No longer in A-Class of its own
Mercedes faces stiff competition from VW and others for the European Car of Year award, writes Campbell Spray
WHEN I picked up the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class recently for a test drive along with a brochure and specification sheet, I was given a magazine, mb!, which was full of articles and pictures highlighting a life that potential owners either live or can aspire to.
The magazine was nicely produced but I felt fairly alienated from it as I could give at least a generation gap to everyone pictured or written about. Everybody was very funky, sporty and attractive. There wasn't a child or a grey hair anywhere.
The magazine was an awful long way from the brochures of old that featured the suave, slightly greying businessmen and his very coiffured twin-set and pearls wife. It very blatantly showed the direction Mercedes wants to go.
The downsizers and families who loved the old A-Class with its high, boxy shape will also find the new A-Class is not for them. Where once you stepped up you now ducked down into a low-slung, sculpted, four-seater hatchback that calls itself the "pulse of a new generation".
The accent is on sportiness rather than practicality. There's not a trace of the old model except the name. In fact, sleek and tasty it might be but the A-Class has lost its unique selling-point of being a really useful, small Mercedes. However, the new model feels far more solid than its predecessor whose launch in 1997 suffered after the car flipped over in an "elk-test". But that setback didn't stop around two million units of first- and second-generation models being sold. There are no such steering problems with the new A-Class.
Yet it will still find it hard to compete with its two main premium rivals: Audi's A3 and BMW 1-Series, who have a very solid following as well as being bigger in the rear.
In fact, space in the back for passengers is a real weak point with the A-Class and they will find it rather tight and claustrophobic.
However, I'm sure the target market will like all the connectivity on board and some rather nice styling touches as well as the top-rate safety packages we have come to expect from Mercedes.
Yet the new A-Class is not cheap. The test model with the 1.8 diesel engine and seven-speed automatic box was a few cent short of €33,000, which is nearly the same price as an almost fully specced Volkswagen Golf. Both cars compete for the European Car of the Year title in Geneva tomorrow. But out of the two it is the latter which would deserve it more.
The Mercedes seems more of a marketing statement than a practical car. Or maybe I'm just feeling a bit excluded.
Meanwhile, the other cars in the shake-up for the European Car of the Year are the Ford B-Max, Hyundai i30, Peugeot 208, Renault Clio, Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86 and Volvo V40. The only one of those I haven't driven is the Clio but all the others are good cars
The Peugeot, Toyota and Volvo did very well in the Continental Irish Car of the Year a few months ago.
The Hyundai is a very smart package but I fear I'm becoming a bit of a bore about the Korean marque – although with its sister Kia it was the only top 10 mass-market brand to put on sales against last year in the first two months of the year. In Hyundai's case sales are nearly 16 per cent up. The Clio, which is quite a looker, now comes with a five-year unlimited mileage warranty as does the whole Renault range. The company needs the boost; for the first two months of the year its sales were down 43 per cent. Audi was the big winner with an increase of 23 per cent. The top selling car so far this year is the Nissan Qashqai, followed by the Golf and then the Ford Focus.