Mercedes A-class (W169)
Predecessor: A-class (W168)
1997, Mercedes stunned the world by introducing A-class to the world.
could not believe Mercedes would bring such a small car to the market,
rivaling Volkswagen Golf in the mainstream market. They were also
by its innovative design and packaging - a revolutionary "sandwich
structure enables a very compact body yet provides a lot of cabin room
and unrivalled crash protection.
structure is probably
the most ingenious packaging concept since Sir Issigonis' Mini. It is
"Sandwich" because the horizontally orientated engine is laminated
the floorpan and the cabin, just under the driver’s feet. As a result,
the cabin floor is raised by a massive 200mm. That explains the
tallness. What is the advantage of such structure? first of all, it
the A-class to pass any foreseeable crash test easily. This is because
in case of collision the engine will be pushed under the cabin instead
of towards the driver’s legs. Secondly, thanks to this superior crash
A-class does not need to provide a large crumple zone up front, thus
an extremely short front end and a very compact overall length.
the raised cabin is less obstructed by the front wheels, therefore the
cabin can be pushed much forward to enhance interior room.
has its weakness too. It made the A-class too tall, led to the rollover
crisis in 1997. Mercedes eventually solved the problem, but in the
process it introduced severe understeer and a stiff ride to the
ruining its original sweet driving manner. Still, once it restored
confidence, some 1.1 million cars were sold.
Now here comes
generation A-class. Mercedes is even more ambitious with this project,
planning to sell 300,000 examples annually for the following 6 years.
basic philosophy is unchanged - sandwich structure is carried over -
this time the focus is to correct its faults in ride and handling.
altering the overall height, Mercedes increased the tracks of A-class
(53mm front, 99mm rear) to enhance its cornering stability. The
rear suspension is an all-new design. It features a Watts link for
wheel control, while revised geometry put the roll axis closer to the
of gravity. These modifications reduce body roll a lot. At the
front suspensions, a tower brace and a new link between anti-roll bars
stiffens the whole structure and separates the longitudinal and
forces better, hence improving steering precision.
these changes made a big difference to the handling. The A-class now
less and controls its body more tidily. Body roll is reduced and
more progressively, giving its driver plenty of confidence. The
steering is beautifully weighted, light at town and weighs up at speed.
It steers the car precisely yet delivers plenty of feel to the
compact body and light steering is perfect for city driving. However,
German highway the A-class also displays remarkable high-speed
thanks to the new mechanical adaptive dampers. In the twisty, it won’t
match a conventional hatchback due to its MPV-like center of gravity,
then again many hatchbacks cannot match its fine steering and
- the weakest area of the former A-class? happily, thanks to the more
suspensions, the new A-class no longer needs stiff springs and dampers
to prevent from rollover. Instead, a softer setup and longer travel
result in a supple, compliant ride. Audi A3 and BMW 1-series must be
how cosseting and quiet it rides, especially at low speed.
keeps the original car’s lovely shape and evolves to cleaner and more
The monospace profile and unique C-pillars are still its trademarks,
increasingly imitated by others. An even prettier 3-door version has
added, but it actually measures the same dimensions as the 5-door.
to the Mk1 they are 232mm longer and 45mm wider. This increases cabin
a lot - 97mm more shoulder room, 12mm more front headroom and 30mm more
rear legroom. Its 2568mm wheelbase is closer to the old A-class LWB
than the old standard car (2423mm).
the A-class is actually roomier than C-class. This must thanks to the
structure. Luggage space now grows to 435 litres. Fold the rear seat
it expands to 1995 litres, almost like a real MPV.
A-class might look like a MPV, but its driving position is by no means
MPV-like. The vertical steering wheel, the tilt seats, the position of
dashboard and pedals in relation to the driver all work like a normal
However, what we care most is the build quality. In the past decade,
was widely criticized for downgraded quality to boost profit. That was
especially serious for the cabin’s materials and switch gears.
we saw a revival of quality in the new SLK. Is it a U-turn in
policy or just an individual incidence? the new A-class told us it is
former. Quality has really come back to Mercedes-Benz ! look at that
plastic dashboard, the chromed details, the damped switches (many comes
from the recently facelifed C-class)... this cabin finally deserves the
are perhaps the least Mercedes-like. They are not shared with other
models because they are designed for mounted transversely and drive the
front wheels, in contrast to the company’s tradition of longitudinal
/ rear-drive. 4 petrol engines are offered: 95hp A150, 115hp A170,
A200 and lastly, a new hot hatch version A200 Turbo which produces
and 207lbft ! Mercedes is confident that the new chassis can handle the
extra power. These engines employ aluminum head, block and pistons to
a remarkably light weight (92kg for A150 and 117kg for A200 Turbo).
of just sohc and 2 valves per cylinder, they run at a 11.0:1
(thanks to improved water cooling channels to combustion chambers and
valves) and a 2-stage intake manifold to enable very good power
are 3 engines - 82hp A160CDI, 109hp A180CDI and 140hp A200CDI. All of
are equipped with particle filter and comply with the strictest EU4
regulation. They also employ second-generation common-rail injection to
enhance power, economy and quietness. Interestingly, the diesel engines
have dohc and 4 valves per cylinder, in contrast to the petrol engines.
Despite of the names, they all displaces 2.0 litres. The most powerful
A200CDI employs variable geometry turbine.
include 5 and
6-speed manual as well as a new "Autotronic" CVT. It is the company’s
CVT. It has a manual override with 7 ratios, but most important, a
converter with a lock-up clutch should avoid the "rubber band effect"
in ordinary CVTs.
As the turbo
not yet arrived, the 136hp A200 engine mated with 5-speed manual
is the one most journalists tested at launch. This engine is eager,
and frugal. The gearshift is short-throw and crisp. Like the rest of
car, the drivetrain combo is neither sporty nor lazy. It is just
efficient and highly enjoyable. Mercedes has found the right balance.
the second generation A-class will be another successful story, but
this time it will have a smooth start.
above report was last updated on 18 Oct
2004. All Rights Reserved.
Rollover crisis of the
when the first
generation A class was ready to deliver, a Swedish magazine rolled over
the A class under test, caused injuries to the testers. In then, they
performing "elk" test, which is commonly required in Sweden to prevent
the car from knocking down big deers suddenly appears in the road. When
they drove the A class at 60km/h and suddenly steered to avoid the
deer, the car simply rolled over and crashed.
world, newspaper and TV news reported it extensively, not only aroused
cancellation of orders, but seriously damaged Mercedes' world-wide
as the safest cars.
quickly, added wider tyres, ESP (electronic stability programme),
ride height and further strengthened anti-roll bars. All were done
extra cost. As a result, the problem was solved. Meanwhile, it launched
an extensive advertising program in all media to rescue its image,
the journalists who involve the overturned incident as well as ex-F1
Niki Lauda to publicise how good the new car became. Mercedes lost
of millions dollars in this crisis. Nevertheless, the A-class recovered
gradually in later years and eventually became Germany's best selling
In the second
A-class, Mercedes did further things to prevent rollover. See the main
above report was last updated on 16 Oct
2004. All Rights Reserved.