Mercedes Benz A 180 Sport
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Welcome the baby Mercedes... No kidding!

 

Today, we find ourselves in an age of concept styling. Gone are the days when a concept car was a trip of fantasy. A show off of what the company can do but not necessarily showing off where the company and its products are headed. The actual car that would hit the production line would be as far away from the concept as fantasy and reality are in our routine mundane lives.

No longer. Now when a company showcases a concept car, it stands for a vision. A vision of where the company is headed. The cars that hit the road are as close to the conceptualized variant as can be. And that makes these times very exciting indeed.

The A Class Mercedes concept was showcased at the Auto Expo 2012 at New Delhi. That was one hell of a design. This is how it looked:

And this is how the real, breathing, flesh and blood version looks:

Brilliant!


Design:

The main attractions of the design of the A class is, with little doubt, the funky radiator grill. None of the German car makers are know to shell out anything which is outright trendy. There is always a tilt towards being sophisticated. But here, with the A Class, they have managed to strike the balance between offering something visually futuristic, slightly funky and yet mature. We had noticed this grill on the concept but were so sure that the actual car would not carry it. Well we were wrong and thank God for that. Once you are done with admiring the grill, you notice the LED treatment to the front light console. The positioning lamps, turn indicators and intelligent headlamps. Extremely attractive. The front bumper adds to the sporty aggressive feel of the car. Take a look at the side profile and you will notice the design lines and slightly unconventional creases. Again, identical to the ones we found on the concept. The proportions of the A class are slightly different compared to most hatches found today. The passenger cabin is farther away from the front axle. When you sit in the driver’s seat, a long bonnet lies ahead of you. The feel is more sports car like than a routine hatch. The overhangs beyond the front tyres are slightly higher as well. This design achieves one more important thing. It manages to keep the center of gravity lower than in conventional hatches. On the whole, the rear is a little bland but overall, this car is sure to make heads turn in admiration.

Interiors:

There is something about a Mercedes. They way it makes the occupants feel special. The air of luxury that encapsulates you when you are sitting in a Mercedes is something else. Some cars might make you feel racy, some might make you feel as though you are in a spaceship or a plane cockpit. A Mercedes pampers you with luxury. Having learnt this from the other Mercedes cars we have been fortunate to drive, we were excited about this baby Merc. This one sure lives up to that reputation. There isn’t a single panel in the passenger cabin that is not covered with leather. An all black cabin with dashes of brush aluminum, steel and a bit of chrome. Extremely luxurious! Once you are able to get your eyes off the steering wheel, you notice the large LED panel in the centre of the instrument console. This one is not integrated into the dash or doesn’t pop out but sticks out right in the center. The air-conditioner vents are straight out of the SLS AMG. Yup! They are the mini periscope inspired circular vents. You actually need to adjust them to experience how well they are designed. Epic stuff! The seats are very similar in design to race seats but with very high quality of leather treatment and cushion. In addition to the luxury quotient, there is one more prominent theme to the cabin. It manages to set your mood immediately to feeling Racy!

You find the usual circular dial to navigate through the infotainment screen but no gear lever. Mercedes has moved the gear lever of the automatic transmission to a small stalk to the right of the steering wheel where you would normally find the wash wipe controls in any European car.

To the left of the steering is just one chunky stalk which now hosts the wash wipe controls, the turn indicators, the high-low beam controls! All this amalgamation works well until you need to control the rear wiper which is slightly unconventional and requires a bit of getting used to. There is also a small stalk for the cruise control.

While you are looking at all this, you tend to notice small and fairly insignificantly placed flappy paddle gear shifters. Wow! And no wonder that I did not feel racy before! How I wish they were more prominent. Most cars with automatic headlights have sensors that turn the lights on quickly but are not as sensitive while turning them off. No such issue with the A Class. Also, as the headlights come on, if they stay on for considerable amount of time, the map in the infotainment system turns to a night mode.

 

In traffic of the city, one often needs to engage the parking brake when stationary at a red light. In the A Class, once you bring the car to rest, if you re-press the brake pedal, the ‘HOLD’ function gets activated which mimics the use of parking brake while stationary at a signal. When you want to start off, just press the gas pedal and off you go! A conventional parking brake is placed under the steering column in the form of a compact lever.

The seats are very comfortable with the right balance of stiffness and cushion. The same holds true for the rear bench as well. This car can seat four very comfortably with an exceptional fifth person. The view of the front half of the cabin from the rear seat is almost adrenalin pumping! I doubt you could make a petrolhead sit in the rear for too long! There is also the sun/moon roof. Switch to the moon roof and the entire cabin makes you go awwww. Perfect. The driver seat has electronic adjustment controls with memory settings. Satnav is a standard! This car is seriously loaded! If you compare the standard equipment, this car has more features packed in compared to the fully loaded C Class Avantgarde! Wow! We have spoken so much about a car without even stating a word about its drive. This can only happen in a Mercedes.

There are some little things that stand out unfavourably. In Indian conditions wherein you can expect traffic from any direction, the side view mirrors are a tad small and the view in the rear view mirror is extremely limited with all the three headrests of the rear bench of seats. For any presentable view, you have to lower the center headrest which means one more thing. Seat a fifth passenger and his or her head takes away the rear view.

Engine and powertrain:

The A Class is offered with two engine options. A 1600cc, 122 bhp petrol engine which generates 200Nm of torque from as low as 1250 rpm! The other option is a 2143cc, 110 bhp common rail diesel engine which generates 250 Nm of torque from 1400 rpm. The equipment list on both the variants is identical. The variant handed over to us was the petrol variant. This variant weight about 1400 kgs and that is an fair power to weight ratio for an ordinary city-going hatch.

