New models - Mercedes-Benz - A-class
First drive: Benz's bigger, better new A-class
Mercedes-Benz launches a bigger, funkier new A-class hatch Down Under
6 May 2005
By TIM BRITTEN
MERCEDES-BENZ likes to think of its A-class model as a sort of automotive version of Olympic high jumper Dick Fosbury’s then controversial but now mainstream "Fosbury Flop", which took him to the heights of athleticism when he cleaned up the field at the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games.
The A-class might have challenged perceptions of how people thought a small car should look when it was introduced in October 1997, but the once-awkward dimensions have become almost commonplace now, with more than one million mini-Benzes sold since the launch eight years ago.
The new A-class, as you’d expect, has grown in all directions, answering criticisms from customers and would-be buyers.
It is 232mm lower and 45mm wider than the original short-wheelbase version, creating a massive increase in interior space while also changing the base proportions to make it a less awkward-looking car.
The A-class is not just a five-door compact hatch anymore either there’s now a base, three-door hatch that allows Mercedes to sneak in at just below $30,000 at entry-level.
The new A-class comes with the choice of three alloy four-cylinder engines, all essentially a basic, eight-valve design with a single overhead camshaft.
There’s the base 1.5-litre version producing 70kW and 140Nm, the 1.7-litre 85kW version with 155Nm, a 100kW 2.0-litre version with 185Nm and, later this year, the more adventurous 2.0-litre turbo version that produces 142kW and 280Nm.
Significantly, the new A-class offers the choice of five and six-speed manual transmissions – the latter only available with the turbo – plus a new CVT transmission available with all engine variants.
The A-class incorporates the safety engineering that it pioneered in the first version, including the "sandwich" type floor construction that both controls the deflection of the engine in a front-on collision away from and underneath the passenger compartment, and absorbs heavy impacts in a side collision.
The new A-class has been tested satisfactorily against an S-class Mercedes in crash-lab tests.
Mercedes research as shown A-class buyers favour extra space and comfort over the very basic proportions of the original model, so the designers have extended the car in two important directions – length and width - to make it more acceptable.
The wheelbase has gone up by 232mm which, coupled with the increase in body length, has resulted in 30mm more legroom. Headroom has also increased, by 51mm.
Mercedes-Benz says the proportion of female buyers in Australia is slightly higher than the general global average, up from 40 per cent of sales to 46 per cent locally.
The bulk of A-class sales are expected to comprise about 50 per cent A170 five-door models, with the more powerful 2.0-litre version accounting for around 40 per cent.
The entry-level A150 three-door will make up about 10 per cent of A-class sales. When the new car gets rolling with full deliveries, the company expects to sell around 1500 A-class annually - 50 per cent more buyers than the previous model attracted.
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