With luxury compact offerings like the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series gaining traction, Mercedes-Benz is hoping to claim a bigger piece of the action with its all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class. When the vehicle eventually arrives in the U.S., it may very well be the most value-packed hatch to ever wear the three-pointed star.
The car is making its world debut in production trim at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, but we first learned of the new A-Class at last year's New York and Shanghai shows, where Benz showed it in concept form. Mercedes-Benz has teased us ever since, stating that the A-Class would be completely new, stylish, and packed with safety and high-tech features normally found on more expensive models like the S-Class. The automaker's goal, especially in America, is to hook a new, younger set of Mercedes-Benz loyalists.
Fans of the A-Class concept's styling should be more than pleased with the production version. The side profile still features the prominent character line that starts at the bottom of the front door and dramatically darts upward at the rear door. The front fascia features Benz's now familiar two-bar grille and LED daytime running lamps, while there's a boxier look and a standard roof spoiler (it helps the hatch achieve a slippery, class-leading drag coefficient of just 0.26) at the rear. Opting for the AMG Sport trim nets 18-inch wheels, aggressively styled bumpers, red-painted accent pieces, and what the automaker calls a diamond-look front grille mesh. Speaking of trim levels, the Euro-spec A-Class offers three: Urban, Style, and the aforementioned AMG Sport, though there's no word if the same strategy will be used in America.
Europeans will also get to choose from a wide range of powertrain options. Three gas-powered four-cylinder engines with displacements ranging from 1.6 to 2.0 liters will feature direct injection and turbocharging and will output 115 hp (A180), 156 hp (A200), and 211 hp (A250). The 1.6-liter mill introduces the company's new Camtronic system, which, according to Benz, increases fuel efficiency as "adjusting the valve lift on the intake side restricts the amount of fresh mixture used in the partial load range."
Next up are three turbocharged four-cylinder diesels: the A180 CDI, rated at 109 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque; the A200 CDI, with 136 hp and 221 lb-ft; and the A220, rated at 170 hp and 258 lb-ft. Mercedes did not specify a displacement for the first two, but did say that the A220 is a 2.2-liter engine. All gas and diesel engines will come with ECO start/stop technology and will be mated to a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. While powertrain choices for America haven't been confirmed, we expect the new gas-powered 201-hp 1.8-liter turbo-four -- recently introduced in the C250 -- to serve as the base engine.
Mercedes engineers also made sure the A-Class would be an engaging drive by lowering the center of gravity and revising the four-wheel independent suspension. A sports suspension and Direct-Steer system are optional, while the AMG Sport is expected to kick up the fun factor thanks to an AMG-developed front axle and suspension.
The sport theme continues inside the five-passenger hatch, where contrasting color schemes and metallic accents -- including air vents similar to the SLS AMG gullwing -- dominate. Highlighting the tech goodies is an optional app for the infotainment system that allows full iPhone functionality. Finally, the long list of standard safety tech includes Collision Prevention Assist, Attention Assist, brake hold function, Hill-start Assist, and the brand's Pre-Safe system, which prepares the vehicle for an impending crash. Optional safety nannies include Distronic Plus and Adaptive Highbeam Assist.
On paper, it appears Mercedes-Benz has a strong contender in America's burgeoning premium compact segment. How long will we have to wait for it? The latest news out of Geneva is that the A-Class won't land here until calendar year 2014. Of course, pricing will be a huge factor, and we should get a good idea of where the A-Class will slot once it hits European showrooms this summer.