Dimensionally, the new A-class is greatly altered over the model it replaces; length is up by 487mm at 4292mm, width increases by 15mm to 1780mm and height drops a considerable 163mm. A claimed drag co-efficient of just 0.26 is class-leading.
Mercedes-Benz chief, Dieter Zetsche told Autocar he expects half of all A-class sales to go to newcomers to the brand. He said: "This is not just a rational car but emotional and technological one too. The styling wows you and the connectivity is unrivalled. New buyers will come to the family, perhaps younger ones, young at heart ones and more women."
He likened the expected success of the A-class to that of the SLK, which achieved market dominance when it launched in 1996
The new A-class eschews the under floor mounted engines previous models. They are replaced by new range four-cylinder engines – all offered in other Mercedes’ or sourced from alliance partner, Renault.
The petrol units use a combination of turbocharging and direct-injection. Kicking off proceedings is a base 1.6-litre from Renault. It delivers 113bhp and 108lb ft of torque in the A180. Further up the line-up is the widely used M270 engine. It comes in two different states of tune: 154bhp and 184lb ft in the A200 and a Volkswagen Golf GTI equaling 208bhp and 257lb ft in the A250.
The common rail diesels are all based around Mercedes-Benz OM651 engine. Included are two 1.8-litre units already seen in the B-class, with 107bhp and 147lb ft in the A180 CDI and 134bhp and 221lb ft in the A200 CDI. Also available is a larger 2.2-litre delivering 168bhp and 257lb ft in the A220 CDI.
A six speed manual gearbox is standard, with a seven speed dual clutch unit offered as an option. Both feature stop-start as part of a raft of fuel saving features that see the base A160 CDI achieve average CO2 emissions of just 99g/km. It is the first time a Mercedes production car has dipped below 100g/km.
Also planned, but not expected to go on sale in the UK until 2013, is a storming Audi RS3 and BMW M135i challenging four-wheel drive A25 AMG 4Matic model. It runs a heavily tuned version of Mercedes-Benz’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engineered by AMG and rumoured to develop in the region of 350bhp and 332lb ft.
Underpinning Mercedes-Benz’s new entry-level model is a newly developed suspension system also found beneath the B-class. It consists of MacPherson struts up front and a four-link design at the rear.
In line with their added performance potential, the A250 and A220 CDI receive a specially tuned front suspension that, on versions running the optional AMG sport styling package, receives 18-inch alloys shod with 235/40 profile tyres. The steering is via an electro-mechanical arrangement.
Mercedes-Benz is already talking up the safety credentials of the A-class, which it describes as one of the safest cars in its class. Included among the standard specification is a radar based collision warning system, the Pre-Safe occupant protection system and Attention Assist.