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Mercedes-Benz A180 CDI Classic SE 5-door

Click to view picture galleryMercedes-Benz continues its new
  and refreshed ‘product rush’ with
  the arrival in the UK, from 17 July,
  of the revised A- and B-Class models.
  David Miles went to Berlin to check
  them out — here are his first
  impressions of the latest A-Class...”

AT THE INTERNATIONAL PRESS LAUNCH in Berlin last week, Mercedes said that when the A-Class was originally launched in 1997, it was the first 'premium' car in the compact segment. The second generation A-Class was introduced in 2004 and over 1.7 million of them have since been sold worldwide — making it one of their best-selling model ranges.

The latest A-Class range consists, as before, of three- and five-door hatchback models. There are no price increases over the outgoing versions — despite added specification, improved safety features, better fuel economy, lower CO2 emissions, body restyling and a revised model line-up.

Classic, Sport and Turbo variants are no longer available but the revised line-up is: Classic SE (expected to take around 51 per cent of sales), Elegance SE (20 per cent) and Avantgarde SE (26 per cent). On-the-road prices range from 14,365 to 18,815.

Although engine options for the A-Class are comprehensive for Europe — four petrol and three diesel units — in the UK there are only four choices: 1.5-litre 150 and 1.7-litre 170 petrol; and 2.0-litre 160/180 CDI turbodiesel units. All are available with the option of manual or automatic transmissions.

Active Park Assist, which identifies a parking space big enough for the A-Class and that when engaged reverses the car into the space, is also a new option priced at 550.

In the UK, over 70 per cent of A-Class sales are for petrol-powered models and over 47 per cent of customers tick the box for the automatic transmission option. The best-selling model has, traditionally, been the A150, 89bhp, five-door variant which has accounted for 45 per cent of sales. Next comes the A180 CDI, 108bhp, five-door with 21 per cent then the A170, 114bhp, five-door with 12 per cent. Five-door models account for 90 per cent of A-Class UK sales.

Additional lower-emission BlueEfficiency models — three- and five-door manual versions with A 150/170 petrol engines and the three-door manual transmission A160 CDI diesel — will all be available from September 2008 at no extra cost over the standard models.

BlueEfficiency specification will include Mercedes' new ECO Stop/Start function, low rolling resistance tyres, lightweight construction and detailed aerodynamic body styling changes. The three-door A160 CDI BlueEfficiency model is said to return 62mpg with 119g/km of CO2. BlueEfficiency versions are claimed to offer a nine per cent fuel and CO2 saving over conventional new A-Class models.

Driving the new A-Class models last week in the former divided city of Berlin for the international press launch, while taking in the historic sites — including the infamous Berlin Wall — we proved what we already knew about the A-Class. It is a premium quality compact city car but with an elevated command driving position making it easy to drive and to park.

Where both the A (and B-Class) models appeal is to those customers who need popular-sized family cars but also want their products to be 'premium' in both quality and brand image, with a good level of specification. To some extent, performance and fuel economy doesn't matter — especially to these retail buyers.

Company car users, however, will be more interested in the BlueEfficiency models coming to the UK later and I have to report that their ECO Stop/Start system is excellent: probably the best around at the moment for the speed of its operation.

In all other respects the front-wheel drive A-Class is as before. It mostly provides a comfortable ride, although it can prove choppy over poorer road surfaces. It is also exceptionally easy to drive and to park — thanks to the high-up driving position and being just less than four metres in length.

The specification is all you could reasonably ask for at the price. The fuel economy is better and the emissions lower and it looks smart with the styling updates. With prices starting at 14,365, a Mercedes becomes affordable and the best-selling Classic SE A150 five-door at 15,115 is a bit of a bargain.

The enhancements for SE models include crash-responsive emergency lighting (warning lights and interior lighting) and flashing adaptive brake lights, hill start assist, body-coloured door handles, mirrors and rubbing strips, enhanced Telematics with Bluetooth, a carwash compatible aerial, large three-louvered grille, new front and rear light clusters and new-look front and rear bumpers. Naturally, all the usual features such as power front side windows, air conditioning, airbags and split folding rear seats are all present.

It was unfortunate that Mercedes in Germany did not have the UK's likely best-selling model — the A150 petrol version — for the Media to drive, so we had to make do with the expected second best-selling version: the A180 CDI turbodiesel.

This 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel unit has been given the 'better fuel economy' treatment and should return around eight per cent better fuel efficiency. This is officially 54mpg — but our test car, fitted with the six-speed manual gearbox, returned just 30mpg in Berlin city traffic. Acceleration was adequate, with 0-62mph taking 10.8 seconds and the top speed is said to be 116mph.

What's not to like? Not much: some models are expensive, the ride can be choppy and there's light and vague steering. On the other hand, the latest A-Class delivers more of the same — only better. In addition, it's easy to park, easy to drive, relatively roomy, offers good storage space, is well built and has that evergreen Mercedes-Benz badge desirability. — David Miles

Mercedes-Benz A180 CDI Classic SE 5-door | 17,215
Maximum speed: 116mph | 0-62mph: 10.8 seconds | Overall test MPG: 30mpg
Power: 108bhp | Torque: 184lb ft | CO2 134g/km | Insurance group 6