Built seemingly to last forever, they were vehicles of aspiration, a cut above volume vehicles from other carmakers.
How things change. Aspiration may still be a part of owning a Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Audi, but now gas mileage and practicality are as important as size and luxury. The 2013 Mercedes-Benz A Class is designed to cover all those bases and more.
A Class: A brief history
Previous generations of A Class were rather different.
First launched in 1997, the original tall, space-efficient A Class quickly had its reputation shattered by rolling during a swerving avoidance test in a Swedish magazine.
Hasty corrections--such as now-standard technology like Active Stability Control--fixed its wayward handling, but turned the otherwise well-designed small car into a tedious thing to drive. Late-90s Mercedes quality was also well below par.
The second generation launched in 2004. Quality jumped up, handling improved, and a three-door model was added. Practicality was similar though: Both original A Class generations featured high cabin length to vehicle length ratios. The original A Class featured interior space similar to the contemporary E Class.
2013 Mercedes-Benz A Class
The new A Class is essentially unrecognizable from its forebears.
Now a two-box design rather than a one-box; lower, wider, sportier and altogether more aggressive, it's pitched directly at the Audi A3, BMW 1-Series, Volkswagen Golf and Lexus CT 200h. You can judge the styling yourself from the images.
Words like "sporty" and "dynamic" permeate the official literature. "Efficiency" too--new small-capacity turbocharged engines and a low 0.27 drag coefficient raise economy to impressive levels.
How impressive? Well, we drove two examples--the gasoline-powered A250 BlueEfficiency with the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, and the A200 CDI, a turbocharged diesel, also with the 7-speed DCT.
In optimistic European testing the former gets an official 38 mpg combined, the latter 54.7 mpg. Bank on 30-31 mpg and 43-44 mpg as an EPA-equivalent figure.
While we couldn't take a reading from the A250, the trip computer showed an average of 47 mpg in the A200 CDI by the end of an 80-mile journey through the UK's beautiful Peak District.