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Mercedes-Benz A-class W168 (1998 - 2005)

Last updated 23 December 2019

Innovative sandwich floor putting occupants above many accidents.
Disastrous quality and hugely expensive problems at over 3 years old.
Updated 1 April 2001

Modifications for Spring 2001 include 'S' Class quality trim, better seats, new traction control system, a parcel shelf instead of retractable luggage cover and new 75bhp and 95bhp CDI diesels capable...

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The A-class was Mercedes-Benz’s first attempt at a small car. Sure, the thing that everyone remembers is that it fell over on the ‘elk test’ – but look beyond that and you’ll find a hugely innovative car that is destined for future classic status.

Launched in 1997, the W168 was a world away from anything else the German car maker had ever made. Front-wheel drive, short-wheelbase, and boasting a tall body – it was launched directly into the growing supermini sector which also included the Audi A2.

The A-class is packed with innovation, but perhaps the best known is the ‘sandwich floor’. No, this isn’t an emergency packed lunch – it’s a clever safety trick. In the event of a front impact, the engine and gearbox would slide underneath the seats rather than into the passenger compartment.

And the elk test? The problem of the car rolling over when manoeuvring at high speed to avoid an object was solved by fitting electronic stability control as standard and modifying the suspension. All cars were recalled.

Petrol power was available in the form of 1.4, 1.6, 1.9 and 2.1-litre engines, while two versions of the 1.7-litre diesel were available. But despite the car setting new standards for refinement and interior appointments, the damaged reputation couldn’t be repaired and production ended in 2004.

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