Mercedes-Benz A-Class Limousine: First Drive Review
For a brand synonymous with the E-Class and S-Class, SUVs now comprise 47 per cent of Mercedes-Benz’s volumes. But that, say Mercedes, isn’t merely down to the current mania for SUVs. Rather it’s because they didn’t have an entry-level sedan for 15 months, ever since the CLA was discontinued and Covid-19 delayed its replacement. It’s finally here, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class Limousine, and as the Limo suffix indicates, the focus is on comfort and back seat space, two things the CLA Coupe didn’t particularly excel at. With a generous addition to both the length and wheelbase, a softer suspension and beautiful cabin, will the A-Class sedan move buyers back to cars?
MFA2 front-wheel-drive architecture on Mercedes-Benz A-Class
The A-Class Limousine rides on Mercedes’ new MFA2 compact-car architecture and it lays claim to the Limousine tag with the 4549mm length and 2729mm wheelbase making it the longest and most spacious in its class. Drive, like before, is sent to the front wheels via twin-clutch automatic gearboxes. And the big news is the torsion beam rear suspension replacing the independent set-up of the past.
Of space there is plenty, especially when compared to both the outgoing CLA and its main rival, the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe. Stylistically the rear quarters don’t have the wow factor of the afore-mentioned coupe-roofed cars, this new A-Class being more formal and upright. Not as sporty either. But the upside is a sensible door aperture that you won’t bang your head against, and proper headroom when inside. The longer wheelbase means four full-size adults can fit inside the car, though the width isn’t generous enough for a fifth passenger while the transmission tunnel is quite pronounced. While on the subject of wheelbase, I have to point out that China gets a longer wheelbase A-Class Limousine. India doesn’t get that, it will take far too big a bite out of the C-Class which would prompt a longer wheelbase C-Class, which will just be too much complexity for a market that still hasn’t moved past annual sales of 34,000 units (in 2019, 2020 dropped to 21,400).
On the subject of styling I have to point out the, err, pointy, shark-nose, front end that looks really cool and contributes to the 0.22 coefficient of drag which is a world record. 17-inch wheels on higher-profile rubber are standard and the ride height has gone up by 15mm which is evident in the increased wheel arch gaps. For an additional Rs 1.5 lakh you can option a carbon style package that includes a front lip spoiler, boot spoiler, side skirts and B-pillar garnish. And for India the A-Class will get a proper wheel well to store the (space saver) spare wheel rather than having it strapped into and eating into the 405 litre boot space.
Beautiful interiors on A-Class Limousine
Keeping with the interior theme first seen on the E-Class, the A-Class also gets the free-standing slab of digital real estate that combines the 10.25-inch infotainment and 10.25-inch digital cockpit into one massive screen. In terms of equipment it’s not like the A-Class has anything significantly more than its rival, but the design of the screens, the graphics, and the way it is positioned with the ring of back-lighting around it makes the cabin look and feel really expensive. This is not a cut-price C-Class! The quality of all the switchgear is top notch and the overall design is more sporty with the now de-rigueur mood lighting that has 64 different colours.
The infotainment can be operated via touch or scribbling away on the touchpad on the centre console. There are three layouts for the digital cockpit, and the latest generation MBUX operating system that recognises voice commands. Just remember not to use the word Mercedes in regular conversation as it wakes up the voice assistant.
You get a wireless charger and five USB ports though all of them are Type-C. There is a panoramic sunroof, electric front seats and rear passengers get air-con vents though no temperature control. And in terms of safety there is also a knee-bag making for seven airbags.
Excellent ride quality
Get going and the first thing that strikes you is the excellent ride comfort on the new A-Class, a massive departure from the old CLA and even plusher than the current C-Class. Over the first speed breaker we braced for a scrunch which never came, the increased ride height ensuring even the tallest speed breakers don’t scrape the nose or belly. Then there’s the way it rides over those speed breakers and broken patches, with truly excellent compliance that brings to mind much bigger SUVs. Allied to the space in the back and you can now be chauffeured around in the A-Class Limousine; it even has a more generous glass area so you don’t feel cramped or claustrophobic.
As for the handling you don’t get any float or wallow on wavy roads but there is evident body roll when pushing round corners. Now I wouldn’t blame the torsion beam rear suspension because these are now getting rather more sophisticated and capable, but the push towards comfort does mean softer suspension settings which in turn means the A-Class isn’t as enthusiastic or sporty as either the 2 Series or even the outgoing CLA. The steering though is very nice, with good precision, response and eagerness.
Under the hood of the A200d is the venerable 2-litre diesel, de-tuned to 147.5bhp and 320Nm of torque. It is mated to an 8-speed twin-clutch automatic that drives the front wheels and delivers a 0-100kmph time of 8.2 seconds. And the fuel efficiency is a class-leading 21.35kmpl.
The petrol is also designated A200 but this is a 1.3-litre turbo-petrol, the smallest Mercedes engine we’ve ever sampled. This 4-cylinder unit has been developed and is shared with the Renault-Nissan Alliance and we have already sampled it, albeit in a lower state of tune, in the Duster. In the A200 it kicks out 161bhp and 250Nm of torque and mated to a 7-speed twin-clutch automatic it gets to 100kmph in 8.1 seconds. The fuel efficiency is 17.50kmpl and it does not get active cylinder deactivation.
We spent most of our drive in the A200d and the refinement keeps getting better and better, aided by hydraulic suspension bushes on the front axle to counter noise and vibrations. At a steady cruise the engine is all but inaudible; gun it and you can hear the diesel motor but it’s never harsh or unrefined, which just adds to the overall sense of comfort.
The DCT gearbox cannot match Mercedes’ regular torque converters for ultimate shift smoothness and you do get an abrupt thunk at times. The turn of speed though is pretty enthusiastic, aided by the snappy downshifts of the DCT gearbox, which can also be controlled via the paddle-shifters. There is also noticeable torque steer during hard acceleration in the lower gears that does add to the overall sense of enthusiasm and sportiness.
A 35 AMG is coming, and made in India
Performance car enthusiasts rejoice, the A 35 AMG is coming next month. It will be the second AMG to be assembled in India and will get the 2-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol making 301bhp and 400Nm of torque. With all-wheel drive traction and a 7-speed DCT gearbox it gets to 0-100kmph in 4.8 seconds and the pricing should be in the Rs 60 lakh ball park.
The A 35 AMG will not be offered in the 4-door coupe CLA body style, nor as a hatchback.
And we will not get the A 45 AMG.
A-Class Limousine launches on March 25
Bookings are now open for the A-Class Limousine and we expect prices to start at just above Rs 40 lakh. Mercedes is clear that they will not offer a base-spec on the A-Class — all versions will come fully kitted out with the massive infotainment, panoramic sunroof, the works.
As of now the only real rival is the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe which, thanks to the coupe-roofline and frameless doors, does look sexier. The BMW is also more fun to drive. But the A-Class scores with a more spacious back seat, a more expensive-feeling cabin, a plusher ride quality and greater practicality — precisely what Indian buyers want. Remains to be seen though if this will get buyers back into cars, or will they wait for the GLA that’s mere months away.