Mercedes A-Class preview: Clever $40K-plus hatch

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The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class is a much improved car. It is as though the company made a list of each shortcoming of the current model, in production since 2012, and worked through the product by product.

There is a reason why Germans have a reputation for being methodical and thorough.

High on the to-do list was to fasten the little hatchback's rigid and jiggly ride, its substandard all-round vision, squeezy and hard to access rear seat, not enough space, moving dual-coupling auto and too high noise level.

Fire-conscious customers ignored all this and instead focused on the chance to buy something wearing the triangular star from under $ 40,000.

Far from perfect, the current A-Class has become a hit. Last year, it was the second most popular model in Australia, reaching nearly 5,000 sales.

But Mercedes-Benz started working on the replacement with a clean sheet.

The new A-class is considerably longer overall, a fraction broader and has a small extra distance between front and rear axles.

The larger body has more space in all directions, the rear seat is now quite spacious and the reardoor rear doors make access and exit easier.

The cargo compartment is larger and the newly fitted tailgate has a wider opening to ease the load of large parts.

Larger windows and carefully designed front posts enhance versatile vision. The exterior style is not as sporty as the previous model, although cleaner and less freaky look is an improvement.

The car is also more slippery and quieter than before.

The first A-Class family member to arrive in Australia will be A200, in August. We concentrated on this on the car's recent presentation to international media in Croatia.

Driven by a new 1.3-liter turbo four, it comes only with a seven-speed double coupling automatically, also new and one way smoother shifter.

The performance is especially good at low and medium speed, although some things vibrations are felt when pushed higher.

Variable rate shock absorbers will be an option in Australia. So equipped and set to comfort mode, the A200 gets a plush ride relative to the outgoing model.

Sport mode increases the fastness and improves smoothness, even though the A200's electronically assisted steering does not give the feeling of connection with the car to really drive hard driving.

The new line-up will lead to higher prices. Expect the A200 without options to be around $ 46,000, up by almost $ 3000. The A180 with a less powerful version of turbo 1.3 liter will arrive in December to around $ 40,000.

A250 4matic, with a powerful new 2.0-liter turbo and upgraded full-wheel drive, arrives with the A180 and will be around $ 58,000.

All variants come with a seven-speed dual-coupling auto, as in the A200. Mercedes-Benz Australia is not planning to import a diesel.

The new model will be an expensive little car, but the expected prices will not seem outrageous once you've been inside it and experienced first hand what it can do.

Mercedes has gone a lot longer than just fixing what was wrong with the old one. There is also an excellent new inside look, filled with some of the brand's most advanced technology.

The slim and simplified dash has a wide but slim flat screen display that makes instruments and infotainment interfaces in great high resolution. [19659003] Mercedes-Benz builds the A-Class with three different display levels, but all Australian market cars come with the best version. This has two 10.25-inch screens behind its single glass sheet.

The A-Class is also the first Mercedes-Benz that has artificial intelligence. This is the power of what the company calls MBUX for Mercedes-Benz User eXperience.

Its centerpiece is a voice build setup that's better than anything a car manufacturer has installed to date and it's awakened by just saying "Hey Mercedes." The car can often, but not always, understand requests in natural language. [19659003] According to engineers who have helped to develop the technology, the ability of the new A-Class to understand its owner will improve in time.

AI also means the car is able to learn the habits and routines of its users and then anticipate their needs.

The upcoming A-Class is much more than an improved small car from Mercedes-Benz.

LONG STRATEGY STRATEGY

A200's 1.3- liter turbo four was a joint effort from Mercedes-Benz and Renault. The engine is assembled in Germany, but the great French automaker delivers what is known in the industry as the "long block" cylinder block, plus crankshaft, pistons and connecting rods. 19659030] MERCEDES-BENZ A200

PRICE $ 46,000 (est)

SAFETY Not yet rated

ENGINE 1.3-liter 4-cylinder turbo; 120kW / 250Nm

TRANSMISSION 7-speed DSG; FWD

THIRST 5.6L / 100km (est)

0-100KM / H 8.0 seconds

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