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Future Classic Friday: Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Published 28 July 2017

Mud sticks. And there are few cars to which it stuck more in the early days than the Mercedes-Benz A-class, which famously turned turtle during the infamous 'elk-test' - a road test carried out by the Swedish automobile publication Teknikens Värld to simulate the evasive action a driver may take to avoid a stricken moose in the road.

Unfortunately, the A-class was already on sale when it came unstuck, which prompted a large scale investigation into what went wrong. And in the process, glossed over what a clever piece of engineering the A-class actually was. 

Mercedes did the responsible thing, too, by recalling the 2500 cars it had already sold at this point, and delaying production of the others by a further three months until it found a fix, which was to fit dynamic stability control as standard to all models, a fix that cost the company £300 million in rectification and goodness knows how much more in lost sales and reputational damage.

Mercedes A-class (2)

It was a crying shame for the A-class, which was the German firm's first real attempt at a small car. Shorter than a Ford Focus, the aim was to bring Mercedes-like levels of luxury into a car not much bigger than the average supermini. 

One of the model's major innovations was its 'sandwich' floor, which was a combination of safety aid and practical design. The modular design of the floor structure meant that, in a frontal impact, the engine and transmission would be pushed away underneath the vehicle, minimising intrusion into the passenger cell, while at the same time the high floor and low running gear meant that interior space was as good as that of the C-class.

As small cars went, then, the A-class was one of the most spacious and also most intricately finished. It was, in many respects, a very good car indeed.

Mercedes A-class (3)

From an engineering perspective, it was very clever, and the raised body, low floor and innovative packaging were features that went on to appear in many subsequent cars, many of which populated the same 'monobox' area of the market.

Long wheelbase luxury models and a warmed up A190 'Brabus' edition were further interesting twists in the A-class tale, while the A210 'Evolution' was as close as the model came to being a hot hatch. It was no hardcore drivers' car, but could be hustled along quite rapdily, and with minimal risk of tripping over its own antlers.

But the damage was done early on, and what should be remembered as the first truly premium supermini, wearing the oldest and boldest of names, has instead gone down in history as the 'Moose'-edes, the car that stopped them from calling the E-class coupe the ELK. 

Mercedes A-class (4)

A future classic? Well, it's certainly a car with a story behind it...


Chris C    on 28 July 2017

Mmm, an elegant cohesive design with a light airy cabin containing chrome, wood and lashings of light grey plastic - what's not to like? Shame about the unreliability and rust though.

lenroy brown    on 28 July 2017

My wife having owned one, I'm afraid that I have to agree with the above. Although I didn't notice the rust, we certainly noticed the unreliability.

Edited by lenroy brown on 28/07/2017 at 21:29

ADUB    on 29 July 2017

Wife Had a 168 and then a 169 with not many miles 168 a rust bucket with numerous problems and 169 gear box went at 40000 miles with no help from mercedes

WilliamRead    on 31 July 2017

I am sure you were correct, this car was a dud from the word go, a disgrace to the tradition and quality of the MB brand.

Falkirk Bairn    on 30 July 2017

Neighbour bought one -top of the range - comfortable, reasonably nippy............out of warranty it had electrical problems, rust & huge bills anytime it went into the MB dealership - £100/hr +VAT & that was 20 years ago.

DBsimmondley    on 31 July 2017

I bought a used A Class from a colleague with 7 MB stamps in the service book. When I had it serviced at a local garage the mechanic said it looked like the air filter and spark plugs had never been changed. It was however a great little car, hard seats but easily did 10 hour trips without back ache. Good in the snow.

angelcyn    on 31 July 2017

As above, difficult to think of this flawed car as a classic in any way.
My wife had one of the post "elk" models when all was deemed to be well ?
From new it had three new suspension refits which MB said each time that they had fitted "modified" parts, it suffered from torque steer, eliminated in every other car by that time and was noisy even for a diesel.
Practical yes and my wife liked the car to use, but my overiding memory was with the main dealer who basically washed their hands the car had and lied about what they had done when they would do it etc etc, I would no more think of ever buying a MB after that experience whatever they may say has changed, appalling service and MB themselves never admitted that there was a fault with the suspension despite my local MOT station saying he had had dozens with problems front and back.

