Back to the future – New Mercedes-Benz A-Class

The newest Baby Benz is the most intelligent drive ever from the inventor of the automobile. It’s been 40 years since Mercedes went digital by introducing anti-lock braking (ABS), their very first driver assist system. Now you can talk to your A-Class: ’Hey Mercedes’.

Digital can be traced back all the way to 1978. The anti-lock braking system was the very first driver assist program by Mercedes-Benz. Followed by many more. Automatically engaging all-wheel drive (4MATIC) was introduced in 1985, together with an automatically locking differential (ASD) and anti-spin control (ASR). Gradually the cars took over the thinking process for their drivers in challenging traffic situations.
ESP premiered in 1995 in the S-Class. Three years later it was available in the A-Class, which then passed the infamous elk test with flying colours. The name for this obstacle avoiding test was coined by a German newspaper after a Swedish motor magazine flipped an A-Class while trying to avoid ‘hitting a moose’ in the road.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine der Baureihe 168

In 1997 the ‘moose’ were a couple of non-moving cones on a wet surface. And right now I am sitting in a 1998 A-Class, accelerating up to 80km/h and abruptly avoiding the cones in front of me. It still works in the first-generation A-Class.
And it is fun. I am at the brand-new 520 hectares large Daimler testing & technology centre in Immendingen, where Mercedes-Benz has invested more than 200 million Euros so far. And the Mercedes-Benz Museum has brought out several of their chrome jewels to demonstrate 40 years of driver assist systems.
Not only am I allowed to re-enact the elk test in the first-generation A-Class, I am  also taking some precious 1978 S-Class saloons (W116) across the slippery skidpan. Avoiding the large wall of foam cubes with the one fitted with the first ABS and smashing through them in the one without.
Mercedes-Benz was the first car manufacturer to introduce ESP as a standard feature in their complete model range. Distronic helped keep your distance from as early as 1998. Over the years the MB assistance systems became more and more intelligent.
And now it is the first time that the compact-car segment offers as many digital assistance systems as in the new A-Class. Including semi-autonomous drive in certain situations, convincingly demonstrated on the German autobahn.
But the most impressive new feature of the fourth-generation A-Class must be MBUX - the Mercedes-Benz User Experience. An all-new multimedia system that creates an emotional bond between driver, car and passengers. And it learns. Hence the tagline ‘Just like you”. A couple of years ago active artificial intelligence was just science fiction, now it’s a reality.
You initiate the voice control by saying ‘Hey Mercedes’ and the A-Class replies to you. Over time it will remember your personal preferences, even suggest certain restaurants, when you indicate that you are hungry. All your voice commands land in the cloud. It is basically a drivable smartphone.
What else is new in the 2018 A-Class? It’s bigger, more practical and more comfortable than its predecessor. The length grew by 12cm, the height by 1.6cm and the wheelbase by 3cm. It therefore feels more planted in bends.
Next to the impressive digital changes there are a lot of analogue ones inside as well. New surfaces, switches and levers. And the steering wheel from the S-Class.
And what is next for the inventor of the automobile? Later in 2019 Mercedes-Benz and Bosch, who developed ABS together decades ago, will establish a pilot project with automated shuttles in California. Another step towards fully autonomous driving.

Mercedes A 200/A 250
Engine 1.3-l./2.0-l. 4cyl. Paired with a 7-speed DCT auto
Power 120/165kW and 250/350Nm
Top Speed 225/250 km/h
0-100km/h 8.2/6.2 seconds
Price from R499 000/from R593 300


6 December 2018