ROAD TEST

MERCEDES-BENZ A-CLASS

September 5, 2018 – Published in Design & Decor Autumn 2018 issue

Bonding with ‘your’ car

Words Malcolm J. Naudi

Just over 20 years ago, I was invited to accompany the owners of Kind’s – Auto Sales to the Brussels launch of a totally new model segment from Mercedes-Benz, the A-Class. At 3.6 m long, the first A-Class was clearly intended to be a city car built tall to incorporate high levels of safety with the spaciousness of a people carrier.


Looking at the A-Class today, one would be hard put to accept that the two models share the same name. For, while the second-generation A-Class from 2004 followed in the footsteps of the first, there was a total change of heart (possibly because of pressure from other luxury carmakers who were gate-crashing into the party) with the third-generation model from 2013.


Enter the fourth-generation car and the sleek, stylish five-door hatchback that I had before me is a fully grown-up version of the model it replaces with increased overall dimensions, more spacious interior, bigger boot and lower kerb weight. To be more specific, overall length is now 4,419 mm, width (excluding door mirrors) is 1,796 mm and height is 1,440 mm on a 2,729 mm wheelbase.


At 1,375 kg, the car is 20 kg lighter, there is 29 litres more of boot volume, now at 370 litres, there is more shoulder room (+9/+22 mm front/rear), elbow room (+35/+36 mm) and headroom (+7/+8 mm), as well as easier entry to the rear.


The exterior of the new A-Class takes the Mercedes-Benz design philosophy of sensual purity to the next step, representing sportiness, dynamism and emotion. The progressive front design, with a low bonnet, optional flat LED headlamps with chrome elements and torch-like daytime driving lamps ensures an emotionally appealing and alluring appearance.


The striking radiator grille, with Mercedes star, whose silhouette opens out towards the base as a reinterpretation of its predecessor, features optional pins in a diamond look and a central silver louvre to underline the model’s sportiness. The larger wheel arches, that can accommodate wheels from 16- to 19-inches, further emphasise this trait.


The car looks wider at the rear 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 tail lamps are in two sections. Aerodynamically, it is now leading its segment and is also improved on its predecessor.


Apart from the dimensions and aesthetics, it is in the electronics that this A-Class makes the biggest step forward. There is a completely new multimedia system, the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX), with learning capabilities thanks to AI (artificial intelligence) and infinite customisable possibilities.


You can access the system through voice control by using the keyword “Hey Mercedes!” Alternatively, you access the various functions through three options: the touchscreen, the optional touchpad on the centre console and touch control buttons in the steering wheel (one on either side). Incidentally, in a first for Mercedes, the steering wheel is the same as that on the S-Class, marking a departure in which the technology percolates down from the upper models.


The navigation display with the MBUX has optional augmented reality technology and the MBUX is where the new Mercedes me services are accessed. There is a choice of sizes, either two 7-inch displays, one 7- and one 10.25-inch display or two 10.25-inch displays.


My 75-km test route with the latest A-Class on a sweltering August day (the mercury hit 42°C at one point) took me from the Kind’s showroom in Lija to Swieqi and then north via the Coast Road and the St Paul’s Bay Bypass to Ghajn Tuffieha, then through Manikata to the top of Ta’ Pennellu and on to Xemxija, where I got caught in some slow-moving traffic since a crane was blocking the main road.


I then returned to Swieqi via the St Paul’s Bay Bypass and the Coast Road. After lunch I headed south to the Three Cities but could not get into Vittoriosa since they were in festa mode. So I drove on to Kalkara, past Bighi and on to SmartCity and headed back to Swieqi before returning the car to Kind’s via Tal-Balal.


The model on test, the A180d Progressive Line with 7G-DCT double clutch automatic gearbox, including paddle shift manual change on the steering wheel, handled all these mixed driving conditions with assurance. This 1,461 cc four-cylinder Diesel has a power output of 116 hp, (more importantly for Malta) 260 Nm of torque (pulling power), combined fuel consumption of 4.1 l/100 km, and CO2 emissions (combined) of 108 g/km.


I almost felt, with all the electronics and safety features on board, that I had someone (worse than the wife) looking over my shoulder to make sure I would not put a foot wrong. Rest assured, parents, if your kid is driving this car, they are as safe as one can possibly be.


For the A-Class features the very latest driving assistance systems with co-operative driver support, giving it the highest level of active safety in its 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: improved camera and radar systems allow it to ‘see’ up to 500 m ahead. It also uses map and navigation data for assistance functions.


Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC as part of the Driving Assistance package can support the driver in numerous route-specific situations, and predictively and conveniently adjust the speed, e.g. when approaching bends, junctions or roundabouts. Also on board are Active Emergency Stop Assist and intuitively understandable Active Lane Change Assist.


There is 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.

 

From a practical perspective, this is a car that can even park itself, thanks to the optional Active Park Assist. I sat in the car with Steven, Kind’s sales manager, as the car parallel parked and then even parked ‘straight in’ a parking box, as one would do in a car park. Amazing.


The starting price for the A200 with a 1,332 cc four-cylinder petrol engine (160 bhp with 250 Nm of torque) mated to a six-speed manual gearbox is €31,500. You can also opt for hire purchase over 60 months, paying €309 per month with an initial deposit of €15,750.


Standard features include a diamond grille with black pins, silver-painted louvre and chrome insert, side sill panels painted in the vehicle colour and chrome-plated waistline trim strip. The 5-twin-spoke 16-inch light-alloy wheels are in vanadium silver and the halogen headlamps have integral LED daytime running lamps.


Interior features include luxury seats (there is an extender to support the thigh in the driver’s seat) with a choice of seat covering, air-conditioning with Thermatic – automatic climate control, a multifunction sports steering wheel including Touch Control buttons on left and right, a folding armrest in the centre console for driver and front passenger, Keyless-Go starting function, and no fewer than three USB interfaces.


Among the technological features are Active Braking Assist, Speed Limit Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Attention Assist, the Mercedes Benz Emergency call system, a tyre pressure monitoring system, Dynamic Select with the drive programmes ECO, Comfort, Sport and Individual, status display for rear seat belts in the instrument cluster, cruise control with speed limiter, speed-sensitive power steering and sensors to automatically activate the windscreen wipers and lights.


The car I had on test had the following extras: parking sensors, a reversing camera, Media Display (larger 10.25-inch centre display), metallic Mountain Grey paint, LED headlights, dark tinted privacy glass, Traffic sign assist, GPS navigation, Touchpad, extended MBUX functions and lowered Comfort suspension.


Among the host of other optional extras are a panoramic sliding sunroof, Active Parking Assist + Parktronic, Night Package, Ambient Lighting Package, dual zone climate control and keyless entry. The A200 is also available with an automatic transmission and there is also an A250 Automatic (with other engine options to be available soon).


This is a car that even those who are technologically challenged can get into, start and go. The automatic transmission allows you to concentrate on the road ahead. The MBUX will grow on you and eventually you will develop an emotional attachment to the car (as will those members of your family and friends who will want to borrow it). There is so much to discover, so head down to Kind’s and take one for a test drive.

Visit the Auto Sales showroom in Lija to book a test drive, or book online by visiting: www.autosales.com.mt

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