spokes the right size diameter to make for an exhilarating experience. The cabin has more leg room than its predecessor but what is more important is the fact that our friends in the German automotive media have said that this is one area where the A-Class trumps almost all others in class, the VW Golf included! There is sufficient head room despite the sloping roofline and the 341-litre boot volume can be enhanced to 1157 litres of luggage carrying capacity by folding the rear seat back flat.
At the international media drive in Slovenia we had a multitude of A-Class models to choose from but I settled for the A200 CDI with the new 6-speed manual gearbox. Forget the absolute figures (0-100km/h in 9.3 seconds and a 210km/h top speed), the best thing about this motor is the way she punches in a pleasing manner, so very Mercedes-Benz-ish! There is a certain fluency and aura about this car which has risen in overall weight to near about 1445kg. The steering is precise and nicely weighted to deliver that tactile feel without being too light or intrusive. Going through the 6-speed ’box is a delight as you crest the thick torque curve beginning from as low down as 1600rpm and staying flat all the way to 3000rpm.
It is this torque which does the business and in effect the car delivers that ample in-reserve thrust we Indians delight in. Ride quality was firm with just the right amount of pliancy without upsetting the handling. In fact, having taken the A200 with the optional AMG Sports trim, I found the petrol to be buzzy but the torque was a revelation here as well. And the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic while being very convenient in in-town use, is a bit of a let down as the electrics try to hunt the right cog in certain situations.
Overall the dynamics are pretty nifty though typically Mercedes-Benz and even for the young brigade there is something to be said about safe assured handling rather than the sharp trigger happy stuff which many car makers are prone to load and thrust on to customers. What is good is that Stuttgart hasn’t fallen prey to trends and diktats from Munich, Ingolstadt or Wolfsburg but managed to stay with its own theme prevalent across the board.
The A-Class (Mercedes-Benz A-Class Special Coverage) is kitted to the hilt from the base offering and with tonnes of gizmos as one goes up the model range. I particularly like the radar collision warning system which is OE. The amount of electronic safety aids and driver assists is long and exhaustive as are the networking interfaces for the occupants to use. While Europe is a different market altogether, we will have to wait and see what the spec sheet of the India-bound A-Class sports.
And speaking of India, expect the A-Class by mid-2013 by which time it will have the complete diesel engine range on hand. Even though it will be assembled at the firm’s Chakan facility, the key consideration to get younger customers will depend on how effectively it would be priced. Given that the B-Class will start around Rs 24-25 lakh, the A-Class could prove a nightmare for Mercedes-Benz India to configure and sell at sensible money. And that is where the battle would be won or frittered away.
SLIDESHOW: Mercedes-Benz A-Class (Design Evolution)
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