Mercedes Benz A-Class Limousine: First Drive
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The A-Class sedan is promising a limousine experience to the first time Mercedes buyer. Given that other 'limousines' in the lineup include the likes of the E-Class LWB and the Maybach, this is going to be a tall order.
Affordable luxury has always allured buyers who now stand to make a statement about their success. But with the C-Class now starting from Rs 49 lakh ex-showroom, Mercedes’ affordability wasn't exactly… affordable. However, their all-new offering, the A-Class Limousine, stands to be that statement. That is, however, if it can manage to be affordable at the cost of size, and not the traditional Mercedes experience. We head to Goa to find out.
The A-Class takes design cues from Mercedes’ new design language. And this means it does not shout for your attention and remains low-key. When you notice it, however, it manages to retain the stare with its subtleness and proportions. For starters, the A-Class limousine does not look small. It is as long as the Honda City while being wider and less tall. And with a longer wheelbase, the stance feels just right. Dial in details like the sharp headlamps, single slat Mercedes grille and the 17-inch wheels, the A-Class’ looks grow on you.
However from a design standpoint, it looks a little underdone. This Is because the designers have removed as many creases as possible to help the A-Class with its slipperiness. As a result, the limousine is now the most aerodynamic car in the world, with a drag coefficient of just 0.22. Also helping this figure are clever details like the seats of the headlamps which dont let air through and the wheels which are almost like discs, to keep the air flowing around them. This helps performance and efficiency.
From the back, the design still remains classy and graceful, with the standout element being the details of the taillamps. The dual exhaust chrome tips, in typical Mercedes fashion, are fake. Overall, the A-Class is a very classic looking sedan that will appeal to the more sophisticated buyer. If you are looking for a shouty and in your face design, the Bavarian does that better.
This is where the A-Class is thoroughly impressive. The dashboard layout is a beautiful harmony between modern day elements and an old-school luxury layout. The dual tone dashboard is divided by a rustic faux wooden panel which along with the beige leather cabin, gives the ambiance of being in an expensive living room. The elements - metallic rounded AC vents, round steering wrapped in leather and the piano black accents - come together to give you a classic, old school luxury feel. Then come the modern elements - two 10.25-inch screens with fantastic displays and 64 colour ambient lights - which are so intricate that every front AC vents lights up on its own. There is nothing ‘affordable’ about the experience of being on the front seats. It’s proper, premium Mercedes luxury.
Then come the features. And because the A-Class will be available in just one variant, all of the kit is standard. You get powered front seats with memory settings and lumbar adjustment, customizable displays, dual-zone climate control, a wireless charger, USB type C ports for charging, and a large sunroof. In terms of the infotainment experience, Mercedes has the best system when it comes to luxury cars and you get the full set here. Well, almost. You get voice commands, touchscreen, touchpads on the steering to control the screens, a haptic touch pad in the center console, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and even connected car tech which can be controlled via Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices. However, the sound quality from the speakers is disappointing.
For the A-Class to deliver on the promises of being a limousine, it needs to pamper the rear seat occupants at least as much as the front seats, if not more. The good thing is that in terms of space, the seats are properly usable. Knee room and headroom is ample for six footers and the space feels airy as well. However, the underthigh support is lacking and so is the footroom. This Is because Mercedes has mounted the rear seats low to open up more headroom. That being said, it remains comfortable for daily commutes. Also, this is strictly a 4 seater thanks to the large transmission tunnel.
What I wish was included was a boss mode control for the front passenger seats so that it could have been pushed forward to open up more room. And, while the sunroof is large, it is not a panoramic one as the glass roof experience is not available to the rear seat passengers. In the wishlist are controls for the infotainment, window shades, a wireless charger at the back and some controls for the seats like a manual thigh extension.
That said, there are ample features for the rear seat occupants to not feel like second class citizens. There are AC vents, 2 USB type chargers, armrests with flip out cup holders, ambient lighting and you can control some aspects of the infotainment with voice commands.
With 405 litres of storage for the petrol, the Mercedes A-Class can easily accommodate a weekend’s worth of luggage. 10-litres of this space in the diesel is taken up by the Ad-Blue tank. Also, the spare wheel of the production cars is going to be tucked under the boot floor.
