Driven #21: Mercedes-Benz A-Class (A180 CDI)

Just over an year back, we carried a post on how Mercedes-Benz is betting big on models developed from its then-new Modular Front Architecture (MFA) platform to return to the top of the luxury car segment. Well, exactly twelve months later, our prediction has come true. Aided by a strong demand for its MFA-derived B-Class and A-Class, Mercedes-Benz moved ahead of Audi and BMW to become the top-selling luxury car brand in the Indian market last month. This has never happened ever since Mercedes-Benz lost its lead to BMW in 2009.

The A-Class, that went on sale in India very recently, is a very important model for Mercedes-Benz. It is not only the most affordable car wearing the three pointed star, but also the one that spearheads the emergence of compact luxury cars in India. That was a big gamble, given the fact that "bigger is always better" in India. Thankfully, the gamble paid off and the A-Class has become a big success. So, how does the A stacks up to the demands of luxury car buyers? We take it out for a spin to find out.

At INR 29.81 Lakhs on-road Chennai, the A180 CDI Style that we drove is the most affordable model in Mercedes-Benz India's lineup.


Despite being based out of the same platform, it is interesting to note the completely contrasting design themes of the B-Class and the A-Class. While the B nudges a little ahead of being called understated, the A-Class is totally opposite. It is over the top and we mean it in a good way.

Up front, the radiator grille made out of 300 odd individual metallic pieces studded like diamonds strikes the onlookers immediately. With the star logo adorning the center flanked on either sides by thin chrome slats, the grille is undoubtedly the signature style statement of the A-Class. Sadly, if you aren't one among those who had already booked the A, be prepared to shell out INR 70,000 for this piece of art. That isn't exactly cheap, but judging by the response it generated during our test drive, it might well be worth it.

The sharp headlight clusters are, as usual, brilliantly detailed with projector lights and streaks of LEDs sharing space with metallic inserts that add to the visual appeal. The split air-dams and the superbly-shaped lower lip in the front bumper is a mix of aggression and substance. While the A does well to hide its roots from the front, the association with B-Class is clearly evident in profile. That's largely due to the twin muscular creases criss-crossing the doors. We are especially smitten by the boomerang-shaped lower character line that extends up towards the rear adding character to the overall design. The long hood and the longer wheelbase clearly hints that the A is not one of those conventional hatchbacks that we know. The low profile tires, shod on smashing 10-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels, look gorgeous. The slingshot indicators, those striking LED taillights, the big spoiler integrated neatly with the roof and the two-tone rear bumper are the A's other attractions.

Apparently, aerodynamics has played a big part in the design of the A-Class, as the small Merc boasts a wind-cheating coefficient of drag of just 0.27. On the whole, the A-Class is stunning and undoubtedly one of the best-looking hatchbacks ever. The curious stares that the car garnered on more than one occasion during our test drive is a testament to that.

Two variants of the A are on offer. Surprisingly, the diesel A180 CDI retails for a lesser price than the A 180 Sport petrol that obviously gains a few features like panoramic sunroof, twin stainless steel exhaust pipes, sporty instrument cluster with 'chequered flag' design and different upholstery.


Much has been said and written about the A-Class being the most affordable Mercedes-Benz ever. But, step into the car and there are no signs of that. The quality, build and the materials used in the A's cabin are top quality stuff, just as you would expect in any Mercedes-Benz. This is extremely important, given that the A opens up avenues for potential new customers to step into Mercedes-Benz who might end up growing with the brand.

The steering wheel, with the brushed metallic insert and the soft-textured material, looks and feels premium. The white-on-black dials in the instrument cluster with metallic silver surrounds adds a touch of elegance to an otherwise sporty cabin. The Multi Information Display (MID) between the dials is a storehouse of information and lets us toggle between its various displays through buttons on the steering wheel. A constant fixture in all the screens is, of course, the gear indicator and the driving mode that has been selected. The headlamp controller and the pull-push type parking brake occupy their slots to the right of the steering wheel, like they typically do in all Mercedes cars. Similarly, the gear selector is placed in the steering column. Though it takes time to get used to, it is comfortable once we get over that initial period. The two control stalks in the left operates the indicators, the windshield wipers and the cruise control function.

Just like they were in the B-Class, the SLS AMG-inspired air-conditioner vents are the highlight in this cabin too. They are beautifully designed and great to touch, feel and operate. The floating COMMAND infotainment screen controlled by a rotary controller between the front seats looks funky, but that's about it. It still lags behind the advanced infotainment systems available from the competition. The multitude of buttons below are a bit fussy until you get intuitive and get used to them. While two chunky knobs control the air-conditioning for the driver and the front passenger, the absence of climate control is a glaring omission. There are no rear air-conditioning vents either.

The ergonomically-shaped front seats are extremely comfortable with integrated headrests that are angled perfectly. While the driver gets a full-electric seat adjustment, the front passenger makes do with manual controls that gets on your nerves if the seat has to be reclined fully. The cabin is adequately spacious with problems at the rear cropping up only when the front seats are pushed all the way to the back. At the rear, the bench is set upright and there is less under-thigh support as well. That, combined with the big transmission tunnel and the limited width of the seat, makes the A-Class a not-so-interesting travel option for the fifth passenger. What should have been a decent boot space is restricted by the spare tire, which is just strapped on to the floor.

