Is the 2012 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Coming to the US?
By George Straton
Is a Premium Compact Hatchback with the Three Pointed Star from Sindelfingen (via Hungary) coming to a U.S. Mercedes-Benz dealer near you in 2013?
Few Americans associate the luxury car builder or its Three Pointed Star emblem, with anything other than large, stately, robust and expensive luxury sedans and sporty cars and the lifestyle engendered by the same. Yet in markets outside the U.S., where gasoline retails for $7 U.S. per gallon and urban parking is space on the sidewalk that hasn’t been taken by a two perpendicular parked SMART cars, the company has found some decent success with a FF (Front Engine, Front Wheel Drive) compact layout.
The models are referred to as the A-class and B-class respectively. (In Mercedes-Benz chassis-speak, the codes are W169 and W 245, respectively.) The A-class is the five door compact hatch-back while the derivative B-class is the compact MPV. The B-class MPV has, however, been available to our good neighbors up in the Great White North since 2005.
The Mercedes A-class was the first small car to be fitted with Electronic Stability Control (E.S.C). That the A-Class received the benefit of ESC was due to its ignominious failure (overturning) at the moose avoidance test, or Algtest, administered by Swedish magazine, Technikens Varld in 1997. This after the D.D.R. (East German) built VEB Trabant passed the Algtest.
Mercedes A-class sales amount to approximately one-fifth of Volkswagen Golf sales. However, A-class sales are nearly on par with up-branded (Golf derived) Audi A3 sales. The premium and entry luxury sport compact hatch has been “hugely” (in Brit speak) profitable. Europeans and Asians have no problem shelling out premium money: in excess of $28,000 U.S. for their A-Classes, 1 Series, and A3s.
If the renderings, courtesy of AutoExpress, are any indication, the A-class design, Chassis W176, has migrated from space efficient boxy, with a high driving position to sleek and low slung. The new design is now far more along the lines of the Alfa Romeo Guilietta and those of the forthcoming Audi A3 and the front wheel drive-based entry BMW 1 Series, both due as 2013 models.
Functionally the longer nose of the new model provides a traditional “crumple zone” for frontal impact protection. With the new A-class Mercedes-Benz will abandon the costlier sandwich floor construction of the current model which allowed for the motor/ transmission to submarine beneath the passenger floor as in the S-class sedan during frontal impact.
Dimensions and accoutrements for the W176 A-class pit the new Mercedes-Benz compact 5 door hatchback squarely against the Audi A3, from LED exterior lighting, premium interior fitments, available AWD and dual clutch transmissions to comparable engine outputs.
Given the state of the global economy and the uncertainty of fuel prices (now eclipsing $3 per gallon in Chicago), the true luxury marques can no longer give such short shrift to the U.S. market when it comes to their entry compact offerings. Were they continue to offer only “large, stately, robust and expensive luxury sedans and sporty cars,” they may find that too many potential buyers had moved on to vehicles that do not fit that description.