Mercedes Benz A-class is targeted at buyers who are ready to pay a price for a good car

In the 17 years that Mercedes-Benz has been in India it has delighted customers with its wide range of cars starting from the E-class it launched in 1995, the S-class in 2000, and the C-class in 2001 to the M-class in 2002. But it has always stopped there and never launched the A-class in India because it felt it was not meant for the Indian buyers.

Things are a bit different today. For a start, the Indian market has evolved beyond belief, and Mercedes, as earlier, wants to push the envelope. The question is, will there be many takers with a Rs. 18-odd-lakh sticker glued to the windscreen?

Well-sculpted

It certainly is appealing enough. There’s plenty of mojo in the heavily sculpted design, the stance is very athletic and, whichever angle you look at it from, there really is a lot to admire here. The big star at the centre of the grille gets your attention first, but your eyes then wander over to the scowling headlights. The square-set chin gives the nose plenty of definition and the long, attractive bonnet and low-slung compact cabin make it real sporty as well. One thing’s for sure, this is no family wagon.

Quality and fit and finish on the inside, however, are well up to Merc standards. The insides are as well put together as a C-class, there are plenty of metallic highlights to liven up the cabin and there’s enough kit available to make this feel like a pure luxury car.

Cabin and seats

The design of the cabin is just as radical as the exterior, the emphasis clearly on sportiness; again. The theme of the cabin is dictated by the electroplated and chromed circular air vents, the entire dash is covered with a carbon-fibre weave and it’s pretty clear Mercedes is targeting a much younger buyer with this car. The central console gets a suspended touchscreen above the vents, you can plug your iPhone in and run apps off it, and the large sport seats on this version include attractive red stitching as well.

The seat is supportive in the right places, headroom is acceptable and there’s quite a bit of legroom. The 341-litre boot is quite tiny though, and that’s despite the fact that Mercedes has ditched the spare wheel altogether.

The big challenge for Mercedes on this car was extracting maximum agility from this transverse-engine, front-wheel-drive chassis. The earlier A-class and B-class were not drivers’ cars by any stretch of the imagination, and for the new A to succeed, driver appeal was considered essential. So Merc did it the old-fashioned way — it poured money and solid engineering into the car.

Sporty drive

The A-class feels rock solid even at speeds above 200kph, its willingness to turn hard into corners and remain composed at the same time is baffling, and the high-precision steering makes placing the car exactly where you want it pretty intuitive. Of course, a lot of this dynamism is down to the optional sport suspension on this car, which makes the ride quite thumpy and hard, ruling it out as a set-up for the Indian market. A brief drive in a car with standard suspension, however, reveals that a lot of the agility is present without the fancy set-up as well, and it still feels sporty to drive.

As expected, the electric power steering is a bit of a letdown. What Merc has got spot-on is the tuning of the ESP which, in Sport, rarely seems to interfere with the fun you are having.

This A 200 CDI’s 134bhp may not seem like too much, but the light 1370kg kerb weight and the tightly stacked initial ratios of the twin-clutch gearbox mean performance is quite sprightly. Low-end torque is very strong and there’s a decent amount of shove in the mid-range, and this makes performance pretty effortless. We are likely to get the even more powerful and larger 168bhp A 220 CDI in India, and performance should be even stronger. Merc claims a sub-eight-second 0-100kph time for the A 220 CDI, and that’s plenty quick.

The A-class is an agile, fun-to-drive and a greatly built package, something that will draw more attention than a C-class. It is a car targeted at self-driven buyers who don’t believe in size is everything and are ready to pay a price for a good car. But the question is, are there enough such buyers in India? The answer is something we will have to wait for when Merc launches the A-class sometime next year.