This petrol engine is refined and quiet. In fact the engine manages to put up a sophisticated face even at very high revs which we felt is always the place to allow the engine to let its hair down a little bit so to say. But this one does not.

Let us explore the powertrain through the three transmission modes available viz: Economy, Sport and Manual.

We first engaged the Economy mode. Routine treatment to the 7 speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. Upward gear shifts at around 2000 rpm. We found this mode the best option when it comes to stop start city traffic. It works well with the regular city driving demands. The downshift in the Economy mode is also not very eager which can be a sore point sometimes. It also manages to give you that surge of power for the urgent overtake which in our opinion is an important responsibility of an automatic gearbox. If you do decide to stick to the automatic mode even on a highway for some reason, this is the mode to opt for. Ensures that you get fairly linear power delivery with one flipside which we will come to when we speak about the Manual.

The next option which we decided to explore was the Sport mode. Sports mode in most more expensive cars does things to the throttle response, the steering, the suspension and the chassis. Nothing of this sort in the A Class. All that happens is that the gear upshift happens at much higher rpms as compared to the sober upshift at 2000 rpm in the Economy. This Sport mode is very similar to the one in the C Class. It turns the car into a drag racer which can only be good if a drag race is what you are engaging in. This one renders the car sluggish in the city as for most city rev ranges, no upshift happens and even on the highway, you are seldom revving the car beyond 3000 rpm in every gear! Spent over two days in the car and still fail to identify a situation wherein we were tempted to engage this mode.

Keeping the best for the last, we present to you the Manual mode. Controlled with the two delicate and inconspicuously placed flappy paddle shifters behind the steering, this mode is the transmission mode that brings the A Class to life! The A Class employs a dual clutch system with two separate gearboxes for the odd and even gears. When you are in a particular gear, this system keeps the gear for the next upshift and downshift prepared for being engaged which results in much reduced shift times. We recommend this Manual mode not only on the highway but also when in the city and lucky to be blessed with some free flowing traffic. The quick gear shifts and aggressive gear ratios give you all the control you need over the power delivery. If you are on highways that are not very wide, you do encounter situations when you have to slow down, downshift and then get to building momentum again. Now this gear box assists you so well that you just do not lose any time and before you realize you are soaring again! We drove over 300 kms on a narrow national highway weaving through obstacles while in this Manual mode and ever since couldn’t stop ourselves from raving about it! What it does better than the Economy mode is that sometimes you can find the upshifts in the Economy mode a bit lazy, lacking in the urgency on the highway. No such issues with the Manual. Phenomenal! This mode truly does justice to what lies below the bonnet.


Ride and handling:

A properly loaded car with a powerful engine mated with a reasonably capable gearbox which is quite awesome in the manual mode (we could repeat that a few more times without being apologetic about it). All these factors set it up quite nicely. Now there is just one aspect that remains to be assessed. And this one, in our opinion can be the make or break. Ride and Handling. We petrolheads could, on some day, maybe,could  make do with a slightly underpowered car but a car that handles poorly is such a turn off and that is mainly because it leaves the other favourable attributes undone. Many a powerful cars which handle poorly have made it to the list of epic fails worldwide. But thankfully this is not the one. It is far from that.

This baby Mercedes has a more direct steering than the C Class! This aspect of the steering is a big contributor to the fun factor when you play with it on the highway in the manual mode. The suspension sits nicely in between the very stiff back breaking sports car like and the soft saloon jelly. Body roll is also at a bare minimum which is such a good thing. We did push it around corners and did that with a fair bit of aggression and the Mercedes just obliged with ease! When we drove the C Class earlier, we had observed that the C Class was more likely to be happy clipping the apex of a corner than going wide. We are pleasantly surprised that this baby Mercedes is so different! This one not only enjoys going wide on corners but does it with a fair bit of grace.

Overall assessment:

Well, the most important factor that we believe will attract buyers to this baby Mercedes is the price tag. All said and done, a Mercedes costing less than or around 25,00,000 is the best punch line that sums up this package. But obviously there is more to it than the price. It is loaded much beyond the price tag, for example. Much costlier cars are not equipment with Satnav, flappy paddle gear boxes to name a few. This package is expected to get even more tempting once Mercedes’s plans to assemble this one in India materialize. This has opened up an altogether new segment for sure. The segment that will dent into some premium saloon buyers like the people who are looking for may be a self driven Superb or a Passat or fully loaded versions of Laura or Jetta.

Unlike the Mini or the Beetle, this one is far more practical. Both in terms of pricing and in terms of sheer utility and space. A slight worry could be that the A Class might cannibalize the sales of its larger cousin, the B Class.

In my opinion, the biggest worry for this baby Merc would come from outside the Mercedes family. As we process this review, BMW is testing its direct competitor to the A Class, the 1 series and Audi’s A3 is also around the corner.

Mercedes’s strategy has always been to stay ahead of the competition when it comes to launching their products or refurbishments. Their new C Class was launched way before the new 3 series and A4 arrived, for example. They seem to employ the same strategy again with their baby and only time will tell whether it will pay off in the long run but short term gains in the numbers are apparent.

So, if you are looking for a buy in the INR 25,00,000 range, love driving and would spend most of your time in the driver’s seat, this is one hell of an option! Yes it may be a hatch, but has comfortable cabin and a 341 liter boot and above all, an equipment list which would put some top of the line variants of entry level German saloon offerings to shame! And not to forget, it drive really really well too!

Please click here for the awesome and exclusive pictures of the A Class