Luckily for the Mercedes A-class, its otherwise dull 2008 facelift has been saved from obscurity by interesting new engine and powertrain developments. Ignore the forgettable visual exterior and interior tweaks – a rubbing strip going body coloured here, an aerial getting shorter to be more ‘carwash compatible’ there – and hear this genuine first: from October 2008, the Mercedes A-class range will offer the cleanest ever production car to wear the three-pointed star, qualifying for all manner of low taxes in the process.
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A low-tax Merc? I’m half-interested now…
The A160 CDI ‘Blue Efficiency’ FE three-door manual introduces Mercedes’ answer to BMW’s Efficient Dynamics and will offer 62.8mpg and 119g/km of CO2 by utilising a package of improvements in engine efficiency, rolling resistance, aerodynamics and weight reduction. Those figures equate to 8 percent less fuel use compared to the previous model. Even the five-door will manage 57.6mpg and 128g/km.
Isn’t there some stop/start tech too?
Yes. From autumn 2008, both the A- and B-class petrol engine models – the 150 and 170 units – will become the first within the Mercedes range to get fuel-saving ECO ‘stop/start’ technology. Driving the A170 in suitably ‘stop and go’ Berlin traffic and given prior experience of BMW and other makers’ systems, we thought we knew what to expect. We were wrong.
Unlike BMW’s system that cuts out when the car is put into neutral at low-speed coasting, Merc’s version requires the driver to keep a foot on the brake. It starts again when the clutch is pressed or the brake pedal released. The technology will become standard on the two models in the UK and can, Mercedes says, reduce fuel consumption by 9 percent – or about 3.5mpg – giving the A170 ECO stop/start a 46.3mpg rating.
But keeping a foot on the brake when stuck in traffic for a minute or more feels weird and a little uncomfortable – especially for a manual gearbox car – and as soon as you take your foot off the brake the engine fires up again. Merc won’t offer it on diesel versions just yet as the firm says diesel stop/start is trickier to engineer on its system while still reaching meaningful emission and economy gains. But haven’t BMW and Mini managed it on their systems?
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More safety, same price – and same weak drive
Prices for the facelifted A-class are unchanged spanning £14,365 through to £18,815 with a reduced trim level range down from five to three: Classic SE, Elegance SE and Avantgarde SE. Standard additions include Bluetooth connectivity, hill start assist, adaptive brake lights – that flash rapidly to warn following traffic in case of an emergency – and crash-responsive emergency lighting that lights up the interior to improve occupant orientation.
But also standard is the very average drive. Barely changed since the previous model, the new A-class's 116bhp 1.7-litre petrol engine feels far from lively, the suspension is ‘bobbly’ over uneven surfaces and the steering detached. All round it’s no match for the Ford C-Max and its ilk.
Models without stop/start and Blue Efficiency tech launch earlier on 17 July 2008, but the new A-class’s saving graces really are those tax-busting new engine variants from October 2008.