Tushar BurmanMar 25, 2021 17:14:57 IST
I think I may hold some sort of unofficial record with the Mercedes-Benz CLA — the car the new Mercedes-Benz A Class Limousine replaces in India. A few years ago, I did a crazy-quick run between Pune and Chikmagalur in a CLA 45 AMG – a-near 1,500km round-trip in 48 hours. There was a story, and a video. And some angry calls above my pay grade. That, however, was a fancy AMG model. We haven’t driven that version of the A-Class Limousine yet. This fine, sunny day in Goa, we were out and about with the A 200 petrol sedan, and it turned out to be the perfect companion for the just-warming Goa.
What is it?
Mercedes tried something beyond the regular small/medium/large format when it introduced the CLA series in India – a small, four-door coupé that looked only a little like the rest of the stodgier Mercedes vehicles and aimed to bring more customers into the fold. I do not have the data to tell you whether it was successful, but it did have some drawbacks — chief being its sloping roof that compromised rear passenger comfort.
While the CLA soldiers on across the globe, for India, Mercedes has decided to replace it with the much more practical A-Class Limousine. Gone is the sloping roof, liberating a comfortable amount of headroom for those seated in the rear. Somehow, Mercedes has even managed to improve the looks of the new car, and make it (they claim) the most aerodynamic production car in the world.
Specs and accessories abound, and you can have the Limousine in petrol, diesel and AMG variants, but in just one fully-loaded trim level. The variant we tested used the 163 hp / 250 Nm 1.3-litre turbo-petrol engine with a 7-speed DCT automatic. I think this is the smallest capacity Mercedes I have ever driven, and I was pleasantly surprised.
Design: toned down from the CLA, in a good way
I really don’t think everything needs a coupé version, especially SUVs. Mercedes was, however, the progenitor of the genre with the original CLS, which is admittedly a damn sexy sedan. To my eyes, however, the CLA wasn’t. I wish those butterfly tail-lights had stayed in the pupa stage.
The new A-Class Limousine is a much more grown-up design. In Mercedes’ own words, it maintains a certain ‘purity’ to the design. I will let the pictures talk, but in summary, it looks sporty up front, a bit bland from the sides, but very much has the family look. Being the tallest and widest car in its (small) category, it has some road presence. Certainly, parked next to the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé — the only currently available competitor in the market — it loses in terms of drama, but that’s not the focus of the car anyway.
Interior and equipment: you can pay far more for far less
The A-Class Limousine was a refreshing change to be in, after some less-than-stellar luxury vehicles I have recently been in. We are expecting the A-Class Limousine’s prices to be well over Rs 40 lakh, and I was pleased at what I saw. The interior is plush, with two-tone leather everywhere. The dash has soft leather up top and across the bottom, and feels luxe. You get powered memory seats up front, which is refreshing. As entitled as it sounds, I hate when you get powered seats, but no memory function. It feels cheap.
Seats are comfortable and well-upholstered. There is a panoramic sunroof available, which we kept firmly shut in the Goan heat. Unvarnished wood trim abounds and feels premium. The A-Class Limousine gets round, turbine-inspired AC vents which are easy to use and lend a sporty touch. There’s also interior mood lighting (offering a choice of up to 64 colours) that extends to the little AC vent knobs. A nice touch!
Mercedes has really cleaned up the centre controls in its recent cars. The A Class gets the MBUX infotainment system, with a seamless pane of glass that houses dual 10.2-inch screens to interact with the car’s systems and show dials and other info. This leaves the centre console with a nice, haptic touchpad and a few buttons. It’s rather clean and a far cry from the days when car manufacturers insisted on including an entire phone dial pad there. The steering wheel is well padded and chunky, and includes paddle-shifters to operate the 7-speed DCT.
All in all, the interior of the A-Class Limousine does not disappoint. Touch points feel good, and I really like the minimalistic dash. Things are well-placed and there is reasonable storage for your wallet, change and what not.
Of particular note is the practical nature of the A-Class Limousine. The rear seats provide surprisingly good kneeroom, and two passengers can be accommodated in luxury; three at a pinch. The higher roofline of the Limousine pays dividends here, with plenty of headroom on offer. The glass area and the sunroof add to the airy feel of the cabin. While I have no thighs to complain about the under-thigh support, more generously proportioned passengers may complain about this. And to carry all the luggage passengers might carry, there’s a capacious 405-litre boot (395 litres in the diesel A 200 d version). Our test car was a prototype, not homologated for India, so the boot capacity will be slightly different once the spare wheel is accommodated under the boot floor.
