The third-generation A-Class helped make Mercedes-Benz more youthful, and its replacement, launched in SA last week, aims to follow in those footsteps.
In its fourth incarnation Merc’s premium compact hatchback has grown into a larger and more family-friendly car than its predecessor, but it’s the new technology that is likely to be the big customer drawcard into Benz showrooms.
At the heart of this tech is the new MBUX multimedia system, which Mercedes calls "a revolution of the user experience in the car".
It uses artificial intelligence to learn and adapt to suit the user, and the more a user interacts with it, the more the new A-Class adapts to his or her habits.
"The new A-Class grows to understand your personal preferences then predicts your needs, making it the ultimate intelligent companion," says Selvin Govender, marketing director of Mercedes-Benz Cars SA.
"It offers modern luxury at a level previously unthought of in the compact segment. It uses technology to create an emotional connection between the vehicle and driver."
MBUX offers intelligent voice control that recognises natural spoken language. By using the phrase "Hey Mercedes", users can, for instance, adjust the air-conditioning, send a text message or ask the navigation to find the quickest route out of town.
The all-digital instrument panel does away with the traditional analogue cowl while the infotainment is housed in a sexy new touchscreen interface that comes with a 17.8cm screen as standard or a dashboard-dominating 26.7cm display as an extra-cost option, a box that we think is likely to be ticked by the bulk of A-Class customers.
This starship-like interface forms part of a restyle for the interior, which adopts a more modern and avant-garde look.
Externally Merc’s compact hatch looks more sporty and hunkered-down than its forerunner with a character line along the side and slightly more pumped-out wheel arches, but it’s also grown. At 4,299mm the car is 120mm longer than before, and also 16mm higher and 6mm wider, with a longer wheelbase, but is 20kg lighter.
An AMG trim pack comes standard on the A250 Sport and as an extra-cost option on the A200 to lend more styling attitude. Customers can also choose between Style and Urban equipment lines, and also Exclusive and Night packages as part of a vast range of personalisation options.
The passenger quarters have increased shoulder, elbow and headroom, while the boot has grown by 29l to 370l. It’s not just about space but practicality too, and the loading aperture has grown 20cm in width.
Some of the driver aids from the E-and S-Class sedans have filtered down into Merc’s smallest model, including active brake assist which automatically applies the brakes when it senses an impending frontal collision with a car, cyclist or pedestrian. This is a standard feature across the range, as is active lane keeping assist which recognises inadvertent lane departures and warns the driver with steering wheel vibrations.
Optionally available are active blind spot assist and active steering, which will first warn drivers of unseen vehicles lurking in your periphery, and then pull the car back into its lane if they ignore the warning.
Also optional is the Distronic system which automatically maintains a safe distance from the vehicle in front, and reduces the strain on long journeys and in stop-and-go traffic.
The standard safety package comprises ABS brakes, stability control, front and side airbags, a tyre pressure warning system and hill-start assist.
The new A-Class initially reaches local showrooms in two versions: the A200 and the A250 Sport, respectively priced at R499,000 and R593,300, and including a six-year/ 100,000km maintenance plan.
Next year the range will be extended with the A180d turbodiesel and the high-performance A35 and A45 AMG derivatives.
The A200 is powered by a 1.3l turbocharged petrol four-cylinder with outputs of 120kW and 250Nm. Key claimed performance figures for this derivative are a 0-100km/h sprint in 8.0 seconds and a 225km/h top speed, with fuel consumption quoted at 5.6l per 100km.
The A250 gets moved along by a 2.0l petrol turbo with hot-hatch outputs of 165kW and 350Nm, for a factory-claimed 0-100 in 6.2 seconds a top whack of 250km/h, and a thirst of 6.5l/100km.
Both cars are front-wheel driven via a seven-speed dual-clutch 7G-DCT automatic gearbox operable by steering-mounted gearshift paddles.
Like its predecessors the new A-Class has a McPherson front suspension, with the more powerful A250 Sport equipped with adaptive damping in combination with larger wheels, and sophisticated four-link rear suspension (the A200 has a more traditional torsion beam at the rear).
The adaptive damping enables the driver to choose between a softer or firmer ride at the flick of a switch.
The rear axle is mounted on a subframe isolated from the bodyshell by rubber bushings so that fewer vibrations are transferred from the suspension to the body.
Both derivatives are equipped as standard with Dynamic Select, where the driver can change between Comfort, Sport, Eco or Individual driving modes which affect the responses of the steering, throttle and gearshifts, as well as the adaptive damping where fitted.