Mercedes-Benz A-Class — Marking A Shift

Mercedes-Benz A-Class — Marking A Shift

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Mercedes-Benz India Limited (MBIL) has a flurry of new model introductions lined up this year as it plays to an aggressive growth strategy. The recently launched A-Class is an important link in the planned chain of events as it makes the affordability of the three-pointed-star more accessible. Kicking off a new segment, the A-Class is presently the smallest Mercedes, yet densely packed with technology. We drove the A 180 extensively through varying conditions to find out if it can do any wonders for the brand in India.

INTRODUCTION

The A-Class represents a changing face of Mercedes-Benz that is increasingly targeting the youth. The overall design, packaging and positioning of the vehicle too is in line with the demands of young buyers across geographies. It is also the second model based on the company’s Modular Front Architecture (MFA) platform, which will play a key role in business expansion in emerging countries.

One of the key highlights of the A-Class is the balance it strikes among efficiency, technology inclusion, visual appeal and driving pleasure. The focus on efficiency is reflected in the entire lifecycle of the vehicle, which is rated at about 160,000 km. The A180 BlueEFFICIENCY emits 5.7 tonne less CO2 than its predecessor. This is an improvement of 16 % and reflects the company’s 360º approach to lower emissions.

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DESIGN – REFLECTION OF A NEW THOUGHT

The A-Class clearly stands out among the larger Mercedes cars and is visually the most striking car in the company’s present mass market portfolio. The model is also the torchbearer of a new design language, which seems to be going down well with Indian consumers. With more than 400 bookings in less than two weeks of its launch, the A-Class is already the most popular model in the company’s tenure in India.

The low-slung road hugging design gives a dynamic touch to the car in the first look. The radiator grille has been given a striking treatment, which along with the sharp headlamps lends a concept car look to the vehicle. The body lines flowing through to the rear section help the car exude a distinctive road presence. A low roofline with a relatively small glass area further accentuates the concept car look. Even the day time running LEDs are designed to project an aggressive look, which the A-Class carries through very well.

The sleek design also has functional advantages in the form of efficient aerodynamics, owing to which the A-Class features a low drag coefficient of 0.27. This also translates into better fuel efficiency at high speeds.

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Right from the first look, the A-Class successfully manages to convey a new design philosophy, which reflects from the success it’s presently enjoying across geographies. We experienced the same during our test and came across many young car enthusiasts, who appreciated the new design of the A-Class.

POWERTRAIN – BALANCED EQUATION

In India, MBIL presently offers two engine options for the A-Class, the 180 CDI (diesel) with 109 hp on offer and the 180 CGI (petrol) with 122 hp. Our test car, a 180 Sport, was equipped with the 180 CGI, a 1.6 l turbocharged, direct injected engine, based on the fully aluminium M 270 engine platform. The M 270 is a versatile unit and features chain driven dual overhead camshafts operating four valves. The scalable nature of the engine means it can be used in larger vehicles too in a progressive manner.

Highlighting its flexibility is the fact that this engine can be installed transversally or longitudinally and be combined with front, rear or 4MATIC all wheel drive system. Even more, it can be paired with a manual, torque convertor or a dual clutch transmission. Such flexibility could play an instrumental role among many other factors to make the MFA platform successful in markets such as India.

With 200 Nm of torque spread over 1,250 to 4,000 rpm, there’s minimal lag off the line. Acceleration is decent in the low revs but is at its best between about 2,500 to 5,000 rpm, after which the engine feels a bit strained. Refinement levels, however, are of top class and at no point does one find the car out of the brand’s comfort characteristics.

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Although lack of turbo lag has almost become a cliché now in the premium segment, the implementation of the turbo in this engine deserves a special mention. The turbocharger pushes air into the combustion chambers at pressures up to 1.9 bar, with turbine speeds rated at a maximum of 230,000 rpm. A new manifold turbocharger module has been integrated into the front part of the engine, thereby resulting in better cooling. Individual exhaust ducting from the cylinders and a high exhaust temperature of up to 1,050º C improve the usage of exhaust gas energy. Further, a partial overlap in the opening times of the intake and exhaust valves causes some cold air to replace the hot gases in the exhaust manifold. This process, also known as scavenging, is claimed to better optimise the charging process in comparison with the conventional method.

