Mercedes' decision to apply its engineering genius to
totally new formats - rather than the further refinement
of established designs saw its ultimate realization with
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class established an entirely new
market segment, offering all the Mercedes core values
- especially safety, comfort and reliability - as well
as the roominess of a mid-size car, and yet it was
less than 12 feet long.
A unique double-floor "sandwich"
body structure positioned the engine, transmission,
suspension and fuel tank underneath the passenger cell.
Designing a supermini that is as safe as a compact executive
car and just as roomy seems an impossible contradiction.
Mercedes, though, came up with a format that can truly
be called revolutionary.
One of the biggest problems in
a head-on crash is the damage caused by the engine being
driven into the cabin.
To get around this, designed a
doubledocker floorpan and mounted the engine block at
45 degrees. In an accident, the engine and transmission
are forced under the passengers' feet.
The extraordinary roominess of the A-class comes from
a subtle working of the flat floor, upright seating and
the ability to place the front passengers nearer the nose.
But Mercedes' massive feat was shattered mid-launch by
news that a motoring magazine had rolled an A-class during
After bluffing for a week or two, the mighty Benz succumbed,
admitted there was a problem, and redesigned the rear
suspension. But the fundamentals remained. The A-class
was - like the Austin Mini when it was launched in the
1950s - the shape of future European motoring, and one
of the most significant cars ever made.