AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Mercedes-Benz provides the best clues yet to a new front-wheel-drive sedan poised to be the new entry point of its North American lineup from 2019 with the unveiling of its sister model, the fourth-generation A-Class hatchback.
Revealed here to media by Mercedes-Benz CEO Dieter Zetsche ahead of its public debut at the upcoming Geneva auto show, the new A-Class has been comprehensively re-engineered for 2018 as part of the German automaker’s efforts to more closely challenge rival premium brand hatchbacks such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series as well as Europe’s longtime best-selling model, the Volkswagen Golf.
Among the new Mercedes-Benz model’s key innovations is a new, contemporary interior featuring the most advanced version yet of the automaker’s Comand infotainment system – a sixth-generation setup featuring a newly developed Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) function that brings an innovative new voice-control system, high-definition augmented-reality navigation and touchscreen control not even offered on its range-topping S-Class.
The fourth-generation hatchback, which once again will be offered exclusively in 4-door form when European sales launch in mid-2018, is the first of up to eight new so-called compact models under development at Mercedes-Benz and due for launch by the end of 2020.
The ʼ18-model-year A-Class’s MFA platform, based on a modified version of the outgoing third-generation model, features a 1.2-in. (30-mm) longer wheelbase and 0.6-in. (14-mm) wider front track. Mercedes-Benz says it offers levels of refinement vastly better than those of its predecessor through improved rigidity of its body structure, altered axle mounting, more comprehensive sound-deadening measures and enhanced aerodynamics.
The styling of the new entry-level Mercedes-Benz model, initially previewed by the Concept A sedan at last year’s Shanghai auto show, draws heavily on the look of the recently unveiled third-generation CLS, most notably at the front. The two cars share a so-called predator face with an AMG-inspired grille and angular headlamps that extend well back into the front fenders, giving the new A-Class a more aggressive air.
Farther back, the hatchback features a smoother look than its predecessor, which was characterized by its heavy side structuring. It also adopts newly designed LED taillamps that are positioned horizontally to provide a 0.8-in. (20-mm) wider tailgate aperture than before. Larger wheelhouses allow Mercedes-Benz to offer 19-in. wheels as an option on non-AMG models for the first time.
The adoption of the larger platform leads to an incremental increase in external dimensions. Length is up 4.7 ins. (119 mm) at 174.0 ins. (4,420 mm), width increases 0.6 ins. to 70.7 ins. (1,796 mm) and height extends a scant 0.1 ins. (2.5 mm) to 56.7 ins. (1,440 mm). The increases create larger rear-door apertures and cargo hold, whose capacity grows 1.0 cu.-ft. (28.3 L) over the old model to 13.0 cu.-ft. (368 L).
Despite growing in size, the new A-Class’s aerodynamic properties are improved. Mercedes-Benz claims a class-leading drag coefficient of 0.25.
Attention Lavished on New Hatchback's Interior
Mercedes-Benz has concentrated much of its efforts inside the new A-Class, which receives a distinctive dashboard-mounted black-panel display and switchgear similar in style and treatment to that first introduced to the S-Class.
Standard are two 7.0-in. (18-cm) displays, an analog instrument cluster and the first touchscreen infotainment system to be offered on a Mercedes. Also standard are a multi-function steering wheel with touch control buttons, Type-C USB interface and Bluetooth function for telephone and audio.
The highlight of Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX connectivity system introduced on the new A-Class is an advanced optional speech-recognition system similar to Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service. Users can issue spoken commands through a “Hey Mercedes” function developed to understand conversational language rather than specifically worded commands.
The ʼ18 A-Class initially will be sold with the choice of three 4-cyl. engines, with more to join the range as production of the new hatchback ramps up.
Among the gasoline units is a heavily updated version of the Renault-Nissan-produced 1.4L unit delivering 160 hp and 184 lb.-ft. (250 Nm) of torque in the A200 model. Above it is Mercedes-Benz’s recently updated 2.0L engine with 221 hp and 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) in the initial range-topping model, the A250. It claims to possess a 0-62 mph (100 km) time of 6.2 seconds and a limited 155 mph (250 km/h) top speed.
The sole diesel available from the outset of sales is a 1.5L unit in the 180d model delivering 114 hp and 192 lb.-ft. (260 Nm) and claimed to return 57.4 mpg (4.1 L/100 km).
A 6-speed manual transmission in the A200 is standard, as is a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox in both the A250 and 180d.
Two new AMG versions are planned, including the mild-hybrid A35 4Matic performance hatch set to be unveiled at the Paris auto show in September, as well as the A45 4Matic, expected to be rated at 420 hp. Both vehicles will use versions of Mercedes’ M260 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl.
Also offered is a newly developed 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Featuring electro-mechanical operation instead of the third-generation A-Class’s electro-hydraulic setup, it provides a fully variable apportioning of drive between the front and rear axles for improved traction.
In a further departure from its predecessor, the new A-Class will be sold with the choice of two suspension systems, depending on the model.
All feature a MacPherson strut front end, but Mercedes-Benz is providing selected models, including the initial A200 and A180d, with a new torsion-beam rear end in a move similar to that undertaken by Volkswagen with the Golf. The A250 is fitted with a modified version of the old A-Class’s multi-link rear end.
The new A-Class hatchback will be produced in Mercedes-Benz plants in Rastatt, Germany, and Kecskemét, Hungary, as well as the Valmet facility in Uusikaupunki, Finland.