22 January 2004

A big step up in quality is one of Mercedes-Benz’s top priorities when the new A-Class is launched this summer. Sources point to an ‘extra quality and a sense of elegance’, as Benz addresses one of the main criticisms of its smallest model: cabin quality.

The new A-Class, which won’t be seen until late summer, is a more ‘grown-up’ version of the current car, helped by an extra 230mm in length and 45mm in width over the current long-wheelbase model.

Just a single wheelbase will be offered this time. Because the new car is longer, a long-wheelbase model is deemed unnecessary – and Merc doesn’t want to step on the toes of its small-car cousin, the new Smart Forfour, with a shorter model. Similarly, the sliding rear seat is dropped because the new car has enough cabin space not to need a legroom/boot capacity compromise. Merc has maintained the same crash protection design as the current car, with the engine sliding underneath the seats in the event of an accident.

Three petrol engines will be offered – 1.5, 1.7 and 2.0-litre – and increased stroke should mean an improvement in torque. The diesel goes from 1.7 to 2.0 litres, jumping from a maximum of 94bhp to around 140bhp, although lower-power versions will also be available. A CVT auto transmission will be offered alongside the manual, and Mercedes insiders say its new system will give economy to rival a manual. Expect around one in three buyers to take up this option. Sales won’t start in the UK until the beginning of 2005, and the five-door will eventually be followed by up to four other models, with a three-door and mini-MPV in development and a cabrio and 4x4 also on the drawing board.

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