As the decade of the 1990s dawned, it became apparent that the traditional customers of Mercedes-Benz were not just getting old and departing but their place as customers was not filled by their children, many of whom saw the brand’s products and image as being ‘old’. It appealed to an earlier generation with different values and perspectives of the world, but the younger generation wanted more dynamism and sportiness… which another German brand offered more of.

This led to a decision by the oldest car manufacturer in the world to launch a new strategic product initiative. This initiative would see an expansion of its portfolio across all segments and markets. The first effects of the new strategy became apparent from 1993 as the brand moved towards offering a fresher and younger appeal and it began to be cool.

The prototypes which were developed for the first A-Class project.

Adding new model lines was not something which could be done overnight as it takes time to develop brand new models. But as a preview of what was to come, in September 1993, the company showed a design study for a ‘baby Benz’, the Vision A 93. There was always speculation about a model smaller than the C-Class and finally, Mercedes-Benz revealed its prototype which would go on to become the A-Class. The production version made its debut in 1997 and became a big driver of change at Mercedes-Benz.

[Click here to read about how the first A-Class was developed]

The first 3 generations of the A-Class which has been part of the model range since 1997.

“It is the single best example on how we managed to rejuvenate our entire brand,” said Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, when he introduced the all-new generation of the model in Amsterdam yesterday. “There’s not much of an ‘entry-level’ feel left in our new entry-level car. This grown-up A-Class fully incorporates our definition of ‘Modern Luxury’. And it’s unparalleled in this segment.”

The new A-Class remains youthful and dynamic, embodying the next stage in the company’s design philosophy of ‘Sensual Purity’ and ushering in a new design era. “With clear contours and sensual surfaces, we present high-tech that awakens emotions. Form and body are what remain when creases and lines are reduced to the extreme. The interior represents modern luxury at a level previously unattained in this class, and translates intelligent technology into an emotional overall experience,” explained Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer Daimler AG.

On the basis of a compact two-box design, optimised dimensions and proportions have led to a new interpretation of the design. The striking radiator grille, whose silhouette opens out towards the base as a reinterpretation of its predecessor, features pins in a diamond look and a central silver louvre to underline the sportiness of this model.

With a Cd figure as low as 0.25 and a frontal area of 2.19 square metres, the new A-Class is the aerodynamic leader in its segment. For the first time in the compact class, Mercedes-Benz uses a two-section AIRPANEL (an optional feature), a louvre system behind the radiator grille which opens its adjustable louvres depending on the cooling requirement. There is an additional louvre system in the air inlet below the registration plate, which further improves system performance.

The car is visually extended by the longer wheelbase and character line along the side. The bonnet slopes down more heavily than in the preceding model series, emphasising the dynamic, upright front. The larger wheel arches for wheels from 16 to 19 inches emphasise the sportiness of the new A-Class and make it sit more squarely on the road.

There’s a wider look at the rear end, thanks to a more heavily waisted greenhouse which also emphasises the shoulders, and to the wider-spaced rear reflectors in the modular, two-section rear bumper. The slim, two-section tail lights ensure an emotionally appealing, alluring appearance.

With the new A-Class, the brand introduces the new highlight known as MBUX – Mercedes-Benz User Experience – first in the compact class rather than the luxury class. “With the fourth generation of the A-Class, we are redefining modern luxury in the compact class. To do this we have opted for a combination of uncompromisingly dynamic design and an intuitive operating concept,” said Britta Seeger, the member of the Daimler AG Board of Management responsible for Mercedes-Benz Cars sales. “With MBUX – the new Mercedes-Benz User Experience – we are creating a completely new customer experience.”

A unique feature of MBUX is its ability to learn thanks to artificial intelligence. It can be individualised and adapts to suit the user, thus creating an emotional connection between the car, driver and even the passengers. The touchscreen is part of the comprehensive MBUX touch-control concept – a triad consisting of the touchscreen, touchpad on the centre console and touch control buttons in the steering wheel. Emotively appealing showcasing features underline the comprehensibility of the control structure and thrill through brilliant 3D maximum-resolution graphics, which are rendered, ie calculated and displayed, in real time.

The interior is completely redefined with a modern, avant-garde look. Mercedes-Benz designers have taken a completely new approach, revolutionising the compact class from the inside with a new feeling of spaciousness. The unique interior architecture is shaped in particular by the avant-garde design of the dashboard – for the first time, a cowl above the cockpit has been completely dispensed with. As a result, the wing-shaped main body of the dashboard extends from one front door to the other with no visual discontinuity. The Widescreen display (available in 3 versions) is completely free-standing while the air vents in a sporty turbine-look are another highlight.

The dashboard is divided into two three-dimensional, horizontal sections: the lower section is visually separated from the main body of the dashboard by a ‘trench’, and it appears to float in front of the dashboard. The ambient lighting enhances this effect, accentuating the free-floating impression of the substructure. The 64 colours of the optional ambient lighting make 5 times as many colours available than before. And it is not just the variety that has increased, as the emotive presentation also sets standards in this segment: the different colours are composed into ten colour worlds to allow an avant-garde lighting display with spectacular colour changes.

