Gone are the days when you might have heard a car pass by, the loud bass tone of its blown exhaust indicating to its owner, (and all in the surrounding parishes), that a visit to their neighbourhood motor-accessory shop for the purchase of some bandage and goo, was now an imperative.
No more lying underneath your steed, trying to avoid all manner of foul debris falling into your eyes, mouth, nose, ears and anywhere else it can find residence. No more torn skin from the sharps that lie in wait beneath, or knuckles skinned to the bone as you make that stretch too far and pay the price.
We have come a long way on our motor journey, our access to almost every world brand now available through a high-functioning motor industry. Thankfully most retail outlets still have a parochial flavour to them, the names of those within shared through a grapevine that in Ireland is quicker than fibre-optic.
Our choice of car is no longer sparse and akin to something the venerable Matt Talbot would look on as ‘comfy’! Nah, now we want it all, no matter what segment we shop within. We want a basic car that is no longer basic, a car that comes with the communication, entertainment and thankfully a high level of active and passive safety as a minimum. Our cars are an extension to our homes, mobile living rooms indicative of our current life status. They must provide – we demand so.
Having recently spent some time in the company of Mercedes-Benz’s new Sprinter van at its world launch in Amsterdam, the words of Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars since 2006, were those in which he unambiguously outlined the ethos of the German marque – no matter what vehicle you buy, you are driving a Mercedes-Benz, the new Sprinter and its owner no different to him than an S-Class and its owner. Hmmmm!
It would be easy to dismiss the moustached Doctor’s comments to the marketing bin, however my test drive thereafter consolidated his oration and proved the Sprinter to be all we expect from their passenger cars, its metal box outer profile belying its high-tech premium offerings in the cabin.
A change of venue and I’m looking at the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, a compact premium car in a segment that is growing steadily. Wearing a badge that pings off everyone’s radar, the street stature of the compact may be small, but their social voice is loud and clear – you are now shopping upmarket.
Anyone who assumes that the A-Class is too conservative for their taste need to make themselves known to this latest offering from Stuttgart. Three different design lines, Style, Progressive and AMG are on offer, with the introductory Style coming with quite a list of standard equipment. Whereas heretofore the bigger model Mercedes got the toys first and then those cars in the lower segments eventually got them, items on this A-Class are definitely no hand-me-down items.
From the outside, this latest A-Class sits wide and low, its nose prominently carrying the star, the stance and sense of purpose definitely more youthful than the previous model, the thirty-something’s now a definite sales target for this introductory Mercedes. The facial likeness between the A-Class and the new CLS is easy to see, the subsequent connect with the Mercedes family a given.
Sitting into this latest, fourth generation A-Class, Dr. Dieter’s words reverberated within its modern cabin, the ideology spoken now physically present, with digital twin-screens, air-vents, ambient lighting, seating and the overall fit ‘n finish is without blemish. As an introduction to Mercedes-Benz world, this new A-Class screams its lineage.
One key feature available to new Mercedes-Benz owners is their digital consoles and their MBUX infotainment and multimedia system – Mercedes-Benz User Experience for those with the need. This is an impressive system that uses artificial intelligence to monitor and remember your action/habits/frequently called numbers/locations and will act as your effective work/travel secretary, and all activated by the utterance of ‘Hey Mercedes’!
Some of the A-Class features include: multifunctional steering wheel, climate control seats with massage and multi-contour functions. Safety elements like lane keeping, adaptive braking, and various distance control and driver assist systems, as available on models in the upper segments are now either standard or on the 2018 A-Class option menu.
A-Class Specification 2018
Style: Five-door hatchback – 5-seater
Trim Levels: Style, Progressive & AMG
Engine: (at launch) 1.5 litre A180d
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Tax Band: A3
Annual Road Tax: €190
Boot space: 370 litres, expanding to 1,210 litres with rear 60/40 seats folded
Introductory Price: A180d Automatic €31,600 - the A200 petrol starting at €34,235.
Entry level A160 Petrol and A160d will arrive later this year. Prices are expected to guide around €30,000 and will be confirmed closer to the launch date.
Some of the competition
BMW 1-Series, Audi A3, Volvo V40, Lexus CT, VW Golf, Ford Focus, Opel Astra
Two 4-cylinder petrol options of 1.4-litre and 2.0-litre capacity and a new 1.5-litre diesel with power outputs in the 116 to 224hp range initially with higher performance AMG versions following. Transmissions will be a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed automatic.
On the Road
On a short test drive at its Irish launch, the new A-Class showed itself to have decent head and shoulder room for two fully grown, well-upholstered men. Boot space is up by 29litres to 370 litres, with easier access, expanding to 1,210 litres with the rear 60/40 seats folded.
There is a definite stamp of quality within the cabin, the ride quality is very decent and although it would take a more extended drive to check its distance comfort and fuel economy, the indications were that the folk in Stuttgart have done their homework.
The 1.5 litre diesel will do all it is designed to do, and as long as I was not being overly enthusiastic, it moved through the urban, rural and motorway sections on my launch route with no major objections.
Mercedes-Benz envisage a younger buyer now including the new A-Class on their test drive list. With its more athletic outward appearance and internal quality, they have undoubtedly made a very strong case. An easy recommendation – this new A-Class is definitely ready to rock.
Motoring correspondent beepbeep.ie
Member of the Association of Professional Motor Press
Voting juror on Irish Car and Irish Van of the Year