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Mercedes-Benz A160 1.6 Elegance

Mercedes-Benz

Review

MERCEDES-Benz's answer to the oft-asked question 'what on earth does it think it's doing launching a mini MPV?' is in the sales figures for the A-class.

Since it arrived here on September 4, more than 1,000 have been registered. By the end of the year 5,000 A-class units will have found buyers - just about the entire allocation for the UK up to spring 1999. And in its first full year the German manufacturer expects to have sold 15,000 with an even spread between retail and corporate customers.

Mercedes claims to have created a new category with the A-class, citing saloon car comfort, city car manoeuvrability, practicality and versatility as major selling points. But they're similar to those of the established Renault Megane Scenic, and they are points which will be echoed by the Astra-based Vauxhall Zafira in the first half of next year, and eventually by Ford's Focus-based entry into the mini MPV market alongside a Volkswagen Golf platform rival, and whatever else pops up from the east.

It's certainly going to be busy in the Scenic sector over the next 18 months as manufacturers push design boundaries further forward in pursuit of the practical car for all purposes.

Mercedes may not have had the idea first, but it has indeed created a category into which no other maker, with the possible exceptions of BMW and Jaguar, is likely to break. That three-pointed star is a powerful sales tool. But it can't, surely, fully explain why people have been queueing up to buy such a radical-looking vehicle, most of them without even having driven it, and all of them apparently happy that Mercedes has overcome the cropper of the now infamous Swedish elk test by fitting special stability equipment and different tyres.

Whether or not buyers are dazzled by its startling looks or by the badge (and it's difficult to believe hard-nosed hire fleets known to have put in substantial orders would be dazzled by either), they are getting an exceptionally clever package. For instance, the A-class out-Scenics the Scenic in use of space.

At 11ft 8in long it's shorter than a Ford Ka, but the interior capacity is that of a medium saloon, achieved by mounting the engine and transmission in a sandwich floor over which the passenger compartment is given a virtually clean sweep in which to play around with seating/load carrying combinations. The rear seats and front passenger seat are removable to create a cargo space from 350 litres up to 1,700 litres depending on lifting out one or both single seats or the two-seat bench, or all of them.

Removal is straightforward, although the bench itself is quite hefty.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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