‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍It took a few turns, but the A-Class is the culmination of a four-decade journey by Mercedes-Benz to lure younger buyers to its brand.

Pursuing the

ercedes is the oldest car maker in the world and, for a time, so were most of its owners. Up till the 1970s, Benzes were known for being luxurious and at the same time resolutely durable. It was a time when BMW was just rising from the ashes from bankruptcy, Volvo was a mainstream alternative, and Alfa Romeo was the choice if you wanted something sporty.

The good ol’ three-pointed star, meanwhile, was for industry captains, heads of states, senior professionals, retirees, and your uncle. All important and highly-respected people, no doubt, but not likely to be trendiest or the coolest folks in your social circle.

It was a time before the explosion of SUVs and it was when lines between segments more clearly defined. Then, Mercedes’ line-up was effectively just the W123 E-Class and W126 S-Class. It was also a time when the BMW 3 Series came with only two doors.

Mercedes perhaps sensed the opportunity to distill the essence and luxury of the E- and S-Class models into a smaller package that is more economical to run and perhaps more attractive to a younger crowd. It is well and good to have sensible cars that cater to a more senior crowd, but it is also true that capturing a buyer’s heart at a younger age mean that he or she can be a more frequent return customer.


words by KON

The classic 190 E represented Mercedes-Benz’s first concerted effort to offer a product aimed at younger buyers, but this was no cheap car. Remember what your dad and uncle said about how ridiculously over-engineered the old W124s are? The same kind of effort was poured into the 190 E, the ‘Baby Benz’ as it was affectionately nicknamed – it had all the technical sophistication and refinement of bigger Benzes, but encased in a compact, more attractive shell, its range starting with a smaller 1.8-litre engine.

Moving on to the 1990s, the 190 E aged and in came the first ever C-Class as its replacement. Codenamed W202, the C-Class sparked a revamp of Mercedes’ model naming convention. Those of you old enough may recall that old Benz model names had three numbers followed by an alphabet. The C-Class was the first car to reverse that order, and it is a practice that continues to today.

The 190 E and C-Class opened a whole new target market for the company, but with the passage of time, the compact Mercedes too has matured an evolved into a product of higher standing, outgrowing the ‘Baby Benz’ moniker and once again leaving a void at the lower end of the model spectrum to fill. Interestingly enough, there were two parallel efforts to do so.

A Brief History

Mercedes model names

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class that we know today wasn’t really called the E-Class until as recently as 25 years ago.

Back then, the letter E merely denoted ‘fuel injection’ and placed as a suffix after the three-digit model nomenclature. Cars running carburettors had just the digits that denoted engine capacity.

So, the E-Classes of the era were simply known as the 200, 230 E, 260 E, and so on. The 230 E, for example, was a 2.3-litre model with fuel injection, whilst the 200 was a carb-fed 2.0-litre mill.

The ‘Sonderklasse’ flagship gets an additional letter ‘S’ on the suffix, giving rise to the 280 SE, 300 SE, and up to the 560 SEL – L here for long wheelbase. Wasn’t as straight forward as BMW’s system to be sure.

The compact ‘Baby Benz’ was given the 190 badge, and Mercedes immediately realized that the naming system was untenable when they put in bigger engines for the model, leading us to the 190 E 2.3 and 190 E 2.6.

The third-generation A-Class launched in 2012 saw a ground-up revamp of the model template by Mercedes. Virtually nothing of the predecessor was carried over to the current model, save for the fact that it continues to be front wheel drive and is the most affordable model of the Mercedes range.

It was a revolution that started with the second-generation B-Class in 2011, but the A-Class was the face of Mercedes-Benz’s aggressive transformation we have witnessed this decade that sees the Stuttgart-based car maker claw back its deficit against BMW and regain pole position in the luxury make sales charts.

Lessons learned from its efforts with preceding versions of the A-Class and the ill-fated CLC formed Mercedes’ direction with the third-generation W176 A-Class. Practical considerations took a backseat with styling and sportiness the new areas of focus. The space-efficient MPV-like profile was sacrificed for a low-slung hatchback body which youngster better identify with.

This, then, led to Mercedes rev‍‍‍amping its model naming convention to what we know today. Alphabet, followed by three digits denoting engine capacity.

The original C-Class was the first model to adopt the new convention, which was then retroactively applied to the E-Class and S-Class models of the time.

It is a change from which Mercedes never looked back, and it gave the company the freedom to maintain a typically German model naming convention that is at once systematic and at the same time flexible enough to be expanded to easily accommodate new models.

Where the preceding A-Class models were known to be compact yet comfortable and spacious vehicles, the W176 was nothing like that. Its cabin, whilst well-built, was outright claustrophobic. Ride quality on most versions were also known to be poor and handling wasn’t very spectacular either, but did it look good.

The BMW 1 Series, Volvo V40, and Audi A3 were all easily better cars than the A-Class, but none held a candle to the new Baby Benz’s youthful appeal. Mercedes further drives home the message with an aggressive marketing campaign that includes concerts and rave parties. Full page newspaper ad? Mercedes didn’t need that, not when social media channels are flooded with pics of partygoers enthusiastically blasting out the #UrbanHunting hashtag.

From the W176 A-Class, Mercedes-Benz also spawned off the four-door CLA-Class coupe, the CLA Shooting Brake, and GLA crossover, all of which combine to form the New Generation Compact Car family.

‍‍‍Together, this family of c‍‍‍ars have successfully attracted a group of completely new customers to the Mercedes brand. In Europe, half the buyers of this family of cars were conquest customers from a rival brand, and it was found that the average age of a W176 A-Class owner is a full decade younger than that of its predecessor. Safe then, to say that the perennial “uncle’s brand” has found groove amongst the young, after more than three decades of effort.

