Mercedes-Benz is calling year 2013 the Year of the Offensive, the year when the company will pull out all the stops to seize back its leadership position in the Indian car bazaar. And leading the charge will be this little protagonist bearing the big star proudly. It’s a young at heart, sporty, dashing product from the M-B stable, the A-class, with great expectations resting on its small, but strong shoulders. Does it live up to the promise? We took the stylish, compact machine for a 300km spin to find out.
Mercedes A-Class Design and appearance
Visually bigger in the flesh than we assumed it to be, the A-class is a star to the core, a debonair character, a charmingly fresh sight. At the heart of its allure is its ornate grille which invites a thousand stars from the heaven above and arranges them in fascinating concave patterns to lend the A-class one of the glitziest faces around. Sitting proud within that galaxy of sparkling diamonds is the big, bold three pointed star dividing the classy, chrome laden horizontal slat holding it in two. That grille gives the A-class its distinctive personality, and without a doubt is the most appealing characteristic of its shimmering façade.
Apart from that arrow shaped, boldly styled nose, the matters have been kept relatively simpler and well defined. The bonnet doesn’t meet the grille in traditional style, but is slashed horizontally, letting the big bumper form the skin of the face above the radiator grille. The headlamps house sharply styled, inverted C shaped silver highlights within them. Above that you have your Daytime Running LEDs in an inverted boomerang shape. Holding the ‘torch’ (quite literally) of function within this form-biased detailing are Mercedes-Benz bi-Xenons.
At the bottom you have an ultra wide air dam flanked by two side dams, which we reckon should have done well with housing fog lamps. The business below the central air dam is finished by a body colored strip of plastic, adding further detail and character to the front fascia.
In profile, your eyes will go bling bling with the sight of those sexily designed 17 inch wheels. The big, titanium finish 10 spoke alloys go extremely well with the sporty character of this machine –naysayers need to have a good look at the profile images again and again till they concur with us. The greenhouse is small, with high window sills. The roofline itself doesn’t drop too dramatically, the top of the rear window sweeps down aggressively to lend the A-class a racy profile. The thick C-pillar, the big roof spoiler and the strong haunches further validate the sporty pedigree of this compact.
Below the green house, on the door surfaces there is strong resemblance with the recently introduced B-class and most other new M-B cars. The new design theme which sees a strong character line emerge from the headlamp, and pass through the fender before merging into the rear door is in line with the current-gen Mercedes design ethos. Below the horizontal line you have an inverted boomerang, another characteristic of modern M-Bs. At the bottom, a flared, interestingly creased side skirt keeps things tight and aggressive in profile.
The inverted C design theme from the headlamps has been carried over from the rear as well. The inverted C tail-lamps feature hi performance LEDs and are horizontally structured far down the flanks to lend the rear a wide, squat stance. Like with the tail-lamps, the emphasis with most of the elements at the rear is to make the car look wider. The rear bumper has a black grained diffuser insert underneath which also houses the dual exhausts with stainless steel tips, lending the rear a character as stylish and bold as the front.
The A-class is a classy looking machine, with some elements which clearly stand it apart. With its pronounced haunches, short roofline and big wheels, the A-Class looks the business. It exudes boldness and character from every angle. Not so much to us size obsessed Indian, probably, but the A-class would make a strong statement to a seasoned car lover, who appreciates sophisticated design.
On our white test car, the dazzling effect of that glitzy front grille and those lusty wheels didn’t look as pronounced as they should have, but still managed to turn heads. We can only imagine what this charming machine would look like in a blazing red color!
Mercedes A-class engine and gearbox
The A-class is powered by the 1.6 liter turbocharged, four cylinder petrol power plant we saw earlier on the B-class. On the A-class with its lighter weight, the engine feels all the more sprightly. With its peak power output rated at 122bhp at 5000 rpm and peak torque of 200 Nm spread between a wide band of 1250-4000 rpm, the A-class has fairly potent mill under its bonnet. The direct injection engine employs piezo injectors and advanced technologies for low friction and better combustion.
Now, 122 bhp may not sound like a lot of power for a premium car, but the torquey engine and the relatively lighter weight of the A 180 ensures that driving it is indeed an enjoyable experience. Weighing well above 1.2 ton with all that engineering and safety aids packed in, the A180 isn’t exactly featherweight. Like most petrol motors, it isn’t quite yummy like a diesel at lower down the rev range. Sure there’s is enough power to keep it trudging along at slow speeds even at a little above 1200 rpm, but that isn’t a pronounced pull.
Past 2000 rpm, the A-class’s engine gets going with some tasty juice beginning to flow. It really comes into its own past 3000 rpm, with the turbo properly spooled and loads of power joining the omnipresent torque to create a heady synergy of thrust. The engine which is slightly gruff in its note gets singing past 4000 rpm with a masculine roar. The powerplant is redlined at 6250 rpm, but you’d do well to shift a little before that to achieve best acceleration as the turbo engine is at its best a little before its peak.
