Mercedes-Benz has completely redesigned the baby A-class along more conventional hatchback lines. Photo Gallery
Glenn Butler road tests and reviews the new Mercedes-Benz A-class at its international launch.
Back in 1997 a moose that didn't exist gave Mercedes-Benz one heck of a publicity headache. The German carmaker's innovative new A-class compact model featured a 'sandwich floor' design that let engineers reduce overall length by tucking the engine under the front of the cabin.
Problem was it also increased the A-class's height to the extent that the car could roll over when swerving in an emergency situation. A Swedish car magazine discovered this during its 'moose avoidance test'.
Benz eventually rectified this dynamic flaw, but the damage was done. The A-class's undeniably innovative design was poleaxed by a moose that didn't exist.
Fifteen years later, in a textbook example of 'if you can't beat 'em join 'em' Mercedes-Benz has completely redesigned the baby A-class along more conventional hatchback lines that it believes will have greater appeal with premium hatchback buyers in Australia and around the world.
PRICES AND MODELS
The new A-class hatchback priced from $36,000 (approx.) is due in Australia in March 2013. Four/five-door front-drive models will be available initially.
Top of the petrol range initially will be an A250 Sport, with a rorty 155kW 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and unique sports-tuned front suspension.
Benz claims an impressive 6.6 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, and an equally impressive fuel economy rating of 6.4l/100km. At just under $50k the A250 Sport won't be cheap though, especially when compared with the $42k VW Golf GTi.
A high performance A45 AMG model will complete the five-door hatchback range in September 2013. Word is the first AMG version of an A-class will pack a 240kW, turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and employ an all-wheel drive system to get the power down. Expect to pay over $60,000 for this scorching sub-five-second hatchback.
Just one diesel A-class will be offered, also badged an A200, and with an automatic transmission. Its 100kW 1.6-litre engine uses just 4.4-litres per 100km.
The A-class's safety portfolio includes nine airbags and ESC in a safety-structure expected to deliver a five-star crash safety rating. All models will come with Benz's Pre-Safe collision avoidance system, Distronic radar cruise control, self-parking and Bluetooth connectivity. Benz would not confirm if a reversing camera would be standard across the range.
A-class development boss Rudiger Rutz says the move to a more conventional hatchback body was inevitable. "From the perspective of an engineer [the previous model] was interesting," he told CarsGuide, "but when you asked our customers what they liked of the old A-class, they don't mention the sandwich floor, or the underfloor engine placement.
Yes, they mentioned the higher seating position, but the high body had some impact on driving dynamics."For those who want the high seating position we have the new B-class. For those who want a more conventional, sportier premium hatchback, this is the A-class for them."
The new A-class is 16cm lower, yet there's no shortage of headroom front or rear for full-size adults. The new car is 39cm longer but most of this is because the engine is no longer tucked under the cabin floor. Even so, rear seat legroom is not a problem, and boot space of 341 litres is decent for this class of car.
The driving experience is chalk and cheese compared to the old model. CarsGuide sampled the A250 Sport, and A200 petrol and diesel models at the world launch in Slovenia earlier this week. All models pack a sporting dynamism the stodgy old A could never hope to match.
The new A-class goes, steers and stops with a willingness and tactility that makes it lots of fun to drive both enthusiastically and sedately. The 155kW 2.0-litre petrol engine packs a vigorous punch, and has a rorty tone that's very un-Benz-like.
Even the A200's 1.6-litre petrol engine, which most Australians are expected to buy, accelerates willingly from low speeds and shows plenty of pluck at pace. The 7-speed automatic can be a little slow to react to manual changes, but there's no criticising the smoothness of its gear changes.
Question marks remains over how the firm -- and it is very firm -- suspension tune of the European models we drove shod with 18inch tyres will translate to Australian surfaces. Despite that, this new A-class is a convincing premium sports hatch, and it should have little to fear from mooses, imaginary or otherwise.
Price: from $36,000 (approx.)
Safety: 5 stars
Engine: 115kW 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol,155kW 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol, 240kW turbocharged petrol 2.0-litre engine, 100kW 1.6-litre diesel engine
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Thirst: 5.5l/100km, 6.4l/100km, 4.4l/100km