‍‍‍‍‍‍Making The New‍‍‍ Baby Benz

The A-Clas‍‍‍s

The C-Class SportCoupe

Famed for toppling over in the ‘Elk test’ the original A-Class actually showcased many touches of ingenuity by Mercedes.

It was the first-ever front-wheel drive car from the brand, and it was noted for its innovative sandwich construction concept that enabled Mercedes to package a vehicle with the space and safety you’d expect from a C-Class but encased within a footprint the size of a Myvi.

The original W168 A-Class was launched in 1997, some two decades ago, but the idea was previewed as far back as 1993 presented as the “Vision A 93” concept study.
The A-Class’ famed struggles to avoid the proverbial moose was commendably taken in stride by Mercedes. Sales were suspended and units sold immediately recalled, as the company pumped in a further DM 300 million’s worth of research to rework the car’s suspension to stabilize its handling. More critically, electronic stability control was made standard.

After overcoming its initial struggles, the A-Class went on to become a major sales success for Mercedes, selling 1.1 million units in an eight-year production run.

The second-generation A-Class sold from 2004 to 2011 continued in the same vein and also went on to spawn the B-Class mini-MPV, planting the seeds of a growing family of compact vehicles wearing the three-pointed star.

Despite its relatively strong vol‍‍‍umes, however, and its highly-lauded packaging, the A-Class was never seen as a desirable or aspirational product as Mercedes would have hoped. It was clearly not the kind of car to lure young newcomers to the brand.

In the 1990s, before the 1 Series came about, BMW had some success in building small three-door rear-wheel driven hatchbacks off the E36 and, subsequently, E46 3 Series platforms.

Mercedes’ answer to that arrived in year 2000 as the C-Class SportCoupe, a three-door hatchback built off the W203 C-Class platform.

What followed the SportCoupe is something that Mercedes may not be shouting about in its historical archives with much enthusiasm.

As the W204 C-Class replaced the W203 in 2007, it naturally follows that the SportCoupe should be updated along with it. That, Mercedes did, but the execution was unfathomably poor.

The C-Class SportCoupe was spun off as its own model line dubbed the CLC-Class. The original SportCoupe’s template of a compact rear-wheel driven hatchback positioned below the C-Class remained, but unfortunately so did the predecessor’s mechanical components.

Despite having an all-new platform to work with, Mercedes inexplicably recycled the previous-generation SportCoupe’s running gear to underpin the CLC.

The result was a car that had up-to-date looks, but outdated interior design and driving characteristics. The car was mercifully euthanized in 2011, three years after its debut.

Although the experiment was shortlived, Mercedes’ flirtation with the SportCoupe and CLC pointed them at the right direction in creating a suitable car that would lure new younger buyers into the brand.

For all their flaws, the SportCoupe and CLC were both well-styled and were thus more attractive to young affluent buyers shopping amongst luxury marques for the first time.

‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ONTO THE

The all-new A-Class has just been unveiled ahead of its scheduled market debut in March 2018. Mercedes-Benz’s latest compact hatch retains the sporty formula of its predecessor, bringing advanced technology from its bigger, more expensive siblings to its relatively more palatable price point.
Exterior styling appears slightly more toned down – some may even say the rear end resembles a Kia design – but the interior sets new standards of design and luxury for the class. Taking criticisms of the previous A-Class’ brittle ride to heart, Mercedes claims that the new A-Class has also evolved to become more comfortable on the move.

Front track 1,567mm (+14mm)
Wheelbase 2,720mm (+30mm)
Headroom +7mm
Shoulder room +9mm
Elbow room +35mm

MBUX – New Age Infotainment

  • Comprehensive interaction by touchscreen, optional tou‍‍‍chpad, and steering-mounted touch control buttons.
  • Just say “Hey Mercedes” to activate voice control
  • AI provides learning capability and vehicle personalization. Scary.


The A-Class debuts a new range of four-cylinderengines that consist of a 1.4-litre petrol, 2.0-litre petrol, and 1.5-litre diesel engine. A 6-speed manual is offered with the base 1.4, but a 7-speed DCT is otherwise the standard transmission.

Worth noting that for the A 200 1.4 petrol and A 180 d 1.5 diesel models, the 7-speed DCT is a Getrag unit, whereas the A 250 2.0 petrol gets a Mercedes in-house ‘box carried over from the predecessor. Front-wheel drive is the standard configuration, although 4Matic all-wheel drive is available as an option.

The customer’s engine and drivetrain selection directly influences the choice of suspension fitted to the A-Class. The A 250 comes standard with independent rear suspension, but A 200 and A 180 d makes do with a torsion beam if not specified in conjunction with AWD. Either way, we only hope that Mercedes remembered to dial up the comfort levels from the previous model.

A 200

1.4-litre turbocharged petrol

163hp @ 5,500rpm

250Nm @ 1,620 – 4,400rpm

A 250

2.0-litre turbocharged petrol

224hp @ 5,500rpm

350Nm @ 1,800 – 4,000rpm

A 180 d

1.5-litre turbodiesel

116hp @ 4,000rpm

260Nm @ 1,750 – 2,500rpm

S-Class Driving Tech

The new A-Class receives the latest driving assistance systems trickled down directly from the S-Class, enabling it to drive semi-autonomously in certain conditions. Improved camera and radar allow the car to ‘see’ up to 500m ahead.

Depending on market, certain features can be standard or optional, but they start with the usual autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control, active lane keeping assist, and blind spot warning. The blind spot warning system remains active even when the vehicle is stationary, alerting you of an oncoming vehicle should you attempt to open the door.

At speeds from 20 to 70 km/h, the A-Class is even able to assist the driver to steer around an obstacle during an evasive maneuver. That should come in handy during the elk test.