All that technical data comes together for a 0-100km/h sprint time of a little more than 9 seconds. Top speed is rated at more than 200km/h, but as we experienced, with the little engine it takes some time getting there. 160 kmph is attained without much ado, 180 takes a bit of time, beyond which the A-class puffs and pants a bit.
The engine is mated with the latest mainstream transmission in the M-B stable – the 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission. At a length of 367 millimetres and a weight of 86 kilograms, the 7G-DCT is more compact and lighter than the transmissions in this torque class which have been available on the market to date. The transmission is sufficiently quick and comes with shifter pedals behind the steering wheel – great feature for a car in this segment.
With three modes to choose from, and pedal shifters for manual gearshifts, the A-class offers plenty of fun for the driver willing to engage and commit himself. Three gearshift modes are available to the driver:
• ECONOMY: in this mode, the transmission performs gearshifts fully automatically with due regard to a particularly economical style of driving at low revs
• SPORT: the transmission performs gearshifts fully automatically. The shift and response times are shorter, with gearshifts at higher engine speeds
• MANUAL: in this mode, the revs hold on all the way to the redline, or slightly before that, waiting for the driver to shift manually via shift paddles behind the steering wheel.
In ECO or Sport mode, the driver is still able to intervene manually in the gear-shifting process via the shift paddles. The transmission reverts to the selected automatic mode after the paddles have remained inactive for twelve seconds, or after a longer delay when driving downhill or on winding roads.
The car also comes outfitted with an ECO start/stop function which turns the engine off on detecting a halt, and turns it on automatically. Once turned on after the engine being switch off, the B-class will always choose Eco as the default mode.
The 1.6 liter engine on the B-class may not be an absolute hoot, but it still has enough pep to hot things up just right. Combined with the brilliant 7G-DCT tranny, it makes for one spicy, yet delectable recipe.
Mercedes A-Class Driving Dynamics
The moment you get into the driver’s seat of the A-class you are surprised by the unusual height of the dashboard and resultantly the tall position of the instrument cluster. The Steering is much higher set than you would expect from a low slung car. It takes a bit of effort to find the right driving position. And for a person like me who likes his steering wheel relatively low, when he does find his correct driving position, the steering obstructs the view of the instrument cluster. The high dash and bonnet also makes it slightly difficult to judge as to what’s underneath the car on the passenger’s side. Short drivers beware!
Once you find your driving position, and set the A-class in motion, it feels substantial and heavy, belying its size. You get the heavy, German-built feel with this machine, even if it’s just a hatchback. The steering is not as light as some of the other Mercs at slow speeds, but not too heavy either.
The suspension is on the stiffer side, in favor of handling and the dashing overall character of the car. The damping is on the stiff side too, and you can feel the dampers trying to release themselves after negotiating every pothole at slow speed. While the imperfections don’t permeate within the car itself easily, the proclivity of the damper to push the suspension back in their natural position is rather too imperative.
On the roll, on a Mumbai road, the A-class feels just fine though. It drives like a big car, with enough sure-footedness and heaviness. Together with the high set dash, the A-class may amaze you with how it feels to drive from inside. It feels higher and brawnier than it you’d expect, in a mini-SUVsh kind of a way, though the high dash doesn’t quite offer a good view of the road ahead. The feeling goes away as you get accustomed to the car in time, but it’s quite a surprise in the beginning.
The electromechanical steering gets heavier as you gather speed. However, it feels somewhat inert dead straight. It feels much better around corners, but it could probably have done with a bit more feel while the car lunged hard on arrow straight highways. That comparison, however, is with the bigger cars in the M-B stable. By itself and for its size A-Class feels well-planted. We almost nudged 200 clicks on the speedo, and it was only towards speeds closer to the double ton that the A-class quivered a bit with no edginess till 160kph and thereabouts. There is ample bite from the brakes too, and the feedback you get on dabbing the right pedal is quite convincing as well.
Around the smooth, inviting bends of Aamby Valley, the A-Class stands true to M-B claims of it being a driver’s car. It feels well balanced, nicely sprung and nimble. The steering which initially carried a fair chunk of unnatural heaviness, feels more natural and precise as you hurl the hatch around the smoothly paved winding tar surface.
Riding its wide track and a relatively short wheelbase, the A-class feels amazingly light and lively around bends. Body roll is well restricted and you come to appreciate the virtues of this shiny new Merc as you show it the bends – it doesn’t resent being chucked around corners one bit. There is ample power on the tap from that engine, and the 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission is pretty quick too. For a car this small, it comes equipped with pedal shifters, an addition that only widens the grin on your face. The A-class oozes energy, balance and poise – all of those virtues, an outcome of the A-class’s small size and light weight fuse together for massive fun.
While we had tons of fun sliding around in the beautifully balanced A-class, we had our set of complaints too. The 225/45 Brigestone Turanzas weren’t quite a grippy as we’d have expected them to be. They started wailing as soon we entered a corner spiritedly and didn’t offer much resistance before letting the compact hatch slide away in a controlled drift. Ideally that situation should have arisen with some more speed having been dialed in. That said, the composure and neutral behavior (neither under, nor over steering) exhibited by the A-class, even after being a FWD car is worth an applause.
