Packaging was one of the old model’s biggest drawcards, and the new A-class makes further advances in this area. It accepts five adults in relative comfort – those in the back benefiting from added footwell depth. Other improvements include a lower loading lip and larger rear door apertures. The new car’s dimensions are held to roughly the same as that of the outgoing long-wheelbase A-class. At 3838mm in length, 1764mm in width and 1593mm in height, it is 63mm longer, 45mm wider and 18mm taller than before. It’s still smaller than the conventional hatches against which it competes, though – it’s 367mm shorter than a Golf. Under the new sheet-metal, the new A-class receives an updated version of Merc’s patented sandwich platform. The flat and massively rigid structure prevents the engine and mechanical components from entering the cabin in severe impacts. It can also house batteries for hybrid versions already undergoing testing.
Safety is a top priority and Mercedes has strived to avoid the embarrassing rollovers that afflicted the first A-class launch in 1997. ‘The new car will sail through the moose test without any uncertainty,’ said Rodolfo Schoenburg, passive safety boss.
The new car gets a 2568mm wheelbase and significantly wider tracks for added stability, while the MacPherson strut (front) and torsion beam (rear) suspension is claimed to provide vastly improved ride comfort.
Speed-sensitive rack and pinion steering should solve the outgoing car’s annoying lack of self-centering. Also standard across the range is an active damper system, which automatically adjusts the firmness of the shock absorbers to suit the road.
The highlight of the A-class’s four-cylinder petrol engine line-up will be a new turbocharged 2.0-litre developed with AMG, although this A210 Turbo won’t arrive until mid-2005. With 193bhp and 207lb ft of torque, it very nearly matches the upcoming 200bhp VW Golf GTi: 0-62mph in 8.0sec and a 141mph top speed.
Other petrol engines include a 1.5-litre with 95bhp in the A150, a 1.7-litre with 115bhp in the A170 and a 2.0-litre with 136bhp in the A200. Merc is also pinning its hopes on a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine with improved turbo technology and common-rail injectors operating at 1600 bar. It will be offered in three states of tune: 82bhp in the A160 CDI, 109bhp in the A180 CDI and 140bhp in the A200 CDI. These frugal diesels meet EU4 emissions regs and deliver between 52mpg and 58mpg average economy – with a range of up to 684 miles.