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Mercedes’ A-grade B-class revolution

B-cause: BlueZero Detroit concept previews next-gen B-class hatch.

Fresh platform and a likely AWD MX-5 rival spearhead Mercedes’ small-car revival

20 Jan 2009

MERCEDES-BENZ is expected to unveil its next-generation B-class small car in 2011 with an all-new front-wheel-drive platform that might include a relatively affordable two-seater convertible.

However, while the Concept BlueZero show car displayed at last week’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit is the strongest indicator yet as to what the blocky five-door hatchback will look like, GoAuto has learned that the “eco” versions of the next B-class will diverge from the regular internal combustion versions by retaining the old sandwich-style platform.

Little is known about the new front-wheel-drive architecture – which should also find its way under the 2011 A-class replacement – other than that the lack of the controversial sandwich floor should improve space efficiency in the car, result in less boxy designs and lower the centre of gravity for improved dynamic capabilities.

The latter should get a fillip with the expected adoption of a more sophisticated multi-link independent rear suspension to take on the sportier BMW 1 Series, instead of the current B-class’ parabolic rear axle and coil springs arrangement.

All-wheel and even rear-wheel-drive capability is believed to have been developed for the new platform, although it should feature a regular transverse-mounted engine.

4 center image Left: Mercedes Benz 2000 SLA Vision roadster.

One Mercedes-Benz source said that “…the new front-drive platform will lend itself to many new bodystyle options”, which may include the long-rumoured sub-SLK two-seater convertible in the vein of the 2000 SLA Vision roadster.

Based on the original, W168 A-class platform, it was one of the stars of the German company’s 2000 Detroit motor show. However, Mercedes got cold feet and aborted the project.

If a modern SLA is spun off the new small-car platform, it might use Mercedes new “twin-charge” turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder family of internal combustion petrol engines.

Mercedes is reportedly in talks with arch rival BMW about sharing the development costs of this engine family for use in a future sub-1 Series range of environmental city car models being mooted by various sources.

We understand that Mercedes’ in-house performance arm, AMG, may even release a works version of the new engine family, driving all four wheels, to take on the likes of the Volkswagen Golf R32 and Ford Focus RS.

Meanwhile, as we reported late last year, the other end of the new B-class range – BlueZero – will leverage the 12-year-old sandwich-floor platform to accommodate the various environmental drivetrains being developed by Mercedes.

These include the E-Cell electric BlueZero, the BlueZero F-Cell fuel-cell hydrogen car, and a petrol-electric hybrid known as BlueZero E-Cell Plus, with all three employing the latest development of liquid-cooled lithium-ion batteries to provide optimum power output and recharging times.

Research and development chief Thomas Weber confirmed there would be two Mercedes small-car architectures in the future.

“The modified sandwich-floor platform provides the perfect basis for a wide model range with electric drive systems,” he said.

“We are also developing a new, additional platform for future compact models with power units based on optimised internal combustion engines.

“The intelligent networking of both architectures enables us to develop our product portfolio extremely flexibly and efficiently.”

Read more:

Benz plans two new compact cars

Baby Benz may go RWD

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