Mercedes A-class cabin quality and features
The cabin of the A-class resembles that of the recently introduced B-class in more than one way. The aircraft turbine inspired A/C vents which not just look smashing, but are extremely easy to use with smooth operation are shared between the A- and B-class. The centre console, the steering wheel, the dashboard layout – the place looks familiar. The interior theme is black, with hints of chrome and steel to accentuate the sporty character of the car.
However, the A-class gets its own, racier, white speedo-tacho dials. The dashboard is draped in leather, which looks even richer than the bigger B-class. The central screen too is shared between the two models and is controlled via a basic version of the Comand system. We were surprised to see that the shiny steel pedals with rubber studs of the B-class have been replaced by vanilla rubber pads on the A-class. They would have looked good on this smaller, sportier cousin of its big brother in our opinion.
A unique characteristic of the A-class’s cabin are its seats. The unique seats with an integrated head rest and a perforation between the space to rest the torso and head look sleek and classy. The steel lining around the central cavity adds loads of character to the cabin.
There are quite a few storage spaces too within the cabin. The front doors, apart from featuring map pockets, also have the space for storing a one liter bottle each. The floating central panel has two longitudinally arranged cup-holders, with two more covered spaces for odds and ends ahead of them. One of these spaces has a 12v socket as well. At the end towards the backseats, the panel has a large storage box, with its lid doubling up as the central armrest for the front occupants.
The sunroof is larger than usual and replaces a major part of the top metal. The fabric covering the glass from the inside is rather thin, and can be quite irritating on a hot, sunny day when the big ball of fire is right over your head. The glass roof, being too big, doesn’t slide all the way back either, and opens only partly.
Front driver’s seat gets electrical adjustments for fore-aft movement, height, seat back recline, head-rest and lumbar support. However, no such facility is available for the front passenger, who has to adjust everything mechanically. Other controls below the driver seat adjustments on the door panel includes power window buttons, door lock / unlock, electrical ORVM controls and window lock.
Legroom is sufficient at the rear for medium built men, taller guys may have a bit of a problem if a six footer is driving. Head room too, though sufficient for medium built men is not generous. The black interior theme, along with small windows makes the cabin a dark place to be, which doesn’t feel particularly airy. The high window sill both at the front and back compounds the problem.
Front seats are comfortable with good bolstering and ample adjustment options. At the rear, there is more than adequate space for two – three would be a squeeze. The backseats, though comfortable and well cushioned with a good recline angle could have done with a bit more thigh support.
Boot space at the rear is pegged at 341 liters, which can be extended substantially if you drop down the 60:40 rear seats. The rear doors don’t have the big pockets of the front units and cannot store bottles bigger than 500ml. Back benchers get their A/C vent with blow and temperature control, below which they get access to their own 12v power socket as well.
We loved the sound of the stock audio unit which offered a deep bass and clear sound all the way to the max volume. The car come equipped with Parktronic parking assist, which to be honest looks like a technology from the bygone era. There are two Parktronic units on the A-class, one ahead of the dash and another one fixed onto the roof behind the driver’s seat, and to be monitored via the RVM. Thankfully the A-class also comes equipped with a reverse camera.
Mercedes has not compromised with safety tech on the A-class and the car comes loaded with active and passive safety gear. You get as many as seven airbags, ABS, ESP, all four wheels with disc brakes and most of the Mercedes Safety wizardry including Pre-safe and Adaptive Braking.
The interior of the car is built of high quality materials, and doesn’t ever feel plasticky or cheap. Mercedes have kept matters easy with a simplistic design for the dash. Class abounds within the enclosure though, with everything put together well and made with durable, elegant materials. For the new segment the A-class represents the interior quality is laudable to say the least.
Price As tested: A180 Sport petrol- INR 22.73 lakh Ex-Delhi
The A-class represents a brand new breed of cars for the Indian market. It’s meant to be a compact, fun-to-drive, stylish and feature laden premium hatch for the young and the restless. We think M-B has got it right as regards styling and character, and we also love the car for the way it drives. For a diesel centric Indian market, however, a launch with a diesel power plant would have probably made a little more sense in our humble opinion.
It’s a fun car to drive, the A-class, and doesn’t compromise on technology or safety. Loaded to the gills, oozing character with a lively, playful personality, the A-class should appeal to the discerning, upwardly mobile and young at heart go-getters. We Indians have a habit of associating size with value, and we’re sure the trend will be followed in the A-class’s case as well.
Being a CBU, there was no possible way M-B could have priced it lower than the aforementioned price. It’s a shade more expensive than we expected it to, but the good thing is that M-B have priced the big-volume diesel lower than the petrol variant. For those who value individualistic character, fun-to-drive quotient and modern engineering above sheer size, the A-class should make for a compelling pick.