OPINION: Mercedes-Benz's range doesn't start with a bare-bones special, writes Dave Moore.
Those who remember the original A-class Mercedes-Benz as a practical city-sized car with some clever packaging features, might need to rethink their perceptions a little, because the new model, the third car to wear the A moniker is a whole different kettle of fish.
It's still practical and it remains a useful price of kit for the into-town commute, but it's an altogether more sporty hatchback now, whose new attack target is immediately obvious: Audi's A1 and A3, the BMW 1 series and possibly the Lexus C200.
It has other duties too.
With a starting price of $46,900, it's also inexpensive enough to be a link between ordinary Japanese cars and high-quality Europeans.
To begin with, the A-class sticker is so close to the thick of Corolla, Mazda3 and Focus country that those who haven't set foot in a Mercedes-Benz showroom for a while might be quite surprised.
Make it a lease prospect and the incremental differences are remarkably friendly.
Thus the A-class links with its slightly larger B-class sibling, which starts at just under $50,000 as a "walk-in" model, as Mercedes-Benz New Zealand general manager Ben Giffin says.
"People can walk in having seen the advertised A-class sticker advertised and drive out with a C-class, because they seriously didn't know they could afford it."
This is the case in Australia, where the C-class, Mercedes-Benz's least expensive sedan (from $69,990 here) sells in similar numbers as the Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo.
Mercedes-Benz's new managing director for Australia-Pacific, Horst von Sanden, says this year will be "one of the most important years in our brand's New Zealand history".
"We will continue to guide the New Zealand prestige market in a direction that makes our vehicles and technology accessible to a broader demographic."
The new A-class engine lineup ranges from 90 kilowatts to 155kW, with standard equipment across the lineup of alloy wheels, radar-based collision prevention assist, a reversing camera, and brake assist, which is initiated to bring the car to a halt quickly and safely when the driver presses the brake pedal decisively.
The the lineup also includes attention assist, which detects drowsiness, as well as Pre-Safe, an occupant protection system that tensions seat belts, closes side windows and the sunroof, when fitted, and adjusts the power seats to an ideal position for maximum effectiveness of the restraint systems should a collision be deemed imminent.
Every A-Class protects its passengers with nine airbags, and the car itself is protected by parking sensors, active-parking assist and a reversing camera.
The $46,900 starter car is the A 180 Blue Efficiency model with a seven-slot dual clutch paddle-shift automatic transmission and Eco start-stop function. Its 1595cc engine produces 90kW and is rated at 5.8 litres per 100km and 135 grams per km of carbon dioxide in the European Union combined cycle.
As well as standard alloy wheels, the A 180 has a standard Audio 20 CD system, an MP3-capable CD player with USB connector and direct iPod connectivity.
The air-conditioning settings are also displayed on the telematics screen, as well as text messages and fuel consumption.
The Bluetooth function allows a mobile phone to be automatically transferred and wireless music reproduction is possible from Bluetooth-capable devices.
A step up from the A 180 is the $54,900 A 200, which uses the same engine, but is uprated to 115kW. It still manages 6.1L/100km and a 141g/km carbon-dioxide reading.
For the same price, the A 250 model is a turbodiesel of 1796cc volume. Its EU economy figure is 4.6L/100km, while the carbon-dioxide rating drops to 121g/km.
The range-topping $64,900 A 250 Sport can be recognised by its gloss-black-finished five-spoke 18-inch AMG light-alloy wheels and red-painted brake callipers.
The turbocharged 1991cc engine is rated 155kW. Its EU economy and emissions ratings are 6.6L/100km and 152g, respectively. The Sport also has a special AMG-developed front axle and suspension setup and an exhaust system tuned to make the right kind of noise for a performance-modified car.
Optional extras include the Becker Map Pilot navigation solution, at $1590, which uses the car's Audio 20 screen for visuals and the car's speakers for instructions.
Cabin options, fabric, leather and wheel choices, as well as available body colours and a Vision package that includes a full-length glass and shade roof, mean that A-class aspirants need never see an identical car on the road, which has always been a feature of upper-echelon Mercedes-Benz.
Options consist of packages ranging from $590 to $3190. They include a Command package, a cosmetic Night package and two kinds of AMG sport kits.
The Exclusive package is a combination of leather, heated seats and thermotronic dual-zone air-conditioning and a Driving Assistance bundle with radar cruise control, blind-spot assistance and lane-keeping assistance.
The cabin space allows rear seat occupants of 1.90 metres to sit behind front-seat users of similar height without feeling cramped, although the rear head room is not the tallest.
The boot is uncluttered but usefully sized, and the standard of fit and finish is right up there with full-sized rear-driven Mercedes-Benzes.
There are some examples of the A-class in New Zealand already for demonstration purposes and customer orders are being encouraged for delivery early this year.
We will be doing a full road test as soon as we get our hands on one.
- © Fairfax NZ News