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Driven: Benz sticks with A180 as price leader

Smooth operator: Mercedes’ facelifted A-Class gets adjustable dampers to counter criticism of a too-hard suspension.

Cheaper Benz A160 ruled out for now as improvements keep A-Class sales humming


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22 Jan 2016

MERCEDES-BENZ Australia is resisting the temptation to import a lower-powered version of its just-released A-Class Series II to help offset a range-wide price and specification increase that has pushed up the price of the base A180 by $1300 to $37,200 plus on-road costs.

Speaking to GoAuto at the launch of the company’s smallest model near Melbourne this week, the company’s senior manager for public relations and communications, David McCarthy, said that while introducing the A160 was not entirely off the agenda, it was unlikely to happen anytime soon.

“It’s always something that we’d consider, but we’re not actively considering it at the moment,” he said. “We’re happy with the volume we’re doing, and there’s always a risk of cannibalisation (stealing sales from the volume-selling A180).

“Each car we bring has to have a sustainable business case. I think you could quite easily (do one) for an A160, but not right now.

“We’ve looked in the past, but because it would basically be a detuned version of the A180, there would not be a lot of saving there, and we’d actually have to take some content out, and that’s not something we do lightly.

“We might actually end up with a car potentially with a lower margin than you need to run your business.” Mr McCarthy also scotched talk of a manual gearbox option, as released along with the rest of the Series II facelift at last September’s Frankfurt motor show in some European markets, revealing that it was also investigated before this-generation (W176) A-Class was launched in Australia in 2013 to achieve a lower price point.

The fact that consumers in the premium small-car category overwhelmingly prefer an automatic transmission ultimately killed that one.

“There’s not that many manual buyers (in this segment),” he said. “We’ve done some market research as well, asking that if instead of it being, say, $37,000 it would be $35,000 would they buy one, and they said ‘oh no, we wouldn’t buy one, we’d want the automatic’.” As revealed late last year, the A-Class Series II’s price increases (ranging from $1000 to $2300 depending on the variant) bring tangible improvements as compensation, including adjustable dampers that seek to silence criticism that the previous standard suspension set-up was too hard.

Dynamic Select is part of a system that allows the driver to collectively or individually adjust engine and transmission responses, suspension firmness, steering weight and air-conditioning strength via four modes – Comfort, Sport, Eco and Individual.

In the case of the AMG A45 4Matic all-wheel drive A-Class flagship, which gains more power and torque (up 15kW and 25Nm respectively) a track-orientated Race Mode is also available, introducing a locking front differential for improved high-performance cornering traction. Here, Mercedes-Benz charges $2100 more than before, taking the price to $77,900.

In between are the mid-range A200 (from $42,800) and A200d diesel (from $43,300) that rise $1000 apiece, while the popular A250 Sport 4Matic’s $53,500 reflects the largest leap ($2300) over its predecessor.

Sporting what Mercedes calls a “diamond-cut” grille, reshaped bumpers, LED headlights on 4Matic models, fresh tail-light lenses with optional LED inserts, and a different rear diffuser with integrated exhaust outlets, the latest A-Class’s visual changes are minor.

A fixed 8.0-inch screen – an inch bigger than before – introduces Apple CarPlay to Australian-bound Mercedes vehicles, while a concerted effort has been made to improve the quality of materials and trim.

Altered instrumentation markings, galvanised switchgear, and an adjustable 60mm increase in front-seat cushion depth round out the changes inside.

As before, all engines employ four cylinders, a turbocharger and idle-stop tech, with the carryover 1595cc 1.6-litre direct-injection twin-cam unit producing 90kW and 200Nm in the A180 for a 5.8 litre per 100km and 135 grams per kilometre average, or 115kW and 250Nm for 6.1L/100km and 141g/km in the A200.

The A200d features a 100kW/300Nm 2143cc turbo-diesel offering a combined 4.2L/100km and 111g/km outcome.

All the lower-end W176s, of course, are front-wheel drive, employing a revised version of the brand’s 7G-DCT dual-clutch transmission promising faster, smoother and more intuitive ratio changes.

The A250 Sport leverages a 1991cc petrol engine showing 160kW (up 5kW), 350Nm, 6.7L/100km and 156g/km, while the AMG A45 version of this powerplant boosts that to 280kW/475Nm. Fuel consumption is 7.3L/100km and CO2 emissions 171g/km.

Finally, the 2016 A-Class ushers in revised driver-assist technology, including Adaptive Brake Assist with autonomous partial braking for reduced rear-end collision risk now part of the Collision Prevention Assist Plus proximity warning and braking assistance system there is also a better Attention Assist device, while the LED headlights have improved illumination.

Like its closest competitors – the Audi A3 Sportback, BMW 1 Series, and Volkswagen Golf – the A-Class is fitted with electric power steering, a MacPherson strut front end and multi-link rear suspension set-up.

The CLA will gain similar changes in about September this year.

Although the A-Class was gazumped by the A3 (3629 versus 5443 units) during 2015, the latter included the four-door sedan according to Mr McCarthy, the hatch numbers put the Mercedes ahead of the Audi equivalent. The BMW 1 Series managed to find 2307 customers, ahead of the B-Class and 2 Series Active Tourer’s tallies of 1967 and 1765 sales respectively.

While the company declined to divulge volume projections, an uplift in sales is expected.

“We think A-Class will grow,” Mr McCarthy said.

2016 Mercedes-Benz A-Class pricing*
A180 (a)$37,200
A200 (a)$42,800
A200 d (a)$43,300
A250 Sport 4MATIC (a)$53,500
A45 AMG (a)$77,900
*Excludes on-road costs

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