New-generation Mercedes-Benz A Class is young, willing, and still able to wow

Youth, as George Bernard Shaw so accurately asserted, is wasted on the young. For car manufacturers, however, supplying the youth of today with fantastic things whereby they can flaunt their well-being and, let’s face it, their youth, is something which presents a variety of problems.

Creating something which young people desire — crave, even — is not the easiest of tasks given the vicissitudes of style and fashion and the vagaries of taste, but it is something they have to try and do because the nature of the market is such that young people count for a helluva lot of sales in any given market and a failure to be competitive in catering for younger tastes is potentially disastrous.

Being at a stage in life whereby I can truly appreciate the veracity of Shaw’s words, I think it is pretty safe to say that younger generations rarely appreciate things for what they are, instead simply expecting them to deliver in spades that which they want any given item to do for them. Only natural, then, that there is often little appreciation of the generations of work which actually went into making them in the first place.

But with the consumerist way of the world these days, that is only to be expected. And while those of us with some considerable experience to illuminate us can truly appreciate the decades of work and application that went into something such as the test car this week, the Mercedes A-Class, more often than not our younger counterparts care little about such matters.

The story of the A-Class is one littered with innovation, freshness, and no little controversy as well. First seen in 1997 it was initially lauded as a sort of Mini MPV which broke a lot of rules in terms of its design and engineering. It was a controversial car primarily because it was so very untypically Mercedes.

It also hit the headlines at the time because it failed the so-called Elk Test as it showed a tendency to overturn when put through a series of very sharp manoeuvres. Mercedes quickly remedied these initial problems and went on to sell over 1.5 million units of the first two generations of the car.

Come to 2012, however, and Mercedes proceeded to reinvent the A-Class. Undoubtedly prompted by the success of the Audi A3 and the BMW 1-Series, the Stuttgart concern made it less of an MPV and more of a five-door hatchback, squashing its previously lofty demeanour in to a leaner and considerably more sporty proposition.

The aim, of course, was to make the car more appealing to the youth market and Mercedes certainly achieved that. From having been what was essentially a second family car, it made it into something which would appeal more to younger single people than older people with family commitments. And it certainly achieved what was intended for it in the new guise.

And then, late last year, Mercedes gave it a bit of a wash and brush-up, just to keep it as fresh and appealing as it could be. Now it may be that the changes the company initiated here are just be a bit difficult to spot, but rest assured, changes were made.

The headlights and rear lamp clusters were tweaked, the bumpers equally so, and the grille got a once-over. Same story on the inside, where there’s a new instrument cluster, seats with more range of adjustment, and a free-standing infotainment screen are now part of the deal.

Mercedes will openly admit that these revisions have been put in place to further attract the ‘yoof’ market for which the A-Class so openly yearns. And, you would have to admit, they are on the money because no longer is this the sort of car Aunty Mary would have bought to bring her mates to the bridge session in the school hall on Tuesday nights.

Rather it is one which, if Mum owned it she would hardly ever get to drive because the kids would be wheeling their buddies around in it all the time. Such as the range of new and vibrant colours — the tester was Elbaite Green Metallic, no less — all of which are bright, zesty, and fun, add to the appeal.

Aside from being a vibrant looker, the tester we had was also a really nice machine to drive. Although only fitted with the 109 bhp 1,461cc four-cylinder engine, it still demonstrated reasonable zip on the open road and handled quite impressively too, even if the ride is a touch on the stiff side.

Although not endowed with much grunt, it was still a very liveable-with car in dynamic and performance terms, but there is a payout for the lack of get-up-and-go (11.3 second 0-100km/h and 190km/h top speed) with an annual tax bill of just €190 thanks to emissions of just 101 g/km. The potential consumption figure of 4.1 l/100 km (68.2 mpg) will put a smile on many an owner’s face.

With a pretty comprehensive suite of standard kit, including aircon., Bluetooth, cruise control, heated front seats, reversing camera, and leather multi-function steering wheel on the A180d AMG-Line version we tested, personal comforts are well looked after. And, for nervous parents, the raft of safety kit, such as attention assist, auto lights, and collision prevention assist, are very welcome too.

However, one thing that royally craps me off these days is the lack of any sort of a spare tyre with which so many manufacturers are chancing their arm. The Tirefit repair kit you get instead is completely useless in my view, especially if you live in anything resembling a rural area. These things should be banned.

A small quibble maybe, but an important one to my way of thinking and one which put a slight black mark against an otherwise excellent buying proposition.

A car which will definitely appeal to its intended market and even if they do not fully appreciate the essence of Mercedes’ classiness which is so evident here, the youths of today will certainly like the smartness of the design and the broad appeal of a car which was actually made just for them.

Ah, blessed youth.


The Price: from €27,145-€36,702 as tested.

The Engine: not the raciest thing Mercedes has ever made, but fully functional and cheap to run.

The Specification: basic kit levels good, but add-ons raise cost levels sharply.

The Overall Verdict: hits the spot.


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