As we can see, the Mercedes-Benz A Class is a compact car manufactured by the German marque. The first generation W168 version was introduced in 1997 and the second generation W169 was launched in 2004. The current A Class we have on sale in India is the third generation model. Dubbed as the W176, the current A Class made its appearance in 2012. Originally, it was launched as a five-door hatchback, and later, the second generation got a three-door version as well. The current A Class has grown by 68cm compared to the original model and the current A Class is actually longer than the first-generation B Class.
If you look at the predecessors, the current A Class available on sale is a radical design change. It looks fresh, dynamic and clearly targets the younger audience with its overall design. But when launched in India, it all came down to this – A hatchback costing around 30 lakh rupees! You look at the A Class once and figure out where all that money goes. Even at the given price tag, the A Class had a successful run in India which is predominantly a hatchback market under the 5 lakh category. The A Class did manage to carve out its niche and successfully dominate over the competing BMW 1 Series. The current gen A Class looks more car-like than the previous van-like styling. The body type has completely changed from an occupying tall boy to a low-slung, sporty looking hatchback. It is not as iconic like the Mini Cooper or the Volkswagen Beetle, but still with its design has managed to break the barrier of a boring old man’s car image for the brand. Till date, a combined 2,500 units of the A Class and B Class have made it to the Indian streets. Mercedes claims that out of every five cars sold, one is either an A or a B class.
Talk of the town when launched was the starry front grille. Apart from the big three pointed star, the 302 metallic piece ‘diamond grille’ at the front looks stunning and is without a doubt the best asset the A Class has got. The car is low slung, wide, and squats on the road. At the front, you get smoked out, bi-xenon projector headlamps. Also, you get LED DRLs and LED turn indicators. Above the diamond grille, you have a small Mercedes-Benz logo placed on the bumper. The car does not get fog lamps. You have a silver lip on the front bumper and the air dam carries a regular mesh design. Side profile reveals the high window sill swooping all the way to the front. You get a chrome weather strip on the windows and blackened B pillars. The bottom crease line on the side swoops upwards towards the rear, which adds a lot more dynamism to the overall design. Panoramic sunroof is available on select variants. At the back, the car is visibly low, in height. A small rear windscreen, a small tail gate and slightly big bumpers make the car look bulky towards the bottom. You get LED tail lamps and a blackened section on the rear bumper. Although you do not see the exhaust tip in the diesel model we test drove, the petrol one gets dual exhaust tips. Rear spoiler when looked from the side is big in size, but from the rear, visibly, it is a small unit.
Mercedes launched the limited edition ‘Edition 1’ A and B Class on 24th June, 2014, priced at 26.17 lakh & 28.75 lakh respectively (ex-showroom Mumbai). 100 cars each, of the A and B Class edition 1 will be produced. This limited edition offer was available only on the diesel powered variants. The extras that the A Class Edition 1 gets on the exteriors are – a panoramic sunroof, gloss black ORVM housing, 17″ termolite grey alloy wheels and Edition 1 decal on the side. Apart from this, the car remains identical. Front and rear end of the car see no changes at all.
Step inside the ‘low’ A Class and you are welcomed with high quality interiors. Everything selected here is from the premium parts bin. If there is anything that is low quality here, it is simply not visible. Another reason for the premium quality is that this is a CBU, hence, the quality and attention to finer details remains the same as the rest of the world. All-black, the interiors are not too in-your-face and have a very elegant design language. The company hasn’t tried too hard by adding unwanted crease lines, adding faux wood or anything like that to make the car simply look premium. The only grouse here is that it is quite a squeeze inside the A Class. Taller occupants are going to feel claustrophobic within minutes because of the little room available inside. Also, the window sills are placed high, and coupled with the all-black interiors, the cabin lacks that airy feel. The raked A pillar also hinders visibility while turning. The windscreen is so raked, that if you are pulling the sun visor down, halfway through, you actually can see nothing happening in the front. On a bright sunny day when we drove the car, the thin netting under the sunroof allowed ample light inside the cabin. Another highlight on the inside are the AC vents. They look fabulous and the touch and feel is top notch. You need to twist them to the right to turn them off, and you get a very premium, soft click feedback when it locks in place.
