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Mercedes-Benz's long-awaited and much publicised baby has arrived and there's plenty about it to attract attention.
This new 'baby' is of course the A-Class and though it's no doubt an object of beauty in the eyes of its parents', its looks are quite startling and revolutionary compared to more conventional competitors.
However, there are a couple of good reasons why the A-Class looks so different to your average small five door hatchback. The first has to do with interior space and the second has to do with passive safety.
Tall car bodies mean more room for occupants and the A-Class is not only spacious, its fully adjustable and removable seating is also very adaptable in meeting varying requirements for occupants and luggage.
Part of the design brief for the A-Class was for it to provide occupant protection that was way above average for this size of car and the high, sandwich construction floor is there to allow the engine and transmission to slide safely underneath in the event of a major impact, and not to intrude into the passenger space.
Mercedes-Benz also says that the high seating position means occupants are safer in the event of a side impact and further claims that the A-Class provides safety levels equal to that of Mercedes' larger E-Class Executive sedan.
Passive safety is further enhanced by the A-Class's standard equipment dual front and side airbags, plus pretensioner seat belts with integrated force limiters on the front belts.
Active safety has received close attention (even more so after the well documented European "moose test" in which an A-Class inverted) and the car has traction control, electronic stability control, ABS brakes with electronic brake assist, and an enhanced handling package.
All this technology obviously adds cost and A-Class prices start at $37,900 for the Classic auto-clutch manual, with the Avantgarde costing $41,400. Full automatic transmission costs an extra $1,600 on the Classic and $1,500 on the Avantgarde.
As well as the abundance of safety equipment, A-Class buyers also get plenty of standard comfort and convenience features which include airconditioning, power steering, central locking, electric front windows, power adjustable and heated exterior mirrors, a six speaker sound system (which had very poor AM reception in the test car), front fog lamps and a first aid kit.
On the road, the A-Class provides a mixed driving experience. Performancefrom the fairly basic 1.6 litre engine is reasonable, but certainly nothing special.
The clutchless manual transmission is an interesting alternative but it doesn't really offer any significant benefits. In fact, it takes time to get used to its operation and when trickling along slowly in stop/start city traffic, some jerkiness in the delivery of power was noticeable.
The additional work Mercedes-Benz did after the "moose" test has no doubt improved handling and roadholding but there's no getting away from the fact that tall cars such as this don't inspire confidence when pushed hard through corners. Despite its stiffly sprung suspension (resulting in a very firm ride) the A-Class still feels top heavy and it can become quite nervous over choppy surfaces or when asked to change direct quickly.
However, with its 'sticky' low profile tyres and traction control, the A-Class displays good adhesion.
Even though the A-Class has only drum brakes at the rear, its braking performance during our testing was excellent.
Rating the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class has a lot to do with how you view its position in the marketplace.
For many people, the A-Class's pricing and the fact that it wears a Mercedes-Benz badge, will place it squarely in the lower luxury class. There, it's up against some fairly stiff competition, many of which eclipse it on things like performance, chassis dynamics, comfort, style and overall driving pleasure.
On the other hand, if you look at the A-Class as just another small European car, it offers excellent space, an extremely versatile seating and load combination, impressive safety credentials and plenty of advanced technology features, but all at a considerable price premium over products from the likes of Volkswagen, Opel (Holden), Peugeot and Citroen.
In the end, it will be up to individuals to decide whether the A-Class is worth its Australian price tag, and whether its looks, features, performance, and overall driving feel, satisfy their tastes and requirements.
Test vehicle supplied by Mercedes-Benz Australia.
|Body type||5-door hatchback|
Interior space and versatility
Driving characteristics no better than many cars costing half as much
|Country of manufacture||Germany|
|Warranty||Three years, unlimited km|
$37,900 - Classic auto-clutch manual
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||1.6 L|
|Induction||Sequential multipoint fuel injection|
|Claimed max power (kW)||75 kW @ 5250 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||150 Nm @ 4000 rpm|
|Wheel size||5.5J x 15 "|
|Width (including mirrors)||1719 mm|
|Fuel capacity||62 litres|
|Max towed mass (trailer plus load)||800 kg|
NRMA Theft Rating
|Points on scale 0 - 120 (high score is best)||84|
Acceleration - Test results
|50 - 80km/h||6.3 secs|
|60 - 100km/h||8.5 secs|
|0 - 80km/h||9.4 secs|
|0 - 100km/h||13.8 secs|
|Best recorded during testing||8.9 L/100km|
|Worst recorded during testing||10.1 L/100km|
|Average on test||9.3 L/100km|
|Distance to stop (from 80km/h)||28.0 metres|
|Interior noise at constant 80km/h||68 dB(A)|