In the quest to make a larger part of the burgeoning upper middle class feel more inclusive, Mercedes-Benz India has set the goals for its sales team pretty high. Thankfully, with the imminent launch of the A-Class limousine (MB speak for sedan), the eyes are firmly on the target. A space that has been vacant ever since the CLA and the GLA were pulled out of the Mercedes-Benz India portfolio more than a year ago, the all-new A-Class will be satiating a latent demand for an entry-level tristar.
But that’s the only reference to entry-level you will find here, look at the A-Class and it looks like a fully-baked, sporty sedan that is actually more up-to-date than the current C-Class on sale!
With a shark-nosed front end that is reminiscent of the CLS, just smaller in scale, both the A200 and A200d have the perfect proportions to be the ideal city runabout. It’s also refreshing to see a new sedan taking birth in the sea of SUVs currently swarming our roads. Both the petrol and diesel variants look identical on the exterior and Mercedes is also offering them both only in a single, fully-loaded variant. Hallelujah! With a clear emphasis on ‘no-compromise’, the A-Class may be built on a new front-wheel drive platform, but it embraces its luxurious Mercedes roots tighter than ever! The cabin reeks of top quality materials not just on the top of the dashboard, but even lower down where most manufacturers would resort to cheaper plastics. The dual-tone colour scheme works well to disguise the compactness of the cabin and there are futuristic and delicious design details everywhere. From the turbine-style AC vents that get intricate ambient lighting even within their knobs and dials to the huge, single piece of glass that houses the infotainment and instrument cluster, all-digital of course. It’s a seamless work of art that marries different textures and materials in a homogenous manner that makes it look a lot more grown-up and expensive than it actually is. The open pore wood trim contrasts superbly against all the glass, satin chrome and gloss black generously splattered across the cabin. The front seats also get powered controls with a memory function, heightening that feeling of being in a class above. But, the rear seat comfort is a bit compromised due to the flat bench and lack of proper under thigh support, leading to long-distance woes possibly.
Of course, it gets the latest generation of the MBUX operating system, which means you can use your voice, haptic touchpad, thumb pads on the steering wheel or the touchscreen itself for inputs. In addition, there’s also Alexa and Google Home integration now that lets you check on the car's vitals just by asking your smart speaker at home, or even ask Alexa to pre-cool the cabin while you’re still getting ready for the power meeting! It all works rather well, irrespective of your choice of input and since the time that i’ve experienced the first version of MBUX and its associated smartphone app, the system has received numerous updates to make the set-up process much easier and response times faster as well. You’ll have to make it a habit to use the app and the Alexa integration for it to become second nature and once you do, that’s when you truly start appreciating the introduction of smart-tech in automobiles. Until then, it’s always a thing that you will remain cynical about.
Also as a brand that has shifted entirely to USB-C, the A-Class now gets a total of 5 ports for all your and perhaps your neighbour’s devices as well! Wireless charging is included as standard, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are still of the wired variety. Also, the Burmester audio is reserved for the high-performance A35 AMG variant but the standard hi-fi system sounds good nevertheless with more speakers than on a C-Class and even better tuning. There’s a semi-panoramic sunroof, 64-colour ambient lighting, Mercedes Me concierge, navigation with What3Words and SOS support built-in amongst the long list of standard features in the Progressive line trim.
Both the diesel and the petrol engined variants pack in a similar 0-100 time but the power differs. The A200d (diesel) gets 150hp/320Nm for the mated to an 8-speed DCT while the A200 (petrol) makes 163hp/250Nm through a 7-speed DCT. Both cars are front-wheel drive only but most people would never be able to tell unless they’re trying to slide around the 2nd corner at the BIC. The refinement levels are absolutely stunning on either of the engines and it will boil down purely to a matter of preference and how vocal you like your car to get at the top end. The petrol obviously revs a bit higher and hence gets a tad bit louder, but the diesel gets the job done smoothly at lower revs. Take your pick. In terms of the drive itself, the A-Class for India specifically rides on higher profile rubber (205/55 R17) and a raised suspension that offers higher ground clearance. None of this adversely affects the driving experience unless your other car is an AMG GT-R. Gearshifts are utterly butterly smooth and I never even felt the need to hustle it around in sport mode, the comfort mode is just that good and capable. Turbo lag is almost imperceptible and the way the A-Class gathers speed is pure Mercedes, without making a fuss of things. It’s compliant suspension helps in heightening that feeling too and works without letting noises filter through the cabin. It doesn’t make the ride too soft to introduce body roll either so is well judged. Although the test drive route along narrow Goan B-roads wasn’t the most ideal of scenarios for a final verdict on handling. The steering is direct and understeer is only noticeable if you’re on a series of S-bends, which won’t be an everyday affair. What is most impressive though is the low level of noise and superb insulation within the cabin, making this feel like a proper Mercedes, not a watered down one. It claims to be one of the world’s most aerodynamic passenger cars with a drag coefficient of 0.22 and to drive that home further, quite literally, even the 17in wheels get an “aero” mod that have black fins in between the spokes to cut through the air more quietly!
The diesel seems a bit more punchy lower in the rev range, but the petrol has a strong midrange with a mildly sonorous soundtrack too, so the choice is purely subjective. It’s like splitting hair and I can’t pick a favourite if I had to. With MBUX as standard in both cars with the same twin 10in screens, operations are easy and swift with fantastic graphics throughout and even different styles for the dial displays. Both versions also get radar-based emergency brake assist that continuously monitors the distance from vehicles in front and will warn you acoustically or even automatically brake for you if required. Pyrotechnics in the bonnet also raise the bonnet by a few inches to soften the blow for pedestrians during a head-on impact and inside the cabin, the orchestra of Pre-Safe plays out a symphony in seconds that includes tightening seat belts, closing the sunroof, cracking open the windows for the airbag gasses to be safely released etc. Practicality hasn’t been compromised as well, with the spare wheel mounted under the boot floor, thereby retaining all of the 400lts odd boot space that it promises. Even the LED headlights boast of a 6300 lumens brightness rating, which is enough light up your future, not just the road ahead.
Although the CLA might be its spiritual successor, the new A-Class is a whole different machine with tons more maturity, kit and personality. It drives so well that you never even have to consider whether it’s RWD or FWD and most people won’t be able to tell. Quality levels are truly off the charts so are the masterfully crafted details across the cabin, making you feel proud to be a part of the three-pointed star family, even though you pay the lowest price of entry. And for the first time ever, Mercedes will also be offering an 8-year transferable warranty for engine and transmission, something that has never been done before. As the cherry on this cake, the India-assembled A35 AMG version of this sedan will be launched simultaneously on March 25, with an estimated price of ₹60lacs! The A-Class is ready to arrive in style and is set to fill up those order books by the looks of it.