Mercedes A-Class prototypes for the fourth generation model have been spotted on the road in Germany for the second time, deep into a planned two-year test and development programme, which aims to see the new hatchback enter UK showrooms by the end of 2018.
The entry-level Mercedes, which goes under the internal codename W177, has been extensively re-engineered. The basis of the new A-Class, which will continue to be pitched as a rival to the likes of the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, is a revised platform that goes under the name MFA2. The modular structure, engineered in co-operation with Renault, draws heavily on the existing MFA1 platform, but has a number of revisions, including the greater use of aluminium in the floorpan, in a move claimed to reduce weight while improving rigidity.
As evidenced on the early prototype revealed here, the variant of the MFA2 platform used by the new A-Class has wider tracks and a longer wheelbase than the MFA1 structure. The subtle increase in dimensions has been used to increase the amount of space dedicated to rear of the interior, including the boot, following criticism of the tight confines and lack of luggage carrying capacity of today’s A-Class.
As well as providing the basis for the new A-Class, the new platform is also planned to underpin a further six models from Mercedes-Benz, including successor models to the B-Class, CLA, CLA Shooting Brake, GLA, a new Audi A3 saloon rivaling four-door set to be offered exclusively in China and possibly a second SUV model to be sold under the GLB name.
The MFA2 structure is also planned to be used in various Renault, Nissan and Infiniti models.
The planned engine line-up for the new A-Class includes a combination of Renault and Mercedes-Benz units that form the basis of a joint venture agreement known internally as Project Edison.
Included are 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol engines as well as 1.5 and 2.0-litre diesels – the latter being the aluminium block OM654 unit recently unveiled in the E-Class. Each engine will be offered in varying states of tune in a move that should create up to 10 individual A-Class models.
Plug-in hybrid A-Class will be produced
For the first time, the A3 and 1 Series rival will also offer a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid option. Its lithium ion battery, supplied by Mercedes-Benz daughter company Accumotive, is claimed to provide the new hatchback with an electric range of up to 31 miles.
Details on the A-Class plug-in hybrid remain scarce. However, engineers from the German car maker acknowledge they have been working on two different set-ups: one placing the electric motor between the transversely mounted petrol engine and the gearbox and providing drive to the front wheels, and an alternative with the electric motor forming an integral part of the rear axle and providing drive to the rear wheels.
The new or updated engines will be offered with either a standard six-speed manual or optional nine-speed dual clutch gearbox – the latter set to replace the existing seven-speed unit, providing what one Mercedes-Benz insider described to Autocar as the basis for “further improvements in economy and a subsequent reduction in CO2 emissions”.
The new nine-speed dual clutch gearbox, which is referred to as the 9G-DCT in official documentation seen by Autocar, will be produced in-house at Mercedes-Benz’s Hedelfingen plant on the outskirts of Stuttgart, as well as at its daughter company Star Transmission in Sebes, Romania. It has been developed to handle torque loadings of up to 500Nm.
Alongside standard front-wheel drive models, there are plans to extend the number of four-wheel drive 4Matic models in the fourth generation A-Class line-up in what one marketing official indicated would be a renewed push to provide greater competition to A3 quattro and 1 Series sDrive models.
Heavily revised interior
As with the exterior, the new A-Class will receive a heavily restyled interior. Key among the elements being touted for the new model is an optional digital display and heavily upgraded Command Infotainment system offering the latest connectivity functions, including mobile WLAN using a dedicated SIM card, Car Play and Android Auto compatibility, as well as new services from Mercedes Me.
The entry-level Mercedes-Benz is also planned to run the same electronics platform as the new E-Class, the so-called Star 2.3 system. The new system supports a stereo camera function, as seen within the windscreen of the prototype captured here, allowing a range of new driver assistance functions, including Distronic Plus cruise control and Drive Pilot.