AI (artificial intelligence) means there’s a good chance it will understand what you are going on about.
While the car probably won’t give you the crossword answers, it should respond to a range of requests however you say them. The example given is “Hey Mercedes, I’m cold” being understood just as easily as a specific instruction to turn up the cabin temperature.
Mercedes believes this “natural language comprehension” and the car’s learning ability will create a stronger emotional bond between the car and the driver and passengers. The car’s replies can vary and are taken from its own software as well as the Cloud, but Mercedes says it will always have something to say for itself even when there is no internet connection.
This new voice activation system is part of the new A-Class’s headline feature, called Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX for short, which is so new not even the S-Class has it. There is a great deal the S-Class does have however that has found its way down the alphabet to A.
Do you want big-car features in a compact hatchback? How about climate-controlled massaging seats, head-up display, widescreen dashboard with high-res 3D graphics, heated steering wheel, 64-colour ambient lighting and flashy illuminated air vents, active damping control, semi-autonomous drive features and trick LED headlights? All are available in the new range (note, though, the usual disclaimers about optional extras apply).
All of that, plus sharper styling and what’s billed as a redefined version of Mercedes ”modern luxury” interior design, goes to show how just how important the A-Class has become to Mercedes. Since its famously wobbly start in 1997 and subsequent reinvention in 2012 from brilliant if boring original into thrusting and dynamic sportster, the A-Class family of cars has gone on to account for one in four of all Mercedes sold.
Today it’s the brand’s most important car for conquest sales – its ability to attract buyers out of rival makes – and it’s the Merc with the youngest average age, the sporty current model boasting an average age a full 10 years younger than its boxy predecessor. This is one car that really did leap from the garden centre to the grid in one go.
The new A is set firmly on the sporty path, its CLS-inspired front-end and lights endowing it with a much more grown-up and expensive air. The five-door hatch now has broader shoulders and a more assured stance.
It also promises to be more practical, with a 30mm longer wheelbase and wider front track translating into more cabin room, easier entry and larger (by 29 litres) boot. Ten per cent thinner cladding around the pillars is said to improve all-around visibility.
The car sees better as well thanks to new camera and radar peering 500m up the road, supporting a wealth of intelligent driving systems adopted from the S-Class.
New semi-autonomous features include Mercedes’ latest active cruise control system which along with Active Steering Assist can predictively adjust the car’s speed and direction in a number of different situations. Other active, predictive systems assist with lane changes and emergency stops to help avoid both rear-end shunts and pedestrians.
In the past, there have been five family members – the A-Class, B-Class, CLA, CLA Shooting Brake and GLA compact SUV – but Mercedes is promising eight in the future. An AMG version is a cert but has not yet been confirmed (though power is tipped to hit 400bhp), and so far just three four-cylinder engines are known about.
The entry petrol model has 161bhp and either six-speed manual or dual-clutch auto, while the 220bhp petrol with auto in the A250 is fastest, with 0-62mph in 6.2secs and top speed of 155mph. The 180d gets a new 114bhp diesel engine with the auto ‘box only; it’s over 10secs to reach 62mph but does return a combined 69mpg. Most are front-drive but all-wheel drive is available.
“Hey Mercedes, how much do you cost?” That’s one answer not so far programmed, but we should know soon ahead of sales starting in March.