The extraordinary newbie
Whenever I attend the launch of a new vehicle I admit to feeling a little special, somewhat privileged to report on my experiences of a brand-new car. This week is decidedly different as I can’t shake the impression that I’m telling everyone about a movie they’ve already seen.
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class is a huge deal. Those extraordinary looks guaranteed it phenomenal attention even before its international launch. Spy shots, tons of online info, international reports and quite a few pre-launch local appearances mean that, unless you live under a rock, you already know about this car.
It may not be the best situation for my journalistic ego but it is concrete proof that Mercedes-Benz has produced an absolute stunner. Even those who thought that Mercs were for their grandparents have sat bolt upright and taken notice, if not researched and googled the newbie.
At its recent media launch, seasoned Mercedes executives and journalists both agreed that there has never been such an amount of interest in a new model from the three-pointed star. I could try my utmost to describe the new A-Class design but yet again it feels like preaching to the converted.
Mercedes must’ve realised this and graciously gave all attending journalists an extra edge – part of the presentation was done by Mark Fetherston, the A’s chief designer. I was fortunate to be seated next to this pleasant Brit at lunch and his passion for the vehicle’s radical new look was infecting everyone around us.
Based on solid proportions and incredible detail, a lot of work went into the little Mercedes hatchback to make it stand out from the crowd, never mind its stable mates. The Germans also confirmed that A means Attack – on new and younger customers, while the new B-Class serves MPV clientele.
Mercedes uses its innovative new front-wheel-drive platform for the A-Class, B-Class, the upcoming CLA and other future models; AMG and four-wheel-drive versions included. Start/stop systems, superb aerodynamics, high efficiency engines and gearboxes ensure that they are very eco-friendly.
The interior has also been created with quality, zest and individuality in mind; if the outside wasn’t enough of a clue, this will be your next reminder that they started with a clean sheet of paper. Mercedes-Benz S.A. aims to be the leading luxury brand by 2016 and a lot of that work will be down to the A-Class.
Demand already exceeds supply and S.A. currently gets five models, all turbo four-cylinders. A180 and A200 are 1.6L petrols (90kW/200Nm and 115kW/250Nm), A250 Sport is a 2L petrol (155kW/350Nm), A180 CDI is either a 1.5L or 1.8L diesel (80kW/250Nm or 80kW/260Nm) and A220 CDI is a 2.2L diesel (125kW/350Nm).
Next to a six-speed manual gearbox (A180’s and A200), Mercedes also offers their 7G-DCT double-clutch transmission. Claimed fuel consumption ranges from 3.8 to 4L/100km for the diesels and 5.5 to 5.8L/100km for petrols while average CO2 emissions start at just 105 or 135g/km.
The A-Class’ modern, independent suspension rolls on 17 to 19-inch wheels and promises the magic mix of sporty handling and ride comfort. Except for big wheels at small speeds, our test-drive established that they had pulled it off; the A-Class feels nimble, tight and planted on mountain passes and highways alike.
A250 Sport obviously has masses of clout and its AMG-developed front suspension provides the most involving ride. It feels a little more nervous than the others while A200’s performance is more sedate, the sparing A180 CDI even more so while the A220 CDI was a good combo – fast and frugal.
Mercedes fitted the A-Class with impressive standard kit, over and above central locking or electric power steering, every car gets big-boy toys like Attention Assist, Pre-Safe, multiple airbags, ABS brakes, EBD, ESP, etc. Optional extras include a myriad of style packages and trim choices.
All A-Classes are sold with a two-year unlimited mileage warranty and Mercedes’ new PremiumDrive full maintenance plan for six years or 100,000km. Prices are N$300,000 for the A180 CDI (add 10 grand for auto), N$355,000 for an A220 CDI, N$273,718 for A180, N$296,632 for A200 and N$392,606 for A250 Sport.
That isn’t exactly cheap but neither is the A-Class. We had words like sporty, fun, clean, safe, exciting, luxurious and comfortable thrown at us and can confirm them all. And let’s not forget the pre-launch hype about its looks which might be a very lonely but valid reason why you desperately want one.