The Mercedes-Benz A-class is somewhat of an unknown to American Benz buyers, as the teensy hatchback isn’t sold in the United States. Sold to hip city dwellers outside our shores, the A-Class wore a fairly staid design when it launched in 1997 and continued the trend even after a 2004 refresh. That may soon change. Both the New York and Shanghai auto shows will feature the Concept A-Class, an attractive coupe-like hatchback that “previews a new compact class era” for Mercedes.
As opposed to the tall-box design of the current A-Class, the Concept A-class has a lithe, cab-rearward profile that reminds us of cars like the BMW 1-series hatchback and Lexus CT200h. Styling cues are drawn primarily from the F800 Style concept that debuted at the 2010 Geneva show. It’s a striking car, with one bold character crease sweeping from the bottom edge of the doors and over the rear wheel, and another extending backward from the headlights a few inches below of the car’s beltline.
The beak is pure Mercedes corporate design, with a large trapezoidal grille opening housing the brand’s pointed-star emblem. That and the lower grille opening are filled with what Mercedes describes as a “star-filled sky,” white dots arranged in concentric circles on a black background. The headlights are LEDs, while the unique running lights use clustered fiber-optic elements. LED lighting also figures for the taillights, with a strip of lights running the width of the tailgate.
It’s powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that’s turbocharged and direct-injected, with output rated at 210 horsepower. Power travels through a dual-clutch transmission to the front wheels. In a first for such a small car, the Concept A-Class comes standard with Mercedes Brake Assist, which alerts drivers if they’re about to rear-end another vehicle.
The concept’s interior is auto-show fanciful, taking its cues from jet planes. That means a thrust-control-like shift lever and red-ringed instruments meant to look like engine afterburners. There are four bucket seats as well as a futuristic center console and “translucent” dashboard modeled after a plane’s wing. It’s a safe bet that all these touches -- and the fancy wheels -- would be toned down for any production variant.
It’s not clear how much of this concept vehicle will make its way to showrooms; Mercedes says this vehicle is “just a concept” and won’t comment on future production plans. It’s been several years since the A-Class was redesigned, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a new car inspired by this concept in Europe.
Mercedes also was mum on the chances of this car being sold on our shores. Americans have traditionally shunned upscale compact hatchbacks, but as gas prices creep upward and CAFE regulations force automakers to build fuel-efficient cars, the business case for an American A-Class could improve.