The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, launched at the Wild Coast this weekend, is much more trendy than its predecessor, but does its interior layout and on-road performance match the stylish exterior?

With more than 200 new A-Class cars on show and 800 members of the public in attendance, Mercedes Benz South Africa staged the biggest launch this country has ever seen to introduce their new entry-level range to the local market.... The Wild Coast was overrun by baby Three-pointers as Mercedes-Benz proudly showed off its new challenger in the sub-compact market.


A bold new look features new shapier lines and contours that are distinct and easily recognizable on the road. Front headlights look sleek and fresh while the rear design gives it a compact and squat stance. A deep crease line, running from the rear light cluster, angles downward toward the front wheel arch and adds to the compact and sporty look of the new car. These looks belie the fact that the new A-class is both longer and wider than it's highly successful predecessor.


Sporty 16-inch alloy rims, standard on all three new models, round off the exterior package. No longer offered as either a single or long base version the new baby Mercedes is available with three all new, four cylinder engine options. The A170, offering 85 kW at 5500 r/min, generates 155 N.m of torque between 3 500 and 4 000 r/min from its 1 699 cc petrol engine while the new A180 CDI introduces a turbo diesel option to the A-class range for the first time. This unit delivers 80 kW at 4 200 r/min and an impressive 250 N.m of torque at between 1 600 and 2 000 r/min.


Aside from the pleasing low down power that this option brings to the party, Mercedes Benz is looking to offer exceptional fuel economy too. The turbo-diesel A is mated with a six-speed manual gearbox.


The petrol-engined A 200 tops the engine line up for the range and, with its five-speed manual shift option, this 100 kW unit delivers 185 N.m of torque between 3 500 and 4 000 r/min. This should be good to offer a claimed zero to 100 km/h time of just under 10 seconds. Autotronic, Mercedes Benz's brand new continuously variable transmission, is offered on all three models while different package and design specs are distinguished by Classic, Elegance or Avantgarde options.

Again the "sandwich" body construction concept has been employed for greater front and side impact protection. The chassis uses a parabolic rear axle, which offers precision tracking and good anti-roll support while cornering. Fitted as standard too is the newly developed selective damping system, which adapts shock absorber forces to driving conditions.


The interior of the new A-class, almost unfortunately, is not as dramatic and fresh as the exterior. Instrumentation is simply laid out and easy to read and operate. A multi-function steering wheel is standard throughout the range.


The high drivers seating position is carried through from the previous models meaning drivers sit slightly more elevated than in other vehicles in this segment. The seat itself is height adjustable and, together with the rake and height adjustable steering wheel, it is easy to find a comfortable driving position.


Power steering is operated by an electric motor, which numbs the feeling through the wheel slightly. This provides favourable light steering at low speeds but can feel too light at cruising speeds requiring constant correction.


The A-Class' safety specification comprises adaptive two-stage front airbags, belt tensioners for the front and outer rear seats, adaptive belt force limiters and head/thorax side airbags.

Optional extras include an automatic air conditioning system, the latest Comand APS system and bi-xenon headlights.


Prices:

A 170 R179 000

A 180 CDI R199 000

A 200 R209 000