3 fév 18

Look who's talking: the new Mercedes A-Class

The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, launched this Friday in Amsterdam, makes a great leap forward in design, interior – and especially on-board features. As the first model to be fitted with MBUX infotainment technology, it is now more advanced than higher-end models, let alone its immediate competitors.

The fourth-generation A-Class - since the launch of the first A-Class in 1997, 3 million A-Class models found a customer - has a sportier look, with a longer wheelbase, a progressive front design and lower bonnet, flat LED headlamps and a new radiator grille. Also, it is slightly bigger with more shoulder and elbow room, resulting in a larger interior – although headroom is still not top - and a more voluminous, easily accessible boot. The luggage capacity is 370 litres, which is 29 litres more than in the previous A-Class.

But the new A-Class clearly wants to be more than the best entry-level hatchback it can be. Exhibit A: its all-new interior combines purity with modernism and high-quality materials. The cockpit dashboard is divided into two three-dimensional, horizontal sections. In fact, you could even call it E-Class quality in Compact format.

Whistles and bells
Take for instance such whistles and bells as the ambient lighting system, with 64 colour options to help personalise the interior, or seat massage – a first for this segment. Features that scream 'premium', just like its redesigned, sleeker exterior.

But it's not all about looks and feels. The new A-Class also features a range of Advanced Driving Assistance Systems (ADAS), including distance and lane maintenance, steering and emergency stopping assistance, and 360-degree parking assist. Extended Active Brake Assist is standard. As a result, it can drive semi-autonomously in some situations and has probably the highest level of active safety in this segment with functions adopted from the S‑Class. And to increase both safety and comfort, customers can for the very first time opt for a head-up display.

Killer app
But the 'killer app' setting it apart from other vehicles is MBUX, short for Mercedes-Benz User eXperience. Developed from scratch, it's Mercedes-Benz's take on what Artificial Intelligence (AI) can do for motorists today.

Centred on two  7 to 10-inch touch screens – a first in the automotive business – MBUX is intuitive and easy to use. A range of buttons on the steering wheel add to its comfort, convenience and safety; and an additional touchpad in the middle console completes the system.

The new A-Class has a top-rate infotainment system, which can be personalised to suit the driver. But the most eye-catching interactive feature – ear-catching, to be precise – is its interactive, voice-activated control.

Just say “Hey, Mercedes”, and your car will talk back to you: “What can I do for you?” You can then start a conversation in a natural language. The system is able to interpret regular remarks and queries. Mention that it's too hot, and it will lower the temperature. Ask whether you need sunglasses in Miami, and it will look up the weather forecast for that city. Say that you feel like pizza, and you'll get an overview of Italian restaurants in the neighbourhood.

But there's more. The more you use MBUX, the better it gets to know you. It will build profiles of its regular users, and suggest actions based on previous experience. If a certain topic comes up, shouldn't you call Derek? If you normally listen to the news at six, shouldn't you switch on the radio now? 'Hey Mercedes' is available in 20 languages, and also offers home assistance capabilities.

First-entry buyers
It's no coincidence that precisely the A-Class was enhanced with MBUX. The average age of A-Class customers is lower than in any other model in the Mercedes range. To be exact: in the EU, 60% of A-Class customers are first-entry buyers into the brand and over 70% of them stay with the brand. For 40% of the Chinese A-Class customers, it’s even their first car. In Europe no less than 40% are female, rising to 50% in China. And most are urbanites.

All crucial demographics for Mercedes, and the manufacturer has taken that to heart: it's not the driver who will need to adapt to the new A-Class, the model has been redesigned specifically with its young, urban, sophisticated and tech-savvy fan base in mind.

Three motorisations
The new, revitalised A-Class is sure to make a deep impression on them – and if that translates into stellar sales figures, it could set off an infotainment arms race among its closest competitors, the BMW 1 Series and the Audi A3.

The new A-Class is powered by new, more efficient engines: Two new four-cylinder petrol engines are available at market launch : the 1.4 l engine with 120 kW and 250 Nm includes cylinder shutoff boosting fuel and CO2-emission efficiency with up to 15% less CO2-emission than its predecessor. The second petrol engine is the 2,0 l with 165 kW and a max of 350 Nm. Both petrol engines have a particulate filter as standard. In diesel there is the new the four-cylinder with a displacement of 1.5 litres, up to 85 kW and 260 Nm max.

Available in three motorisations (two petrol, one diesel), the new A-Class can be ordered from March, when pricing details will become available, and will arrive at dealerships from May.

Picture copyright: Mercedes-Benz, 2018

Authored by: Steven Schoefs