Still waters run shallow.
The ideological direction change enacted by Mercedes-Benz for the 2012 W176 A-Class not only precipitated the dying gasp of the German marque’s engineering-led ethos, but went on to vindicate its adoption by becoming a huge commercial success for the carmaker.
This much we know, but the scope and reach to which Mercedes has developed its successor gives eloquent voice of its ongoing significance to the three pointed star. Since its spring 2018 launch, the newest A-Class in five door format can be said to be a perplexing device, in visual terms at least. While its predecessor was notable for a highly expressive, overstyled appearance, the current iteration appears by contrast, demure to the point of near-invisibility.
Mercedes-Benz stylists, within the constantly shifting tectonic plates of their trademark Sensual Purity design principle, have already decreed that the previous voluptuous surfacing is terminally passé, and that a new, calmer rationale is currently en vogue. What is apparent however, is that the A-Class has not necessarily benefited from this creative U-turn in the manner some observers might have predicted – or indeed wished for.
Which brings us to the latest derivation of the increasingly fecund A-Class family, the V177 A-Class Saloon – not to be confused with the as-yet forthcoming, CLA-badged four-door, which seems set to take product planning to farcical levels of needless complexity. The three volume A-Class has been added to the product plan to cater to the United States and Chinese markets, where hatchbacks are allegedly akin to the plague – even with the talismanic three pointed star affixed.
Earlier this week, Autocar’s German correspondent, Greg Kable reported upon his driving impressions of the vehicle, which is now available in mainland Europe, but won’t trouble UK roads until early next year. Kable draws comparisons with Mercedes’ W201 (190) series, suggesting the V177 is some form of spiritual successor, which I suppose it is, if you’ve lived your entire life in aspic.
Drawing comparisons with one of the marque’s technical and creative monoliths does not paint the newest edition in the most flattering of lights, although in mitigation – Mercedes being Mercedes, it is likely that when W201 was being instigated, just about every mechanical layout was investigated and prototypes built. That is simply how they used to go about things at Sindelfingen.
This being so, the idea of a front-drive layout wasn’t inconceivable, the likelihood being that it was felt the more traditional layout would allow for more economies of scale on the hardware side and was less likely to alienate traditional Mercedes customers.
But we are not in Kansas any more – or whatever its Baden Württemburg equivalent might happen to be. The issue with V177 has little to do with its adoption of front wheel drive. Its problems lie simultaneously deeper and shallower than that.
While the A-Class hatch’s looks are nondescript to the point of banality, the saloon at least offers an improvement in basic proportions, suggesting (to these eyes) that the design was optimised for the three-volume car over the hatch. It’s damning with faint praise really, because while the saloon might be slightly better resolved, it’s still no paragon. Like W177, it lacks definition and conviction but above all, integrity. In fact, like its five-door sibling, without the badging, one would be at a loss to determine what it was.
While we’re on the subject of comparison, dimensionally the V177 adds a good 130 mm to the hatch’s length, meaning the resultant car is significantly longer, wider and taller than the 190E – a matter which if anything, simply further emphasises Sindelfingen’s engineers’ achievement with the latter machine a good thirty five years ago.
But in today’s reality, relics like the W201 are about as relevant to the three pointed star as the current contents of Mr. Wagener’s sock cupboard. But a careful reading of Autocar’s review suggests a thoroughly mediocre car, which neither performs or cossets particularly well, enlivened by a sci-fi bells and whistles interior, some go-faster external addenda, the requisite oversized wheels and that eternal, forgiveness is all star.
But no matter. This is neither a car, nor indeed a Mercedes for the ages. Daimler AG are not in that business anymore, so this one will do quite nicely for now. At least until something else comes along.