IN the 20 years since it was first revealed, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class has evolved from the somewhat frumpy first-gen model which infamously overturned during the Elk Test, into a hatch with striking design, a segment leading interior, and the kind of tech which would make a Silicon Valley native weak at the knees.
It’s that technology which Mercedes-Benz was keen to highlight at the fourth-generation car’s reveal in Amsterdam. Discussions surrounding suspension tunes, engine efficiency, and chassis torsional rigidity took a backseat, as the new ‘MBUX’ system was thrust into the spotlight.
In simple terms, the ‘MBUX’ infotainment system is like an inbuilt virtual assistant, able to control almost all functions of the car through vocal prompts. Think along the lines of smartphone features like Siri, or Ok Google, but for your car.
A statement of ‘Hey Mercedes, I’m cold’ would see the car’s temperature raise by a couple of degrees, all the while the computer’s artificial intelligence system learning how to better understand your speech and preferences.
The interior of the fourth-gen A-Class is dominated by dual 10.5-inch touchscreens (the biggest of the class). Located in front of the driver, and stretching to the centre of the dash, the units can be configured to personal tastes, with Mercedes engineers and designers working to develop an intuitive menu system to minimise distraction from driving.
It was confirmed to Australian media that wireless Apple CarPlay will be available on all models in an effort to take on national rival BMW.
During its evolution, the A-Class has put on a few pounds, and this fourth-gen car is the largest yet, with a larger wheelbase and wider front track. The majority of the extra length has gone into increasing boot size – up 29 litres to 370 litres with the rear seats up.
However, there has also been work done to improve cabin space with more shoulder room (+9/+22 mm front/rear), elbow room (+35/+36 mm) and headroom (+7/+8 mm).
There are three different engines available at launch, the carryover 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine producing 165kW and 350Nm, an all-new 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol developed with Renault making 120kW and 250Nm, and a 1.5-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder putting out 85kW and 260Nm.
Each will be sold in varying states of tune depending on the badge.
While a six-speed manual gearbox will be offered in overseas markets, every Australian A-Class will be fitted with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, sending power to either the front, or all four wheels.
Why? Because we don’t buy enough three-pedal vehicles to justify the cost of bringing the manual Down Under.
A Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesperson was unable to confirm details regarding the full A-Class line-up in Australia.
However, Wheels understands the A200 will be the first model to launch locally, likely fitted with the 1.4-litre petrol engine, and will be due in the third quarter of 2018.
Final details on engine range and tunes are yet to be confirmed.
A new A45 AMG hot hatch isn’t due until next year, and will be joined by the slightly milder A35 AMG, which will sit between the rip-snorting flagship, and A250 4Matic in terms of power and sportiness. It was hinted to Wheels that the new AMG developed hot hatch version of the A-Class will come packing power levels not yet seen in the segment.
Underpinning the A-Class is an all-new front axle, with two different suspension set-ups at the rear. For front-drive models, and those with smaller engines, a torsion-beam is retained. However, the all-wheel drive models will come fitted with a new multi-link suspension system.
A visual resemblance to the large CLS sedan which was revealed last year is no coincidence, with the car’s designer Gordan Wagner telling Australian media the ‘predator face’ which the two share earmarks the duo as Mercedes’ most progressive stylistic offerings.
Wagner confirmed a further eight variants will be spun off the new A-Class architecture, which he stated would all look unique – denying any suggestion the hatch’s striking design could seep into other models in the Mercedes-Benz line-up.
Oh, and about that poor Elk Test result of the first-gen car - Mercedes-Benz wasn’t shy about pointing out how far the A-Class has come, with an entire elk-themed room and large sculpture incorporated into the reveal of the fourth-generation hatch.
What’s the cliché about Germans and a sense of humour?