A word about tech
I really want to like MBUX. I really do! Sadly, MBUX doesn’t like me very much. The A Class uses the ‘NTG 6’ version of the software stack, and while it looks good, it suffers from various niggles, questionable UX choices and bugs that made it tough to enjoy the lovely-looking infotainment system.
This is the second recent MBUX system I’ve sampled (the other was in the AMG GLE 53) that behaves strangely when connected to my iPhone via Bluetooth. The phone pairs and connects fine, shows that it is connected to the car, but will only play music through its own speaker. There is no obvious indication why this is the case, and I only chanced upon a ‘source’ toggle within the MBUX system that needs to manually be changed to ‘Bluetooth’ for everything to come to life. Unlike other cars, Mercedes does not provide a source switch within easy reach and one must dig through touchscreen menus to get to it. There are other niggles too, but this was enough for me to not bother.
This was in stark contrast to the car I drove to Goa — a BMW 320d — which has flawless wireless CarPlay abilities and worked the moment I entered the car. No hiccups, no stalling, nothing. It really is glaring just how different one’s experience with an infotainment system can be. Mercedes is aware of these issues and we hope to see improvements in the NTG 7 version of MBUX that will be available on the new C-Class. At this point, MBUX is as beautiful as I am functional.
On the go: surprising performance, exemplary ride
The A 200’s petrol engine is impressive. It makes 163 hp and 250 Nm of torque and you’ll be forgiven for gasping when you find out that it’s just a 1.3-litre unit. That’s only slightly bigger than the engines you’ll find in most hatchbacks in India, and the reason it makes this kind of power is because it is equipped with a turbocharger. Paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, progress is smooth, swift and quite sophisticated. Even in sport mode, there were no lurches, just efficient swapping of gears to make sure things stay snappy. It’s a great combination. The only complaint I have with the engine is that it is gruff and a bit noisy when revs rise, which is understandable for such a small engine. Mercedes and Renault collaborated on this unit, and a different version of this engine powers the Renault Duster Turbo in India.
Floor the throttle and you’re rewarded with responsive acceleration. The A-Class Limousine feels agile and light, sometimes more so than the 3 Series I drove to the hotel. The fact that this is a front-wheel drive car seemed to make little difference to me on the twisty, narrow roads of Goa. The car is easy to place, handles well and does what you ask of it. We missed the chance to sample the 2.0-litre diesel engine which generates 150 hp and 320 Nm of torque, but spec sheet numbers indicate it is marginally quicker than the petrol. It also has an extra gear – the diesel gets an eight-speed automatic – and the added torque would also make it a calmer, quieter drive.
The highlight of the drive was the ride quality offered, which is surprisingly plush. The damping just seems so well-controlled that I imagine it would keep a spirited driver satisfied. On Goa’s single-lane roads with sometimes broken tarmac, the ride of the A-Class Limousine was exemplary, and really threw into focus just how much luxury Mercedes has packed into this ‘entry-level’ sedan. Throw it around a bend in anger to showboat for the cameraman, and you’re rewarded with a secure feeling of grip to spare, while the car stays mostly flat. It’s difficult to put into words how much value a sorted suspension adds to the overall experience of a car. There’s a lot of value here.
Mercedes is adopting no half measures with the A-Class Limousine. It has got the goods, sophistication and equipment expected of a car wearing the famous three-pointed star. The AMG A35 version is the second AMG to be made in India — a rare distinction for Mercedes’ performance car lineup. Mercedes is also offering an astonishing eight-year warranty on the car, which will be transferable, making this a decent long-term purchase for the first, or even second buyer. As a second or third luxury vehicle in a private household, I imagine the A 200 to work for its compact size and bragging rights. The Mercedes-Benz A-Class Limousine’s Rs 39.90-40.90 lakh price range is also significantly lower than the entry-level C-Class, while providing a strong equipment list. It’s a great car at a competitive price, and the A35 AMG 4MATIC, at Rs 56.24 lakh (all prices introductory, ex-showroom), has a great price/potency ratio.
Mercedes-Benz A-Class Limousine in numbers
Engines: 1.3-litre, 4-cylinder turbo-petrol / 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo-diesel
Power: 163 hp / 150 hp
Torque: 250 Nm / 320 Nm
Transmissions: 7-speed DCT automatic / 8-speed DCT automatic
Price: Rs 39.90-40.90 lakh (introductory, ex-showroom)