Mercedes-Benz has launched the new fourth generation A-Class sedan in Thailand – an important car for the German premium brand as the compact segment now accounts for almost a quarter of its sales and it’s the volume driver as nearly two thirds of buyers are new to this category of car.
The wraps were taken off the new A-Class during an event at the 5 Star Okura Prestige Hotel in Bangkok’s city centre with two models on show, but in A200 specification.
For now, the A-Class will come here as a CBU model in only one option, the A200 with AMG Dynamic trim level.
It’s priced at 2.49 million baht or (SGD$112,916.7 accurate as of 28th August 2019), thanks to the import taxes it attracts, which is going to keep sales on the sluggish side to start but it’s most likely to be assembled locally in the near future and once pukka AMG versions are plugged into the range this should be a decent revenue raiser for the three-pointed-star in Thailand.
A locally built version could potentially enter the market with a price point of under 2 million baht which would make it a very attractive proposition indeed.
This is the fourth generation of what has turned into a big winner for Mercedes. When the first-generation A-Class came out in 1997 it was a somewhat quirky model as the brand looked to make waves in a segment it was entering for the first time. With a mini “MPV” shape and a novel “sandwich bar”, that saw the engine and transmission slide under the pedals and away from the passenger compartment in the event of a head of collision, it certainly made its mark.
It made even more of a mark though in a negative manner when it famously failed the “elk test” and Mercedes was eventually forced into an expensive fix. However more than a million were sold by the time the second generation arrived in 2004, again featuring a similar design and advanced construction bonding techniques.
With the third generation the A-Class evolved into a conventional compact hatchback and the arrival of the fourth generation, which received its world premiere in Geneva last year and is known as the V177 (sedan) and W177 (hatchback), it was a story of evolution, with the sedan joining the range later in the year.
The A-Class sedan option was added to the range with the fourth generation as a more practical alternative to the CLA-Class, now into its second incarnation, which was launched this year. But with fairly similar pricing in Thailand many customers will be weighing up the pros and cons of the two models.
Visually the new A-Class has ironed out its past quirks and adheres to the family styling, starting with what Mercedes dubs as its “shark nose” design, a vertical front that feeds into a low bonnet line to give more of a feel that the car is hugging the ground. The side has Mercedes’s familiar humped styling and the distinct high creased beltline while at the back the boot lid juts out slightly rather than tapering off its traditional body length shape like the GLA. That helps to give more practical boot space. The traditional 3-box sedan format is still a shape that resonates with buyers in Thailand so it should make a good connection.
Inside, it certainly has a premium feel for a compact segment car. Mercedes has worked on quality after it took its eye off the ball a few years ago and the new A Class feels robust and well put together. Many of the features and styles are familiar to Mercedes Benz owners as the brand puts a family stamp across the range, in fact emphasising the quality they are aiming for, the steering wheel comes straight from the S-Class parts bin.
Globally the new A-Class comes with 1.3 or 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol engines (as well as 1.5 and 2.0 turbodiesels). Thailand, for the launch at least, is just getting the 1.3. Performance is still quite respectable despite the small displacement as it has 161hp and 250Nm on tap while it gets from 0-100km/h in 8.0 seconds and has a top speed of 225km/h. It’s frugal too at 5 litres/100 km. A point counting against it is the 7-speed auto although Mercedes’ 8-speed option is likely to make its way into the A-Class range from next year.
At the moment though the A-Class has a decent amount of room in the premium compact segment as its key rival will be the BMW 1-Series, which, however, comes in hatchback format only as its sedan version is, so far, only shifted in China. BMW sell one version of the 1-Series hatchback here, the 118i M Sport M Performance Edition, priced at 2.069 million baht (or SGD$93,825). This though is the last generation model. Audi, meanwhile, don’t offer the A3 in its range at all and instead prefers to kick off with the A4 starting at 2.699 million baht (or SGD$122,394).
However, with a price tag of 2.49 million baht (or SGD$113,324) the new A-Class going to have to compete with the C-Class sedan which is assembled locally and thus escapes import taxes and, with prices getting more and more competitive in the Thai premium segment this year as the market starts to look a little jittery, it currently has a starting price of 2.379 million baht (or SGD$107,883). The CLA-Class, meanwhile, starts at 2.14 million baht (or SGD$97,044).
The C-Class though is a five-year-old model and likely to be replaced within two years. Even so the A-Class is going to have a fight on its hands if it is to grab customers.
The new A-Class sees the Thai debut of the “Mercedes-Benz User Experience” infotainment package, dubbed “MBUX”, which features a high-resolution wide screen and can remember user habits and adjust accordingly. It offers a step forward for the brand in terms of machine learning and voice activation and is activated by saying “Hey Mercedes” in the cockpit.
It’s operated via the touch screen, a touch pad in the centre console and buttons on the steering wheel.
As well as multimedia connectivity and advanced GPS it learns user habits so it can activate air conditioning ahead of the user getting in the car to go to work in the morning and choose the users favourite morning music to play as they get into the car.
It also connects to the dealer network and allows updates to the be made “over the air”. That naturally raises concerns about data protection but Mercedes says they have that issue well covered and customers will have to sign up to the service.
MBUX is at the very least a novel infotainment upgrade that should give prospective customers an extra reason to look at the new A-Class when they’re weighing up a new car. The new car goes on sale immediately and Mercedes says it has pre orders which it will start meeting first.