Sector: Hatchback Price: £18,945 – £28,775 Fuel: 74.3 – 44.1mpg CO2: 98 – 148g/km
You might soon feel like an onlooker at Trafalgar, Blenheim or Agincourt, or any other great battle fought through history, because it’s about to kick off in the fleet market – big time.
The protagonist? The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, a car that firmly establishes the German brand at the heart of the fleet market, a heart that has been smitten with premium brand offers from BMW and Audi in recent years, while the so-called volume carmakers squabble over an increasingly smaller and less profitable share.
It’s not about to get any easier for them, because this new A-Class is the best lower medium car on sale today, by nearly any measure you apply, and Mercedes have huge ambitions in fleet with this car.
Best to start with the objective qualifications. Three diesel engines achieve CO2
levels from as low as 98g/km. The 136bhp 200 CDI hits 114g/km with the excellent seven speed twin clutch auto box, making it a strong fleet contender.
Pricing is incredibly competitive. The petrol 180 BlueEFFICIENCY starts from only £18,945, while the diesels start from £21,200, around the level of the new A3, if not better and barely above that of a Focus or Astra. I’ll bet the residuals are not at the same level though.
Spec-wise, all come with Bluetooth, iPod compatibility and colour display screen, while further up the range, models such as Sport and AMG Sport are beautifully tailored to corporate buyers, with sharp spoked alloys, brilliant iPod interactivity which turns the car’s screen into your phone, and various funky sports seats and body glitter.
The glitter: the new A-Class is a striking thing. It might be a little generic from the back, but the sharky nose and sculpted sides ooze class and sporting intent, while the cabin has some wonderful effects, such as the carbon fibre weave-style dash and large X-wing fighter air vents. The designers say it is based on the magical SLS AMG. It might be, but in my view, the cabin is better than the superMerc. Cool colours, clean lines and sophisticated style: the cabin is a corporate up-and-comer’s dream.
I drove a matt grey version with AMG detailing and auto box, which would be roughly £26-27,000 on the road. It looks stunning, and attracted huge amounts of attention. It also drives decently, being front wheel drive yet having a nice balance to it, and a fairly compliant ride too. The engines are not quite the accelerative match of the BMW 1 Series, but the whole experience is better, more premium, in feel.
Mercedes-Benz sales director Mike Whittington has been trying to make the brand more accessible, more friendly, and let’s face it, less snobby. It’s not just about golf-clubbing old men in fat saloons any more, and the A-Class is the epitome of that. For a hatchback, it is as cool as they come, and that means it will attract brand conscious professional men and women by the bucketload.
Whittington reckons they could do 25,000 units a year (somewhere around what Audi does with the A3) if they can get enough, and combined with the good work being done in the corporate department to make Mercedes-Benz more fleet-friendly, that seems wholly reasonable. Perhaps more than half of that number will go to fleets.
Things wrong with it? Well, at the top end it gets fairly expensive, and as I said before, the back end is not as distinctive as the rest of it, while the white dashboard option looks like it would get scuffed up. I’m struggling to think of some negatives, if I’m honest.
A new chapter in the fleet market has been written with the A-Class, because it
signals that Mercedes-Benz is now a major, major player. And just as Audi and BMW transformed the sector, the A-Class will take even more sales away from the middle ground. It could be a massacre.