The 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission isn’t something entirely new and does a good job of balancing efficiency and responsiveness. Downshifts aren’t particularly quick from this unit, even when in sports mode. The inclination towards efficiency is easy to notice while driving as it’s always trying to upshift at any given moment. During our test, we got a best fuel-efficiency of 9.2 km/l (on-board computer figures) in the city and 12.8 km/l on the highway. Overall, the A-Class with this powertrain manages to offer a drive experience, which would find favour among young buyers. The car checks all boxes in terms of refinement, technology advancement and efficiency. It does miss out a bit on the driving factor but makes that up through brilliant dynamics explained below.

DYNAMICS – FOCUS ON DRIVER

The A-Class comes across as a pleasant surprise after a few minutes of spirited driving, as the focus on driver rather than the rear occupant shows up. Given the exterior dimensions, one would expect the A-Class to be nimble and agile and it doesn’t disappoint at all. A key reason for this is the reduced centre of gravity and seating position than the earlier model. Body roll isn’t too pronounced and the car is able to maintain composure over a series of quick turns with ease.

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The car is equipped with a four-link rear axle, in which the exerted forces are absorbed by three control arms and one trailing arm on each wheel. The benefit of this arrangement is that longitudinal and lateral movements are independent of each other, leading to better handling and ride quality. The benefit of this solution is clearly visible on uneven surfaces, which the suspension tackles very well and keeps the cabin insulated from shocks. The electromechanical steering unit is pretty direct and offers decent feedback as speeds build up. This further adds up to the overall driver focused appeal of the vehicle. For a front-wheel drive car, the A-Class is quite a revelation, when it comes to handling.

INTERIORS & SAFETY – SETTING A BENCHMARK

The A-Class offers one of the best cabin design and quality in its price segment in the country right now. Materials used in the cabin are of high quality and the approach towards the cabin design deserves a special mention. The AMG styled seats not only lend a sporty character to the cabin but also offer good support all around. Being completely black, the cabin is in line with that of sports cars and the dark shade also accentuates the chrome parts’ appeal.

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Legroom at the rear is good but thigh support and head room fall a little short, but that’s more of a trade-off for the low-slung exterior design. A 14.7 cm colour screen offers the display for the COMAND Online multimedia systems and also adds to the dashboard’s visual appeal. The system now offers seamless connectivity with the iPhone through a purpose built cable in the elbow compartment.

Safety has always been a strength for Mercedes-Benz and the expertise of decades shows up in the A-Class in the form of 11 driver assistance systems apart from the usual passive safety systems in place. Key safety features include active parking assist, attention assist, ESP, acceleration skid control, hill start assist and seven airbags.

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Looking at the A-Class as a package there’s hardly anything more one could expect for. It comes loaded with safety & convenience technologies, and is yet to be matched in its price segment. It offers a fresh approach to comfort and connectivity and that should help it win some followers.

OUTLOOK

If initial numbers are anything to go by, the A-Class has had a great start in India. However, long-term sales are quite different from initial stages. A key advantage for the A-Class is that it has created a segment, which never existed in the country. It will also benefit from the fact that the company’s two main competitors are yet to launch models in the same segment. This advantage, however, won’t last long as BMW is going to launch the 1 Series shortly.

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Helping its case further is that the A-Class is a striking and youthful vehicle to look at, which will be seen by many as a dynamic statement. MBIL’s decision to load it to the gills in terms of features and technology is another positive as consumers in this segment are more sensitive towards value than initial buying cost. Completing the package is a competitive pricing of Rs 22.73 lakh for the 180 Sport and Rs 21.93 for the 180 CDI Style.

Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay