As a result of a US-style stretch, the radical supermini has become a mini-limousine boasting significantly greater carrying capacity and more rear seat legroom than the E-class saloon. 'This is now a more serious proposition as a corporate car. Boosting the size makes the A-class a lot more relevant against the Renault Scenic and we're hoping this will translate into higher sales,' said Mercedes-Benz UK product executive Glenn Stanton.
'The original car won a lot of praise for its safety packaging and the features stemming from its breakthrough design. With more than 35,000 registrations since its launch in 1998, it has been Britain's best-selling Mercedes-Benz and a big hit in the private sector. But it has never made any real impact on the fleet market and now we have the chance to change all that.'
As the long wheelbase A-class was being previewed in Portugal, he said the 170mm longer car would be about £900 dearer than the standard model, which will continue. He added: 'The traditional A-class market is shrinking as the trend for greater versatility gathers momentum. We think the short wheelbase car will continue to appeal to younger customers or older couples, but the long wheelbase is a lot more useful for family and business motoring.'
Efforts to get the car included on more company lists started with 30 influential fleet customers spending two days testing it in Portugal. Later this month, the stretched A-class will take centre stage in a new product ride and drive event for corporate buyers in Manchester. The car will also be on the stand at the Fleet Show at Alexandra Palace, London from May 1-3.
'We sold more than 14,000 examples of the standard car last year and we're aiming for 18,000 registrations this year. While we continue to regard the regular car as a hatchback, the LWB is more of a mini-MPV and should account for 60% of A-class business in the future,' said Stanton. On sale in June, the LWB will effectively double the range. Like the SWB, it will come with a choice of 1.4, 1.6 and 1.9-litre petrol engines, but its common rail turbodiesel motor will be sized at 1.7-litres while the heavy oil unit of the regular version will have a 1.6-litre capacity.
Facelift action for the 2001 model year provides new bumpers, clear lens headlights, improved air conditioning and more optional equipment. Slotted in behind the B-pillar, the extension makes the LWB the new Tardis of the compact class. Legroom in the rear is impressive and the boot is also bigger. With the rear seats folded, load capacity is 1,530 litres over a flat floor 2.27 metres long.