A revamped version of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class arrives here in early 2016. Its success hold lessons for carmakers pursuing youth
EVEN THE YOUTHFUL can appreciate a facelift, it seems. Three years into its lifespan, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class — a model aimed squarely at buyers younger than the luxury carmaker’s norm — has been given a makeover.
On the outside, the revamp has been a mild one involving mostly bolt-on parts. Those are cheaper to alter than the sheetmetal of a car’s body. Yet, there have been other reasons to refrain from dramatically altering the A-Class.
In Europe, drivers of the sporty-looking hatchback are now 13 years younger on average than owners of the preceding A-Class, a car that was better to use than to gaze upon. Two-thirds of them gave up some other brand of car to switch to Mercedes.
The car has “done much to make the Mercedes brand more youthful,” says Ola Källenius, the global head of the luxury carmaker, a division of Daimler, on whose board he sits.
Indeed, Mercedes has found it so tough to keep up with demand for its baby model that since August 2013, its production has been partly outsourced to a Finnish company.
Nevertheless, mid-life enhancements are a matter of routine for carmakers. Accordingly, the new A-Class has designed lamps at both ends. The front bumper, says Mercedes, is more “arrow-shaped” than before. At the rear, the tailpipes now peek through the redesigned bumper.
Inside, the updates are similarly mild. An LED screen that measures 8 inches diagonally is a new option, as are Apple Play and Mirror Link connectivity for Apple and Android smartphones, respectively.
There are new colour and trim options for the car — measures both cheap to deploy and effective at creating a sense of change.
It is under the skin where the updates have been more substantial. A new diesel version, the A 180 d, has a 1.5-litre, 109 horsepower engine so clean that it emits around 104 grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometre when paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission. If sold here, it would qualify for a $15,000 tax rebate under the revised CEVS categories that came into play yesterday.
The 1.6-litre A 180 and A 200 models remain unchanged under the bonnet, but the 2.0-litre A 250 will receive a mild boost in horsepower, from 211 to 218.
Meanwhile, the raunchiest model receives a name change in line with Mercedes’ latest taxonomy system. Previously known as the “A 45 AMG”, the Mercedes-AMG A 45 4Matic has been massaged in the engine department. It now kicks out 381hp (from 360hp), and is even better at imitating a missile as a result. Along with shorter gear ratios, the extra power launches it to 100km/h in an eye-popping 4.2 seconds, a good 0.4 seconds quicker than before — best think hard about how to use all the time you’ll be saving.
Only a handful of models from Aston Martin, a high-performance carmaker in which Daimler has a stake, are quicker than the A 45. The steroidal Mercedes-AMG also reclaims its title of the world’s most powerful hatchback.
That achievement might be seen as a symbol of Mercedes’ broader ambitions. The carmaker is in a race to overtake Audi and BMW to regain its position as the auto world’s leading luxury brand. It has given itself until 2020 to do so, and has put in place a strategy to attack its rivals on as many fronts as possible. Today it sells 26 different models, but within five years it will have some 35 on offer.
That being so, it is no longer enough for Mercedes-Benz to offer one or two small cars to customers. The A-Class belongs to a model family that includes no fewer than four other cars: the B-Class, CLA-Class, GLA-Class and CLA Shooting Brake, a small station wagon that is just around the corner from a Singapore launch.
These New Generation Compact Cars, as Mercedes calls them, are clear examples of this ambitious product plan at work.
Meanwhile, the new A-Class is earmarked to go on sale here early next year (a Singapore Motor Show launch next January seems plausible). Källenius says that customers have demanded more comfort from the car, so it has been reworked accordingly. There is an optional system called Dynamic Select that can alter the engine, transmission and suspension settings between “Comfort” on the soft end of the scale and “Sport +” at the other, with a “Race” setting for the ballistic A45 4Matic.
Therein lies an interesting challenge for Mercedes and other carmakers in their pursuit of youth. Younger buyers, it seems, want not just more models to choose from, but cars that can do it all.
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Check out this gallery of the new A-Class and A 45 4Matic