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How the Mercedes-Benz A-Class went from Smart car lookalike to the most complete hatch on the market

2019-02-26 19:30

Robin Classen

Image: Net car Show

The 'Baby Benz' as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class is also affectionately called, has transformed into one of the most desirable turbocharged hot hatches on the market to date.

Rewind 10 years or so back and that is not how it used to be perceived. It's appearance used to resemble something bigger than that of a Smart car but perhaps surprisingly sold more than 1.1 million cars from 1997 to 2004.

'Beast' and the Beauty

It was first introduced into the market back in 1997 as a compact 5-door hatchback with a variety of petrol engine options. It made puny power with figures in the region of 60 to 92kW, but keep in mind that its purpose wasn't to go fast - atleast not yet anyway.

SEE: This is what the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class will cost in SA

The type of change the A-Class went through can be attributed to a number of other manufacturer and its models. The Hyundai Elantra is a prime example. It used to be a bland and ordinary sedan but has transformed into one of the most desirable options on the market today.

a-class generations

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Although small in stature, it's tall chassis made it look somewhat unusual but its 4-star safety was a definite tick in the box. On the other hand, it didn't perform well in the elktest conducted back in 1997 as the car almost flipped over due to a lack of safety and on-road stability features. Mercedes remedied the situation with the fitment of Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and ABS braking as standard features from February 1998.


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There weren't vast differences in terms of design between the first (W168) and second (W169) generation models but it did receive a boost in power and a nifty CVT gearbox as well. Though in truth, it still didn't sell particularly well mainly because of one thing - design.

Mercedes-Benz A-class rear engine

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Another peculiar thing of earlier generation models was the placement of the engine bay. While it was a good idea from the factory, it proved a nightmare for mechanics where space was already compromised because of the car's short wheelbase.

Mercedes-Benz-A-Class

                                                                           Image: Net Car Show

Second generation A200 turbo models made as much as 144kW and as you would have it, there was a host of safety changes added like traction control and an anti-lock braking system. They had already burnt their fingers with the elk test incident and wouldn't knock their heads twice.

A facelifted version was released in 2008 while a limited edition followed a year after that featured a host of cosmetic and optional extras for the buyer.

Third and fourth time's a charm

It was in 2013 when the A-Class made people sit up and take notice. Mark Fetherston was tasked with changing the 'Baby Benz' appearance and improving its overall dynamic, this to rival the likes of Audi's A3 and BMW 1 Series at the time.

A concept version of the car first debuted at the 2012 Geneva motor show showing a beefier stance compared to its predecessors. Gone was the tiny city car and in its place was a luxury hatch, only this time it had a hidden ingredient in the form of AMG.

                                                                            Image: Motorpress

Power was further increased from its 2.0 litre turbo and twin turbo engines with figures now ranging from 155kW in A250 Sport trim and as much as 265 and 280kW in A45 AMG form. It enjoyed a fruitful production line while at the same time laying down a definitive marker for Audi's S3, BMW's 1 Series M and also Volkswagen's Golf R. Also noticeable and very much audible was its 7-speed Direct Shift transmission and when mated to the AMG's 4Matic system, it left the line like stink.

GALLERY: 2018 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Daytime running LED headlights was offered as an option while its fully functional cabin was specifically honed at driver convenience. Mercedes-Benz now had a hot hatch to not only upset its rivals but hold its own in the company of the 6-cylinder field.

I drove the A200 late last year and its sleek design with a revised front end and new rear lights are amongst the changes but it is behind the wheel where you come to find out just how well packaged the A-Class really is. While a power figure of 120kW from its small 1.3 litre turbo engine doesn't inspire much confidence, its an entirely different story when driven.

Fuel consumption is claimed at 5.2l/100km - a figure that is on par with small budget cars like the Datsun GO, VW Polo and a host of Suzuki models. That is mighty impressive.

                                                                            Image: Motorpress

The introduction of the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) is next-generation technology that gives you the convenience with the simple touch of a button. Using the phrase 'Hey Mercedes' instructs the car to do what you need it, taking user interaction and multimedia applications to another level.

The A200 and A250 Sport are currently offered locally with prices starting from R498 999. According to Mercedes-Benz South Africano official word has been given with regards to the availability and timeframe of the A35 AMG for the local market.

From its very humble beginnings to what it has transformed into over the years, the A-Class still remains one of my fairytale stories.

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