A-Class attacks fresh niche
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, for the new model, the third car to wear the "A" monicker, is a whole different kettle of fish.
It is still practical and it remains a useful price of kit for the into-town commute, but it is an altogether more sporty wee 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 quality Europeans.
To begin with, the A-Class sticker is so close to the thick end 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", and Ben Giffin recounts: "People can walk in, having seen the advertised A-Class sticker, and drive out with a C-class, because they seriously didn't know they could afford it."
This is already the case in Australia, where the C-class, Mercedes-Benz's least expensive sedan (from $69,990 in New Zealand), sells in similar numbers to the Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo.
"2013 will be one of the most important years in our brand's New Zealand history," says Mercedes-Benz's new managing director for Australia-Pacific, Horst von Sanden.
"We will continue to do what we do well and that's 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, including radar-based collision prevention assist and a reversing camera, as well as brake assist, which is initiated to bring the car to a halt quickly and safely as soon as the driver operates the brake pedal decisively.
There is also attention assist, which detects drowsiness, across the lineup, as well as pre-safe, a preventive occupant-protection system that tensions seat belts, closes side windows and the sunroof, 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.
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 makes 90kW and is rated at 5.8 litres per 100km and 135g/km of carbon dioxide in the European Union combined cycle.
As well as standard alloy wheels, the A 180 gets a standard Audio 20 CD system, an MP3-capable CD player with USB connector and direct iPod connectivity.
The settings for the air-conditioning 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 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, and the carbon-dioxide rating 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, while its EU economy and emissions ratings are 6.6L/100km and 152g/km, respectively. The Sport also gets 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.
The Map Pilot can be updated via an internet portal.
Cabin options, fabric, leather and wheel choices, as well as available body colours and a Vision package, which includes a full-length glass and shade roof, mean that A-Class aspirants need never see an identical car on the road and this has always been a feature of upper echelon Mercedes-Benz.
Options consist of packages ranging from $590 to $3190. They range from a Command package, a cosmetic Night package, as well as two kinds of AMG sport kits.
There's also the Exclusive package, 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 help.
Cabin space allows rear seat occupants of 1.90 metres to sit behind front seat users of similar height without feeling cramped, although rear head room is not the tallest. The boot is uncluttered but usefully sized, while the whole 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 next year.
We will do a full road test as soon as we get our hands on an A-Class long enough to put some serious kilometres on it.
You can see the A-Class in the All Stars road show, a touring troupe of Mercedes-Benzes, comprising two A-Class models and a CLS Shooting Brake straight from the Australian International Motor Show, along with an SLK 55 AMG and SL 500.
The road show visits authorised Mercedes-Benz dealerships to offer sneak peeks at these vehicles, which will shape Mercedes-Benz here for 2013.
The all stars dealer schedule includes:
Ingham Prestige Hamilton: November 23-25.
Mercedes-Benz Wellington: November 28-29.
Armstrong Prestige Christchurch: December 7-10.
Armstrong Prestige Dunedin: December 14-16.
Houston Prestige Nelson: December 20-26.
Mercedes-Benz Hawke's Bay: January 11-13.
Ingham Sears Tauranga: January 18-20.