Report by JULIET MCGUIRE | Images © MERCEDES-BENZ SOUTH AFRICA

It’s been 21 years since the first Mercedes-Benz A-Class was launched and we have certainly come a long way since then. JULIET MCGUIRE went to find out just how far at the local launch of the fourth generation in Cape Town.

The first-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class, launched back in 1997, was not what one would consider a raging sales success. If not only due to it toppling over during a moose test, it could be argued that the car was just too ahead of its time. Nevertheless, Mercedes-Benz thankfully went back to the drawing board with the third generation A-Class back in 2013 andproduced a product that would go on to sell three million units.

HOW DOES IT LOOK?

The third generation saw a drastic change in design that attracted a younger buyer to this compact hatch. Now, the entirely new fourth generation cues the brand’s next step in its design philosophy, called Sensual Purity, which Mercedes describes as purist and surface-accentuating.

Although lighter, the new car is bigger than its predecessor  – 120 mm longer, 16 mm taller, and 6 mm wider. It has a sportier yet more mature look about it, and this is precisely what Mercedes-Benz set out to achieve wanting its product to offer more utility value.

AND ON THE INSIDE?

It feels like you could be sitting in an S-Class when you hop into the A-Class cabin, and that’s because, well, much of the technology found in the S-Class has trickled down into the brand’s entry-level offering. The build quality is noticeably more upmarket, and if you owned the previous generation, you would notice the improvement of visibility in this model. Thanks to taller and squarer windows, visibility is 30% better. Customers should also be happy to know that the luggage capacity has been increased by 29% to a total of 370 litres.

When it comes to the technology offered in this premium hatch, there is nothing quite like it on the market just yet (BMW plans to launch Personal Assistant in March 2019). The new MBUX multimedia system, which underpins the infotainment system, utilises a rather impressive voice control system that can be activated with the words, “Hey Mercedes”. It acts like a personal assistant, and with that one phrase, you can adjust the air conditioning, send a text message, heat your seats, or find the quickest route out of heavily congested traffic. What’s even more impressive is that, thanks to artificial intelligence technology, the system will learn and adapt to suit the user. As Mercedes-Benz’s Marketing Director, Selvin Govender, says, “You shouldn’t have to adapt to your car, your car should adapt to you. In fact, your car should be just like you. With the new A-Class, achieving this is as simple as striking up a conversation…making it the ultimate intelligent companion.” Another impressive bit of technology is what Mercedes-Benz calls ‘Augmented Reality Navigation’, which effectively uses a live camera feed of the road ahead and displays this with overlaid road names, direction arrows and other useful information, making navigation that much easier.

WHAT TO CHOOSE?

You have a choice of two variants, namely the A200 and the A250 Sport. A diesel model is expected in South Africa in early 2019. Both the A200 and the A250 boast new engines with a 1.33-litre unit powering the A200 while a 2.0-litre engine sits under the bonnet of the A250 Sport. With 120 kW of power and 250 Nm of torque pushing the A200, this small engine provides more than enough oomph. The throttle is responsive, and with minimal lag, this engine is up to the challenge of being a daily commuter.

It starts to show some of its weaker points when heading out on the open road as it gets a bit noisy at the national speed limit, but not enough to put buyers off completely. The ride quality will make up for any shortcomings of the engine, which is something previous A-Class owners will welcome. Mercedes-Benz predicts that four out of five A-Class models sold will be an A200. If it is a sporty thrill you are after, however, you could consider the A250, but then again, you could also wait for the AMG offerings that will arrive in 2019. 

LAST WORD The new A-Class has brought a new standard of luxury to the premium hatchback market with technology only experienced in much more upmarket vehicles. It now has a wow factor. It looks better, drives better, and overall offers customers a more mature yet highly functional product. But all this doesn’t come cheap. Pricing starts at R499,000 for the A200 and R593,300 for the A250, and that’s before you start ticking those optional extras boxes. 

“You shouldn’t have to adapt to your car, your car should adapt to you. In fact, your car should be just like you.”