Small cars are really a dead issue in America, insofar as our tastes and conditions don't favor them. In Europe and Asia where fuel costs and urban congestion are more serious issues and the safety requirement less restrictive, there is a new boom in this class. One of the most innovative entries is the new Mercedes A class, set to go on sale this spring. Let's take a look.
The A class comes in at under 12 feet long at 141.8 inches. For comparison a Geo Metro, the current US little guy, stretches over 149.4 inches and a large luxury sedan like the Cadillac Fleetwood tapes out at 225. inches, almost 7 feet longer! Parking should be a snap. Offered in Europe with a choice of four all new powerplants ranging from a 60 horsepower turbo diesel to a 100 horsepower 1.6 liter gasoline engine the A class can deliver up to 60 miles per gallon when driven with a "light foot" as they say in the Mercedes press release. A 1.9 liter four with over 125 horses will be coming later, and this version should really scoot.
The design features many innovations aimed primarily at achieving a Mercedes level of safety in this compact size. A double floor "sandwich" body structure positions the major mechanical components under the passenger cell providing outstanding passenger room and safety advantages in frontal collisions, wherein the drivetrain slides under the passenger compartment, rather than into it. Short, but effective, crumble zones are thus free to dissipate collision energy.
"Clean sheet" design provides outstanding roominess and functionality. The airy cabin features a completely flat floor. All passenger seats are foldable and removeable. The rather tall A class can even accommodate 2 full sized bikes. Useful as it may be this "status shrinker" won't be offered in the U.S. market for now, although there may be a zero-emissions electric version coming after the year 2000. We'll keep you posted. by REXX TAYLOR