Engine And Performance
On offer with the A-Class is a 1.3-litre turbo petrol with a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox and a 2.0-litre diesel with an 8-speed dual-clutch shifter. In both cases, power is sent to the front wheels. The petrol makes 163PS/250Nm while the diesel makes 150PS/320Nm. There will also be the A35 AMG on offer later in the year with a 2.0-litre turbo petrol which growls up 306PS and 400Nm, with the power being sento all 4 wheels. We drove the 1.3-litre petrol on our drive.
While this is not the first time we are driving this engine, the experience is quite different. This engine was co-developed by Daimler with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, and can also be found in the new Renault Duster in a de-tuned avatar. Get going and the refinement of the engine will impress you. It's quiet in city speeds and the power delivery is creamy smooth. But, get on the throttle and it accelerates with a purpose. This Is enough to go for every overtake in the city or highway, and even get you in the tiniest gap. There is a slight lag in the power delivery while picking up from lower speeds as the throttle is not direct, but that can easily be manually overridden by going on the gas a bit early.
In the city, the gearbox is also quick to shift up and keeps you cruising calmly under 2000rpm at most times. And because of this, city drives are the best in Comfort drive mode. Claimed fuel efficiency also stands at 17.5kmpl. The throttle lag in Eco is more pronounced and in the Sport mode, it holds the revs higher. One thing that gets a bit annoying is that the auto hold function is not well tuned, and the A-Class starts to roll back even on the slightest of inclines.
But, if you're in the mood for some fun, Sport mode it. The engine starts to hold 2000rpm and every throttle input is translated into acceleration. The throttle response is made sharper, steering becomes heavier and the a-Class is no longer worrying about fuel efficiency. The engine growl changes and it doesn't break a sweat to rev up to the 6250rpm redline. You can also take over the shifting process with the paddle shifters. Launch it in this mode and it will get to 100kmph in a claimed 8.1 seconds. This time is a tenth faster than the diesel.
Ride And Handling
The limo experience of the A-Class falls a bit short in the ride comfort department. The feedback from the road is present in the cabin, and especially on the rear seats. The cushioning while going over broken patches should have been a bit more comfortable. There is also a noticeable thud noise from the suspension everytime you hit an undulation at speed. That being said, the suspension doesn't make the ride feel unsettled or uncomfortable, just that we expected better damping from the limousine.
But, this stiff ride rewards you when it's time to turn the steering at speeds. The handling of the A-Class is enjoyable and predictable. The grip it generates from the skinny 205 section tyres is impressive and that could be down to its new MFA II platform. The steering too weighs up well at speeds and feels commutative. These factors combined offer a fun to drive experience. And even when you do break the friction from the rubber, the electronic nannies kick in quite smoothly to keep you in line.
The Mercedes A-Class gets quite a handful of safety tech to keep your mind at ease. There is the usual ESP and traction control. And then there is camera based emergency braking which can detect stationary objects on the road and brake the vehicle to prevent a collision. And then there is PreSafe. This senses if a collision is imminent and prepares the cabin to keep the occupants safe by tightening the front seat belts, adjusting front headrests, closing the sunroof and even shutting off the windows, but not completely as to let the gasses released during an airbags inflation out of the car. And of course, 7 airbags.
If you are thinking about the A-Class as a budget luxury sedan, don’t. It's going to cost between Rs 40 lakh-42 lakh and for the experience it is offering, the cost seems justified. The A-Class in no way is holding back when it comes to delivering the Mercedes luxury experience. Be it in terms of the cabin, rear seats or the drivetrain, it feels like driving a Mercedes. And while this A-Class will be the more sensible pick, don't forget there is also the locally assembled A35 AMG coming out, close to Rs 60 lakh, which will make your life more exciting.
The package could have been sweeter with a more forgiving ride quality, better rear seat comfort and a bit more drama in the looks. However, Mercedes is making up for them by offering the A-Class with a first ever 8-year warranty on the powertrain and an attractive pre-owned cars program, which will let you upgrade to a C, E, or even an S in the coming years. And that makes the A-Class a promising and alluring addition to the Mercedes family.