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A smartphone on wheels

Date: 26 February 2018   |   Author: Sean Keywood

The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class has been unveiled, with a strong focus on connectivity. The car comes with the brand's new Mercedes-Benz User Experience computer system (MBUX), which aims  to set new standards for in-car technology. 

New Mercedes tech normally debuts on the S-Class luxury saloon before trickling down through the range, but the new A-Class will be the first car to have MBUX, reflecting its status not only as Mercedes' bestselling car in the UK but also its popularity with younger drivers.

Unveiling the car at its world premiere in Amsterdam, Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars and chairman of parent company Daimler, said, "MBUX turns a Mercedes into something many people in the industry talk about - a smartphone on wheels."

MBUX includes artificial intelligence which, according to Mercedes, 'gets to know' the person who is driving it. 

For instance, if the driver goes to a particular place every Monday morning, then, when they get in the car on that day, MBUX will suggest that destination for the sat-nav, or if they ring their boss at a particular time every day, the system will suggest making that call.

Speaking at the launch, Ola Kallenius, the member of the Daimler board responsible for group research and Mercedes-Benz Cars, described the system as like having a butler in the car.

He added, "It's time for AI to move into the car and be an assistant to the driver or the passenger."

Helping the driver communicate with the new A-Class will be the optional Linguatronic voice recognition system, the brand's answer to the likes of Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa, activated by saying "Hey Mercedes".

It is capable of recognising direct and indirect commands so, if for example the driver says 'I am cold', it will increase the temperature.

The new A-Class comes with a pair of 7in dashboard screens as standard - an instrument display and a central touchscreen - with an option to replace one or both of these with 10.5in displays.

Initially, there are two engine options, a 1.5-litre diesel with 115hp, and a 1.4-litre petrol with 163hp.

Official fuel economy figures are 68.9mpg for the diesel and 53.3mpg for the petrol. Meanwhile CO2 emissions are 108g/km and 120g/km respectively. A 2.0-litre petrol engine will be added to the range this summer. From launch, the new A-Class will be available only with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, with a six-speed manual following later this year.

In terms of driver assistance systems, active brake assist and lane-keeping assist are both standard, with an optional package that adds the semi-autonomous driving systems previously seen on the S-Class. 

Among other capabilities, these allow the car to see 500m up the road using cameras and radar, and use map data to see an approaching tight corner or junction and adjust its speed accordingly.

Interior and luggage space in the new A-Class are increased compared with the outgoing model, with the wheelbase now 30mm longer and the front wheels 14mm further apart.

Mercedes says full specifications and prices will be announced on 5 March, but it is understood that prices will start from around £24,700 for the diesel auto.

Petrol engines, not available in the entry-level SE trim, will start from about £27,500 in the mid-range Sport trim, with a top-spec AMG Line also available. The manual transmission  is set to be around £1,600 cheaper than the auto when the car goes on sale.

In terms of exterior styling, which BusinessCar saw first hand at the launch event, changes to the outgoing model aren't extreme, but overall the car has a slightly more grown-up look with the previous dramatic side slashes toned down, although the wider and lower front end gives it an aggressive stance. On the inside, the optional 10.5in touchscreens are impressive, while we found the seats particularly comfortable and the interior trim to be of the expected premium standard. 

Mercedes says deliveries of the new A-Class will start in June.