Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mercedes A-Class: Regression Towards the Mean

Mercedes-Benz's original (in 1997) entry-level A-Class gained notoriety in more than one way.  At first, car buff magazines spewed much ink over its engineering design features such as its use of front-wheel drive and the placement of the motor at a low level relative to the passenger compartment.  And not long later came the news that the A-Class failed the Swedish Elk Test in an embarrassing way: the test car flipped over while performing the tight S maneuver.

Nevertheless, the handling problem was resolved and the car sold moderately well until 2004, when it was replaced by a redesigned A.  Mercedes A-Class cars were not exported to the United States, so American readers might not be familiar with them.  As it happened, I once rented one while visiting Europe and found it surprisingly pleasant to drive, given its (to me, at the time) odd proportions.

Here is a photo of the first A-Class Mercedes.  In retrospect, it might have evolved more fully into crossover-SUV form, though the concept of that platform was still in its early stages in the mid-1990s.  Given its height and short length, stylists were seriously constrained in any effort to make the car attractive.  To me, the most serious mistake had to do with the wraparound rear corner windows.

Apparently Mercedes stylist felt the same way, because the 2004 A-Class (shown above) eliminated that feature.  The Wikipedia link above indicatea that this was a new design.  However, the car is dimensionally essentially the same as the previous A, and gives a strong impression of being a facelift.  What is new is the two-door version seen in the background.

By 2012, when the current A-Class Mercedes (above) was launched, crossover SUVs had become an important market segment.  Yet Mercedes opted to transform its A-Class into a conventional sedan configuration.  Perhaps this was because a slightly longer version, the CLA, was planned for 2014 model year introduction as an entry-level car for the North American market.

Unlike earlier A-Class cars, the new version features a long hood, though the rear seems excessively truncated.  The kinked sheet metal sculpting on the sides strikes me as being too contrived, though it vaguely conforms to Mercedes' current styling themes.

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