On the dashboard, you have a perfect balance of soft touch plastics and leather. Top section of the dashboard is wrapped in leather, while the dashboard face gets soft touch plastic. Lower section has regular plastics and is a grey shade rather than black. A small 5.8″ screen with glossy black surround sits above the AC vents. There is no wow factor about this, and it simply does its job of displaying limited information. Ergonomics in the car are spot on, except for the command system controller, which we thought was slightly behind the ideal spot. Steering wheel has rake and reach adjustment and helps you find the desired driving position easily coupled with the ample seat adjustment range. Steering wheel on the A Class is wrapped in leather and gets a perforated section on the 9 & 3 positions on the petrol variant. This, perforated section was not to be seen on the Edition 1. Paddle shifters are provided and the steering gets the usual bunch of controls. Gear lever is mounted as a RHS control stalk, on the steering column. Although it might look oddly placed to some, it is spot on when put to use. For those who are new to the car, be careful not to slot the car in neutral or reverse when trying to tap for the turn indicators. Instrument cluster is also plain Jane now and loses on the racy decal and silver background.
Seats are supportive and hold you in place when throwing around the car into corners. Even the passenger seat gets electric adjustment with memory function. They have integrated neck restraints which run shockingly close to the roof. Headroom available inside the A Class is in limited quantity. While the front seats are accommodating and comfortable, it is a different story at the back. With taller passengers at the front, legroom availability will be a bit of a problem. Also, headroom for those over 6 feet will be non-existent. Carrying well-built adults will not be an easy task inside the A Class. And even though Mercedes uses the MFA (Mercedes Front-wheel-drive Architecture), the floor hump at the back is massive.
Dual zone air conditioning kept us cool on a relatively hot monsoon day. Limited greenhouse is also a reason why the car remains cooler on hot days. Head unit has USB, Bluetooth, iPod, SD Card functionality and the sound quality is good. Playing loud music even on the radio was a pleasing experience without much of the radio-disturbance. Boot space available is 341 litres, but much out of that is eaten up by the space saver spare wheel. The spare wheel (not alloy) is neatly covered and held in place inside the boot.
Feature additions on the Edition 1’s interiors include electric adjustment for the front passenger, Edition 1 badge on the roof, rear centre armrest with dual cup holders and a reversing camera with display.
There are no changes to the diesel mill powering the regular A Class and the limited edition Edition 1. The powerplant is a 2.2L, 4-cylinder, CRDi motor pumping out merely 108 BHP of power @ 3,200-4,400 RPM. Power to price ratio sounds a little weak doesn’t it? With a weight of 1.5 tonnes, the power to weight ratio too is nothing to write home about. Injection pressure has been increased to 1,800 bar. The A180 CDI also gets the ECO start / stop function which switches off the engine when at a standstill, and fires up as soon as you release the brake. Mercedes claims that the diesel variant can run for 1000 kilometers on one tank of fuel. During our test drive, we got a combined fuel efficiency figure of around 13.5 kmpl, which is not bad considering the engine size and the vehicle weight.
The A Class with its 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission delivers decent performance at all times. The gearbox allows preselecting programs such as economy, sport and manual to adjust the shift characteristic and the shift speed. In sport mode, the car revvs higher almost near to the redline while manual mode allows much better driver engagement with using the paddle shifts on the steering. You also get a ‘Direct Select’ lever for cruise control and speedtronic functions placed below the LHS control stalk on the steering.
Suspension setup on the A Class now has been improved from the stiff ride before. It is much softer now and does not unsettle occupants over moderately uneven terrain. Ground clearance has been increased by a bit as well; however, some speed breakers act nasty with the low-slung A Class. Stiffer suspension however results in better handling at higher speeds and when going through the corners. It has a four-link rear axle chassis and integral steer control steering which do their bits on the handling front. Brakes are good and provide the right amount of feedback on the pedals. Brake bite was reasonable and the pedal feel wasn’t spongy either.
The A Class already had a lot going for it compared to the BMW 1 Series simply with the exterior and interior design. Now, with the addition of these features on the car, the A Class poses as a much better value proposition. Let’s be honest, how many 1 Series hatchbacks have you spotted in and around your city? The Edition 1 is priced at a slight premium over the regular A Class, but those looking at making a statement will not bother about it. In today’s date, Audi has taken the game a bit higher than Mercedes and BMW would have thought. The A3 which was recently launched is a sedan and offers much more practicality in real time compared to a premium hatch. And not to forget, the A3 is priced cheaper than the hatchback competitors. If you were in the market to buy an entry level premium car from the big three German marques, what would you prefer, form or function?