WilliamRead    on 31 July 2017

I am sure you are right,.a total dud from the word go. MB must regret ever putting it on the market.

WilliamRead    on 31 July 2017

Why anyone would even consider a car so ugly and out of proportion as a potential classic is amazing. The best it could hope for is a future scrappage payment if diesel, and if petrol, the scrapyard.

Caroline Carver    on 31 July 2017

I am shocked at the comments above. I have had mine for nine yrs and it is and has always been a superb car. Prior to the A Class I had had estate cars all my life, and this A Class was a great small car alternative. Yes it is not exactly beautiful and it is an awkward looking shape, but so practical. It has much more space than any comparable car and you would have to go up to a much larger car to get the same level of luggage space, whether seats up or seats down.

As for reliability, I hate to tempt fate, but I have never had a single problem with it. Indeed, it started first time after being left at the airport for five weeks last Jan/Feb! That's more than my husband's Jag. was able to do - we had to call in the RAC when we got home for that!

And not a sign of rust.

Because of its age I am thinking I should change it, but am really struggling as to what to buy instead. I do not want a bigger car. I do want a petrol automatic with high seats, loads of luggage space, light coloured interior (why are all cars black inside??) etc. Indeed, all the advantages of the A class. There is just no equivalent, so I shall have to have a larger car or less luggage space.

WilliamRead    on 31 July 2017

An interesting comment; whatever the car, there will always be people who think, from their own experience, it is wonderful... and others, also sometimes from their own experiencer, who think the opposite.

Malcolm Russell    on 31 July 2017

My daughter had an early model, which never did get recalled. Severe unreliability and rust led to it being dumped in favour of a BMW - frying pans and fire come to mind!

WilliamRead    on 31 July 2017

However allegedly duff a car was said to be, there will always be owners who are delighted with their trouble-free ownership of a reliable, comfortable dar for many years. Even cars such as the BL Maeastro, Vauxhall Cavalier Mk 1 and the FSO Polonez have their supporters.

Mi16    on 31 July 2017

Interesting mix of views. We bought an A170CDi new in 2002 and kept it 6 years. Apart from routine servicing the only replacement was the battery (under the driver's feet) We drove a lot in France and down to the Pyrenees and it never missed a beat. My one criticism of the Avantgarde model is that the alloys stick out beyond the tyres and high kerbs play havoc with them.

I concede they are not that pleasing on the eye, the long wheel base improves the proportions, but really economical on diesel. The best feature is being able to take out the rear seats and I found the load bay swallowed items I couldn't get into my E class estate.

Nostalgic? Not really, but it was a car of its time and outlasted its Audi rival. On the school run my son preferred to be picked up well away from the school gates!

A lot of the petrol A140s were hire cars and did not have the best start in life

AEB    on 18 July 2018

Wow, I'm nothing but shocked at the comments here...
I'm scare to write anything positive about the car... With in my family we've had 3 A class all w168 from different years. All i can say is its an awesome car totally love it. Have had not issues with any of them, they are all good and still going strong... One the oldest almost hit 300k on the clock... sorry for the haters.

   on 26 August 2018

I think this car is a classic, yes it has its faults but its a good city car and sits pretty well on the motorway. Not bad on petrol and fast enough to lose your license. The shape is also original that still looks unique today.... I drive the A class more than my S type Jag!

   on 27 September 2018

Ultimately, classic car status is achieved by being one of only a few left, usually because most of them were scrapped. As with any used object the rarer it is the better for collectors, often has nothing to do with aesthetics or quality. Look at the delorian, awful quality but now a cult car, not only because of the BTTF films but also the shady legal dealings of the designer. Doesn't mean it was ever a good, or beautiful, car.

   on 18 August 2019

I've read all the comments some good and some bad, but all I can say mine after three years has been very reliable, super practical being the long wheel base version its like a tardis inside and has a lively engine being the A210. I've never had any problems with rust, its had full service history and was looked after well by previous owners. The only gripe I would say is the harsh ride, but it is the sporty version. Time will tell if it becomes a classic, but its clever design and interior space for such a small car makes its quite unique. Being a sandwich floor design the engine slides below the second floor in a frontal impact. It is a very safe design for a smaller car. It's quite lightweight so can be economical on a longer drive. I will be keeping mine, even though its 17 year old, along with my old Saab same age... perhaps a future classic..

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