Mercedes: A class of it's own
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Mercedes-Benz has made a major leap in technology with the launch of its compact A-Class hatch, including science fiction-like systems plus safety and luxury features taken from its S-Class range.
Mercedes-Benz launched the fourth generation A-Class in Split, Croatia, this week with the first models on sale in New Zealand from August. Up first will be the A200; the A180 and A250 4Matic will be available in December.
Prices and specifications will be announced closer to sale date.
Since the launch of the previous generation A-Class in New Zealand in 2012, 74 per cent of owners were new to the brand with the average age of the buyer 52 (56 per cent male, 44 per cent female).
The most popular model from the 2012 launch has been the A180 that has, at times, accounted for more than 50 per cent of volume.
Mercedes-Benz NZ Cars managing director, Ben Giffin, told Driven: “We can’t wait to see the all new A-Class arrive in New Zealand for an August launch”.
“Since the launch of the award-winning A-Class in 2012, the Mercedes-Benz brand has appealed to a wider audience than previously possible. Featuring incredible new technology with artificial intelligence and Hey Mercedes, the all new A-Class will redefine the segment and continue to build upon the successes we have experienced over the past six years.”
The highlight of the new A-Class is the next level in artificial intelligence with its Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX). The system has the ability to learn, and adapts to suit the driver.
For example, if you phone your mum every Tuesday on the way to work, you will get her phone number as a suggestion.
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On practical terms, if the navigation system detects a frequent drive route, MBUX will have this set into the background with congestion warnings and route information. It also notes your radio station habits so if you listen to the news on one station, you’ll receive a suggestion.
You can set up a profile with everything from your morning driving habits — slow — to weekend getaways (always sport mode).
I joked that for me, MBUX will remind me my kids hadn’t sent a text message request for food from the supermarket a few minutes before I get home.
Seriously though, that’s how smart the technology is — and it’s eerily like 2001: A Space Odyssey’s H.A.L.
Added to that is ‘Hey Mercedes’, a next-level intelligent voice control technology system.
You say, “Hey Mercedes, I’m cold” and it will operate the climate control.
To do this, it uses on-board software and The Cloud to understand speech and learn new buzzwords or changing language.
But, as with every voice recognition system, it has its foibles especially understanding a Kiwi woman’s accent.
A Mercedes-Benz specialist told me you would need to talk to it about five times before it learns your voice.
Mercedes is also working on learning English language accents.
It’s a practical system as you can ask what the weather will be like the next day, what the time is, when you will reach your destination and to open the sunroof screen.
But for safety reasons, you can’t ask Mercedes to open windows or control the stereo volume.
The Mercedes-Benz engineers have also added some “Easter eggs” for owners. For example you can ask Mercedes (that’s the voice recognition system’s name — surprise), what she thinks of opposition vehicles, what her favourite song is, and how she is feeling (go to Facebook.com/DrivenNZ for our launch videos).
At this stage the two systems — Hey Mercedes and MBUX — don’t collaborate. I suggested at the MBUX presentation in Croatia that you should be able to ask Hey Mercedes to search the MBUX user manual for help (rather than having to scroll through the infotainment screen). And I told the experts that Hey Mercedes should be able to access the MBUX diary to add an appointment you may have just received in a mobile call while in the car.
And just to annoy the Mercedes-Benz engineers more, I thought they should allow Hey Mercedes to remind you about such chores as picking up items from the supermarket that you remember while driving — or when the kids text you mid-journey. They just nodded at me. Maybe it was a language barrier issue?
Mercedes deserves praise for its revolutionary satnav system used on the 10.25in widescreen displays.
It not only has 3D imaging but it splits the screen in half when you come close to a new direction, with the front camera not only showing you what is ahead on the left half of the screen (including cars) but arrows on that live image point the way you need to go (see Facebook.com/DrivenNZ for an example). Combine that with head-up display and you’ll never get lost again.
The system is so ground-breaking that you can expect to see Mercedes competitors introducing their own version of it.
There’s also more good news for A-Class buyers. The Mercedes Me owner app will be available in New Zealand from early 2019. The app allows you access to the brand’s concierge system, a remote online service that lets you check on your car, and it will align with Hey Mercedes.
If that wasn’t enough next-gen technology for the compact hatch, the new A-Class picks up optional safety and luxury features from the S-Class including semi-autonomous driving and massaging front seats.
The new A-Class has increased in dimensions, with an increase of 120mm in length (now 4419mm), 16mm more width (1796mm), 6mm higher (1440mm) and the wheelbase is 2729mm (up 30mm). It has also lost 20kg, now 1375kg.
The exterior of the compact two-box design has become more sophisticated, with a low sloping bonnet, flat LED headlamps, a striking radiator grille with the three-point star extending out at the base and wider-spaced rear reflectors to give a broader look.
Instead, the A-Class gets all the goodies — it has to be one of the best-looking dashboards in its class.
It now extends from one front door to the next with no visual breaks, with the two 10.25in widescreen displays (NZ gets one as standard but two make sense), with a more refined look than the tablet style infotainment screen on the top of the dash.
At the global launch we drove 380km over two days in the A200 and A250, with our route including motorways with the top speed of 130km/h and winding mountain roads, all with better road surfaces than you’ll find in New Zealand.
This also showed that the emphasis on acoustics paid off, with little road noise in the cabin.
The A200’s petrol engine is the all-new 1.4-litre (technically 1.33-litre) from the Renault/Nissan Alliance. It produces 120Kw of power at 5500rpm, and 250Nm of torque at 162rpm. It goes from 0-100km/h in 8 seconds — and that showed during the motorway section of our Croatia drive route.
But the A200’s output has increased 11 per cent over the previous model.
The A250 has a 2-litre petrol engine producing 165kW of power at 5500rpm, and 350Nm of torque at 1800rpm. It went from 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds — great for acceleration when the quirky Croatian signs went from 60km/h to 130 on the motorway.
Both engines were paired with the seven-gear DCT transmission.
The A-Class made the drive route seamless with easy handling from the low-slung vehicle and great body control.
But things became awkward during a powertrain presentation at the Croatia launch — where the A200 and A180 diesel engines were displayed — when the engineers were asked about the A1800 petrol and the A250 4Matic — both products we are receiving Downunder.
“We don’t talk about future product,” came the reply. Even when they read the press release that showed we were getting both those variants, they wouldn’t talk about the powertrains.
But more information will become available closer to the end of year reveal for our market.