Despite its sporty look, the new A-Class has considerably more utility value, making it as youthful as ever but grown-up like never before. There’s more shoulder, elbow and headroom plus easier access to the rear along with the larger luggage compartment. (+29 litres) All-round visibility has also been considerably improved, enhancing both safety and the impression of spaciousness.

Comfort features from higher vehicle segments are available and for the first time in this model series, not only seat heating but also seat climate control and a Multicontour Seat package with massage function are available for the front seats. Customers in certain markets have a choice of three different front seats as well.

For a more premium driving impression, there is more effective insulation of the suspension from the vehicle body and aero-acoustic measures. During the development of the new model, particular attention was given to high overall structural rigidity and the connecting points between the body, suspension and powertrain. Significant increases in introduction rigidities were especially achieved at the suspension connecting points that are so important to road roar, and the interior noise level was considerably reduced.

The new A-Class has the very latest driving assistance systems with cooperative driver support, giving it the highest level of active safety in this segment with functions adopted from the S‑Class. For the first time, the A-Class is able to drive semi-autonomously in certain situations. To do this, it keeps a close eye on the traffic situation using improved camera and radar systems allow it to see up to 500 metres ahead.

The assistance functions rely on digital map and navigation data. For example, Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC as part of the Driving Assistance package is able to support the driver in numerous route-specific situations, and predictively and conveniently adjust the speed eg when approaching bends, junctions or roundabouts. Also available are systems like Active Emergency Stop Assist and the intuitively understandable Active Lane Change Assist.

The new A-Class comes with extended Active Brake Assist as standard. Depending on the situation, this can effectively help to mitigate the consequences of rear-end collisions with slower-moving, stopping or stationary vehicles ahead, and even with crossing pedestrians and cyclists, or prevent them altogether. PRE-SAFE PLUS can recognise an imminent rear-end collision. If the danger of a collision persists, the system can also firmly apply the brakes of the vehicle when stationary, thus minimising the risk of injuries by reducing the forward jolt caused by an impact from the rear.

The bodywork of the new A-Class is also the first to have been developed at the company’s new Technology Centre for Vehicle Safety (TFS). The design of the car’s structures draws on extensive findings from research into real accidents.

Every single bodyshell component was developed according to the loads and stresses encountered, with respect to geometry, material thickness, joining technology and material quality (increased proportion of high-strength and ultra high-strength sheet steel).

The optional MULTIBEAM LED headlamps are another example of the technology transfer from the luxury to the compact class. These allow extremely quick and precise, electronically-controlled adjustment of the headlamps to suit the current traffic situation. 18 individually-actuated LEDs are housed in each headlamp, their daylight-like colour easy on the eyes and also having a positive effect on concentration. LED High Performance headlamps are a further option for those who want even better lighting.

Initially, three powertrain choices are available for the A-Class – A 200 (163 ps/250 Nm) with 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission or 6-speed manual transmission; A 250 (224 ps/350 Nm) with 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission; and A 180 d variant (116 ps/260 Nm) with 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission. The engines are new units with displacements of 1.4 litres and 2 litres. Innovations in the 4-cylinder petrol engines include cylinder shut-off and CAMTRONIC for the intake camshaft.

The new 4-cylinder diesel engine has a displacement of 1.5 litres. Its highlights are a near-engine mounted emission control system with AdBlue technology, a turbocharger with optimised responsiveness and water intercooling.

The new A-Class is also available with the 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system with fully variable torque distribution. The system has been improved and the DYNAMIC SELECT switch offers more variability in the 4MATIC characteristics. 4MATIC components include the power take-off to the rear axle, which is integrated into the automated DCT, and the rear axle differential with an integrated multiplate clutch. This is no longer electro-hydraulically powered, but instead electro-mechanically.

Like all its predecessors, the new A-Class has MacPherson strut front suspension. While the A 200 and A 180 d have a torsion beam, the more powerful A 250 and all 4MATIC models have a sophisticated 4-link rear suspension. The rear axle is mounted on a subframe isolated from the bodyshell by rubber bushings so that fewer vibrations are transferred from the suspension to the body. The proportion of aluminium in the suspension components is said to be one of the highest in any suspension system in this vehicle class.

As standard, the new A-Class is equipped with a comfort suspension with steel springs and DYNAMIC SELECT. The comfort suspension lowered by 15 mm has specially configured springs and dampers for more sporty characteristics. The suspension with active damping control enables the driver to choose the preferred damping characteristics.

Order-taking in Europe starts in March and deliveries will commence during the second quarter of this year. As the A-Class is not assembled in Malaysia, its introduction to the market could be faster since localisation of some parts is not needed nor preparation of the plant in Pahang. So it is quite likely that we’ll see the new model before the year ends and knowing Mercedes-Benz Malaysia, the pricing will probably be a surprised.

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[Chips Yap]

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