In true Mercedes-Benz fashion, the A-Class is stuffed with active and passive safety technologies that include Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Acceleration Skid Control (ASR), Brake Assist with emergency braking assistance, Hill Start Assist, Attention Assist, Tyre pressure loss warning system, brake pad wear indicator and a total of 9 airbags including pelvis airbags for the driver and front passenger and knee airbag for the driver.


Gone are the days when the numbers on the badges of Mercedes-Benz cars denoted engine displacements. Despite its confusing '180' suffix, the A is powered by a 2.1-liter, inline, 4-cylinder engine that's rated at 107 bhp of power at 3200-4400 rpm and 250 Nm of torque at 1400-2800 rpm. This engine powers the C-Class, E-Class and ML-Class too, albeit in higher states of tune. The spec sheet claims that the A180 CDI is capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in 10.6 seconds and reaching a top speed of 190 km/h. The engine is mated to a 7G-DCT dual clutch automatic transmission that also does duty in the petrol version.

Turn the ignition on and the car breathes to life with a muted groan. The engine is pretty refined, transmitting just gentle vibrations into the cabin. It is only at higher revs it turns loud and vocal. Press the throttle and the car lunges forward with surprising eagerness. Those power and torque figures, that frankly weren't impressive on paper, aren't troubling us anymore as the perceived lack of power is not translated on road.

Three driving modes can be chosen at the touch of a button. While the Economy mode is obviously tuned for fuel-efficiency and up-shifts early, the Sport mode holds onto gears comparatively longer. The 'Manual' mode that allows us to use the paddles to shift gears is our favourite though. In this mode, the DCT doesn't up-shift and lets us rev until the redline before pitching in. Down-shifts happen automatically though, if we fail to judiciously use the paddles. The paddles themselves are perfectly positioned, so much so, that the index fingers tend to move towards them unwittingly. We know, it's the enthusiast inside us that's responsible for that action, but we will call it this way! The dual-clutch transmission does its job perfectly with smooth, jerk-free and seamless shifts.

The low-speed ride of the A-Class isn't comfortable, with every bump and pothole filtering into the cabin. The meaty 225/45 R17 tires make their presence felt here. As speeds increase, the ride quality goes up and the A-Class is comfortable cruising at triple digit speeds. Handling is impressive and the straight line stability at high speeds is excellent. The steering wheel weighs up nicely as speeds go up and ensures that the driver stays connected to the road at all times. The low profile tires that took its toll on the ride quality shows its positive trait in the way in which the A-Class maintains its composure and hugs lanes while darting through corners. This is one real fun car to drive. If the A180 CDI with just 107 bhp is this good to drive, how good will the A45 AMG with 355 bhp be? We're salivating at the prospects, but that's all we can do as Mercedes-Benz has no plans of bringing the red hot hatch here anytime soon.

Braking is splendid and the car sheds speed in a calm and composed manner. We felt the pedals to be over sensitive though. Though the ground clearance seems to be high, the A-Class did hit a couple of speed breakers with just three of us on-board, despite our best efforts not to scrape the underbelly. It's good to exercise caution.

Our spirited driving meant that the car returned a fuel-efficiency of just 11.1 km/l during our test drive. To be honest, this figure isn't appropriate given that the engine was high-revving for a significant portion of our drive. For those with sane driving style, Mercedes-Benz claims that the A-Class is capable of going 1000 kilometers in 50 liters of diesel.


* Engine Type: In-line, Common-rail Direct Injection
* No of Cylinders: 4
* Displacement: 2143 cc
* Maximum Power: 107 bhp @ 3200-4400 rpm
* Maximum Torque: 25.49 kgm @ 1400-2800 rpm
* Transmission Type: 7-speed AT
* Tires: 225/45 R17
* Brakes: Ventilated Disc (Front), Disc (Rear)


* Stunning design
* Excellent handling and stability
* Proper 'luxury car' safety features


* Low speed ride quality
* Lack of powerful engine options


The A-Class looks great, is feature-loaded, handles well, is fuel-efficient and easy to zip around in town. On top of all these, it commands a premium image and is packed with a full set of five-star safety features that ensures maximum protection to occupants. A less-than-average ride quality and a modest power output are the only chinks in the armor, which, we strongly feel, aren't going to be deal-breakers. The Indian public seem to be supporting our verdict on the A-Class, as they have lapped up all that were imported, forcing the German manufacturer to request for increased allocation for our market. What remains to be seen though is the effect of competition, as BMW is readying the A's arch-rival 1-Series for launch next month.

By pioneering the compact luxury car segment in India, Mercedes-Benz not only gained the first-mover advantage but has also opened up new avenues for young professionals to look beyond Toyotas, Hondas, Volkswagens and Skodas and step into the world of luxury brands. Mark our words, this segment is going to make it big in our market! And, Mercedes-Benz will be a big player in it. We are looking at you, CLA and GLA!

Photography: R. Bharath

No comments:

Post a Comment