Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - A-class - A160 5-dr hatch
Interior versatility, good engine performance
Room for improvement
Rear headroom tight, ride less supple than many competitors
16 May 2001
LAUNCHED in Australia in October, 1998, the A-Class is a hatchback like no other.
Shorter than a Barina but roomier than a VW Golf, the A160 is clearly an urban commuter.
Yet on the highways it drives more like an accomplished medium-sized sedan. The A160 feels solid and secure, ably tackling varying road conditions with ease.
The suspension, by struts at the front and a beam axle with trailing links and coil springs at the rear, allows the A-class to hustle through corners with only minor body roll, although because of the car's height it feels like more.
The ride is less supple than many competitors although this is compensated by relatively low noise levels and reasonable compliance that takes the sting out of most bumps.
Performance from the lightweight A160's 1.6-litre engine is good while the five-speed clutchless manual gear shift is smooth and well defined unless the driver tries fast shifts - in which case it begins to feel a little tardy. A fully automatic gearbox is optional.
The power-assisted steering is well weighted and communicative with a good feel back through the thick rim.
The A-Class sits on a ladder-frame chassis - which gives it its extremely strong structure - while the high floor of the car is a double layer "sandwich" construction.
This, together with the inclined engined, improves the safety performance of the car by enabling the engine and transmission to slide rearwards under the floor in a frontal impact.
It also improves side impact protection as the passengers sit above the impact inflicted by a normal car.
Behind the steering wheel, the feeling belies the car's dimensions with the high seating position and large glass areas providing good visibility.
Despite the radical body design with the long, sharply raked A-pillar and reverse angled C-pillar, the clever use of small glass areas improves sight lines in all directions.
Passenger space in the front is good although rear headroom is a bit tight and the knees-up seating becomes tiresome.
Noise/vibration/harshness levels are very low - even at high speeds - and the build quality is up to Mercedes standards with no squeaks or rattles to be heard.
The radical dash is functional, innovative, attractive and ergonomically sound with clear instruments and generally logical control placement. To some people the bright patterns and in places what appears to be slightly downmarket plastic may feel a little too cheap and cheerful.
Two models are available - the entry-level but well equipped Classic and more upmarket Avantgarde. Either way, as a new compact car class entrant the A160 defies its size in areas of safety, driveability, comfort, convenience and price.
- Automotive NetWorks 05/07/1999
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