I must admit I have only ever seen one A Class in
my life. There are not too many kicking around Thailand but the one I
saw was at the Bira circuit. Even when I was in the UK 12 months ago I
did not see any in the supermarket car parks. It seemed as though they
were not the flavour of the month.
Benz A Class
My walk around the one at Bira revealed that it was
much bigger than I imagined, and much taller as well. I was left with
the thought that DaimlerChrysler must have designed them for carrying
giraffes (or was it elks).
However, our Down-Under correspondent John Weinthal
has just spent a week with an A Class and found himself alphabetically
challenged. Here are the Words from Weinthal.
the Mercedes Benz A Class baby car I pondered what the A might allude
to: Attractive - surely only to the blind; Agile - sorry, it has the
responses of a three-legged turtle; Absurd - let’s not be too harsh
in our introduction. Finally I settled for Alternative, as in
eccentric, but without the Allure of many of that ilk.
“The A Class was originally launched in late
1997, then re-launched following a delay of some months after the
infamous roll-over by a Scandinavian review team in their so-called
Elk Test manoeuvre.
this incident which attracted worldwide publicity, Mercedes went back
to their drawing boards to re-engineer the suspension, no doubt to
enhance the life expectancy of these northern beasties.
“The A Class never recovered from this exercise
which dulled the steering, stiffened the ride and made the car rather
listless if not quite lifeless. Beyond that, there is the rear side
styling with its quirky over and under windows and upswept rear door
window line, both of which were possibly adopted to hide an
essentially ultra-short wheelbase station wagon profile.
“I have driven a few A Class Mercs over the years
belonging to three friends. Significantly, none had been for a test
drive, and each sold them for substantially less than the new price
within a year of purchase.
“It took Mercedes six years to reach the one
million production figure - the only surprise is that they have
persevered for so long. But persevere they have. We will see a second
generation A Class here around next May. For the first time there is a
three-door and the five-door looks much more conventional.
“The engines are claimed to be 38 percent more
powerful and 10 percent more fuel efficient. There is also a 142 kW
turbo model and, for Europe at least, the choice of three
“The new cars are wider and longer with
substantially changed underpinnings which is hardly surprising! In
Australia the original A Class now comes in a variety of trim specs
with short and not-so-short wheelbase versions powered by either 75 kW
1.6 litre or 92 kW 1.9 litre four cylinder engines.
“A Class is available with a five speed manual or
sophisticated five-speed automatic transmission. The test car was a
short wheelbase automatic 1.6 in Piccadilly trim specification - a
special edition costing AUD 36,690 (around 1.2 million baht at
straight currency conversion) with the auto shifter. Piccadilly
distinctions include floor mats, choice of metallic black or blue
paint, a leather clad steering wheel and gear knob plus a couple of
“The major claimed attractions of the A Class are
large interiors for their external dimensions, folding and removable
seats for load carrying flexibility and accident safety which is
claimed to match that of the larger conventional C Class sedans. While
these claims may be reasonable what do they mean in the real world?
“If I want more space I will buy a larger car -
or, for genuine practicality within still compact dimensions, one of
the many soft off-roaders most of which cost less than the 1115 kg A
Class and offer more space plus better ride, handling and outright
“For the asking price (in Australia) the A Class
is pretty basic in its equipment levels. There’s no power operation
for the rear windows, no fast up or down for the fronts, no auto
lights or wipers, no remote controls for the audio and a glove-box
without a lock.
“It does have air-conditioning, cruise control
and a height adjustable driver’s seat. There are front and side
airbags for the front seat occupants, electronic traction control, ABS
brakes and brake assist. You get all this and heaps more on a new V6
Hyundai Tucson plus the safety of all-wheel-drive. And the Tucson
costs just under AUD 30,000 (but unfortunately not available in
“Over a two hour drive the A Class seats proved
to be real bum-numbers. The auto change is lethargic. The steering is
less than communicative and weights up as lock is increased. There is
considerable body roll on moderate corners. Engine and other noise
sources are about average for a hard working 1.6 litre auto as it
struggles to maintain even Australia’s absurdly low speed limits in
hilly terrain - and that’s with only the driver aboard. The
distinctly downmarket look and feel of the drab purple plastics and
leather of the A Class did nothing to raise the spirits, nor does its
very basic instrument cluster.
“If I must have a high roof sedan with a ski
slope nose I would grab a Daewoo Matiz for less than half the money
(not available in Thailand) or move upmarket from the lively and fun
Daewoo to something like the classy looking new Mitsubishi Colt (not
available) or a Honda Jazz (reviewed a couple of weeks ago and
retailing here around 600,000 baht).
“In my opinion each of this trio has a better
look and feel to the interior and more endearing exterior styling.
That’s before one considers the excellent Mazda3 and Mazda6 and a
host of other sub-AUD 35,000 cars which, by any objective standard,
represent outstandingly better value and more rewarding motoring than
this A Class Aberration.
“However, the forthcoming models promise some
starlight at the end of this tunnel, even if it is nine months off for
One does not have to screw one’s eyes up too much
to read between the lines that John Weinthal was not altogether
impressed by this vehicle, so perhaps it’s good that we don’t get
the A Class here. Both the A Class and the smaller Smart would cost
too much in this country to be saleable items; however, judging by
John Weinthal’s test, the A Class is hardly saleable in Australia