Mercedes Benz A Class: striking on the inside, conventional on the outside
The lineup of advanced tech on offer is extremely impressive. Mercedes’ original A Class, which launched back in 1998, was exceptionally innovative for a family hatchback. Declining the familiar hatchback design sported by the likes of Ford’s Focus and Volkswagen’s Golf, the Mercedes Benz A Class looked like a mini MPV.
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However, while it had lots of space for all passengers, its upright driving position and boring driving experience hold backed its success.
Fast-forward 20 years and item look a lot more conventional from the outside, with this latest fourth-generation model hard to tell apart from the more traditional hatchback styling of the third repetition of the A-Class. But that’s just half the story.
A step into the future
As stated, the looks of the new A-Class are a development of the more conventional styling of the outgoing model. The mature and sleek looks undoubtedly make it much less schematic than the original model, but to our eyes, it doesn’t quite match the sharp lines and posture as the king of the hatchbacks, the VW Golf.
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Climb inside the Mercedes Benz A Class and you’re carried into the future, with an interior nothing like we’ve seen on any other car out there. That’s because this is the first Mercedes to get what the company calls its MBUX infotainment system; and while you can be forgiven for awaiting Mercedes to reserve its latest technology for its flagship S-Class model, it’s great to see it right here in one of its most affordable models.
MBUX-Mercedes Benz User Experience
MBUX is an acronym for Mercedes Benz User Experience, which sees the A-Class trench conventional dials in favor of large widescreen cockpit featuring two displays running across the dashboard.
Base A Class models feature two 7-inch screens, while pay a bit more and you’ll get one 7-inch and one 10.25-inch display, and go for a top of the line model like the one we test drove and you get two 10.25-inch displays.
It certainly looks very smooth, with the steering wheel embedded with buttons and dials to control the two displays. Alternatively, there is a touchpad in the central console that can also be used to interact with the A-Class – and if that isn’t enough, the central screen is also touch-sensitive.
The clarity and quality of the cockpit are extremely good, thanks to the 1920 x 720-pixel resolution of the two 10.25-inch displays. The instrument cluster has three styles to choose from, while the ambient lighting, seating position, favorite radio station and orientation of the navigation map can be saved as a profile.
Complaints? You’ll either find the color of the vents changes from blue to red when you increase the cabin temperature (and vice versa) a nice touch or a bit of a stunt, while the overall premium level of materials is let down by the rather skinny and plasticky column stalks that operate the indicators and transmission; they feel very much like an afterthought.
It’s not just the technology on the show that’s striking; what you can’t see is equally magnificent, namely the A-Class’s voice recognition system.
Rather than challenging fixed commands such as “phone home”, the A-Class uses the natural speech recognition, known as MBUX LINGUATRONIC, and is designed to understand virtually every imaginable command concerning to infotainment and vehicle operation
It is activated through a button on the steering wheel, or by simply saying “Hey Mercedes”, and will understand commands like “When will we get there?” and give you an Estimated Time of Arrival, while on the rare reason it doesn’t understand the question, it uses a learning software that’s updated over-the-air throughout the car’s life to expand its stock. This will also see the A-Class learns new buzzwords and adjust to changing uses of language over time.
Along with its clever voice activation, the MBUX is also designed to accept what the user would like next. As an example, if you listen to one radio station on your morning and then regularly change the station to listen to the news on the drive back, the MBUK will suggest this. The same goes for calls – if you regularly phone call someone on the journey home, such as your mum or partner, you’ll receive their telephone number as a suggestion on the display.
Don’t get lost again
There are still more clever touches when it comes to the sat nav (if you opt for the Advanced Navigation Package). Using a forward-facing camera that’s pushed away in the grille of the A-Class, the system displays the road ahead on the main infotainment screen and highlights with the upcoming turns and junctions with a neat blue arrow. This could be really helpful – we found it a big help when negotiating winding country roads at night’, with no missed turnings.
On the road
At least now, the A-Class will be available with three engines: 1.5-liter diesel and two petrol options, a 1.3-liter and 2.0-liter. There is no manual option, with all models getting a 7-speed auto transmission. We drove the A200 variant, which you might expect would be the 2.0-liter petrol, but was, in fact, the 1.3-petrol.
This four-cylinder engine has a power yield of 163bhp and can hit 60mph in 8 seconds. The engine is good and smooth below 4,000rpm while finding a good road and switch to the ‘Sport’ mode and it could be great fun.