Our A-Class Story
Have you ever had something that you really like, even cherish?
We have, our Mercedes A-classes. We ve had three of them now and we love them to bits.
We’ll start with our first A-class, an A160 Avantgarde, in Athol Blue, which we bought in 2000.
We d initially wanted to purchase the new VW Beetle as we where smitten with it after taking a test drive, however we wanted an Automatic and this pushed the price of the beetle up to around £18,000.
Thanks to Mike (mykp) for writing this article, as you will see he's owned several A Classes....
At the time this was way beyond our budget.
In the mean time our old VW Golf was busy dying, it was an G reg Golf Driver Auto with all these stupid emission control systems which had really screwed up, it either ran okay or idled at 2000rpm with a viscious gear change.
At round about the time as the Golf was dying our local Mercedes garage where holding a sale so we decided to take a look at the A-class as they had several on offer at the time.
We entered the garage to see a brand new A160 Avantgarde, Auto with all the bells and whistles, the only thing it didn’t have was Air Conditioning. We took it for a test drive, loved it and bought it there and then!
We decided on the A-class over the Beetle on 3 things,
Mercedes Benz over Volkswagen (Bit of a no brainer that one),
Practicality (The A-class is a more practical vehicle that the beetle, which looks nice)
Space (The glove box on the A-class is more spacey than the Beetles boot)
To be brutally honest the A-class is basically a 5 door van with seats and windows. Don’t get me wrong I like its van like interior which brings us on to space. The A-class is massive inside compared with the VW Beetle which is both handy for my own and my wife’s business as we both need to move large items from time to time.
My wife shifts large pottery items, materials and equipment and I move large amounts of computer equipment.
All the seats come out of the A-class, and the Long Wheel Base version has either loads of legroom or you can move the seats forward for loads of boot space. Not as much as some MPV’s on the market admitidly but they don’t come with a Mercedes Benz badge on the front
I’ve even had two cement mixers in our first A-Class with all but the driver’s seat removed. Quite funny when I turned up at HSS with both cement mixers in the car. The staff at the store didn’t believe me until they saw it. (On later models the removal of the front seats has become an optional extra as the front seats are now bolted in)
We had the A160 for just over a year and did 7500 miles in it driving as far away as Cornwall to John O’Groats. In all the time we owned the car we didn’t have a single problem and all the garbage people told us about the car tipping over when forced to swerve hard was dismissed late one night driving down the M7 at 90mph, when a fox ran out in front of us and I had to swerve to miss it.
We ended up facing the wrong way on the motorway however we didn’t tip over and we didn’t hit the fox, but we did leave some groovy looking skid marks on the motorway! Glad it was at about 2am in the morning though!
After driving the A160 round for a year, we’d only had the sunroof open a few times and began to wish we d gone for Air Conditioning instead. So we swapped our A160 for a brand new A140 Avantgarde with AC. Same car, smaller engine, and different colour. Mangrove Green.
Now the A140 was a different beast to the A160 as the A140 was a Post face lift model and looked slightly different to the A160. It was also cosmetically different inside.
We did just less than 7000 miles in the A140 in two years, not because we didn’t want to drive it but because 2001/2002 was a busy period for me and the wife and we didn’t drive very far. My wife was in Japan for 5 months in these two years and if I was away, I was using my Crown as at the time my business was paying my insurance/petrol/etc.
However we did do some epic trips, driving to Southern Spain and back and Cornwall Twice!
The A140 did cause us two problems though, one major, one minor but extremely irritating. Lets stick with the minor problem first. When we where away in Japan the car sat idle in the Garage for 4 weeks and on our return the car only just started, however it did start. But the engine management warning light came on as it started and stayed on.
After driving the car round for about 50 miles, the battery was charged enough to start the car no problem but the engine management light was still on even though the official user handbook says the light should go out within 20-30 miles.
So, off down to the local MB dealer, who informs me that it will cost £43 to reset the computer. What! Okay I part with £43 to get it reset but the dealer informs me that this was because of the flat battery. How can I avoid paying £43 every time I go to Japan for 4 weeks?
I have since found out that you can reset the engine management system, but any errors are still logged in the engine management computer and it can invalidate your warranty if anything major goes wrong at a later date because of this error. Anyway I complained to MB head office several time and got a voucher for £100! So not to bad after all.
Next onto what I class a major problem. Mercedes Assyst.
What a pain in the arse this was as it kept telling us the car needed a service first at 3500 miles and then after the dealer reset it again at 4200 miles, then again after it was reset at 4800 miles. After throwing my toys out of the pram in the dealers they replaced the instrument panel but the assist went off again at 5200 miles so I had the car serviced. Didn’t stop assist kicking in again just 600 miles later, the dealer replaced the instrument panel again and this sorted it out. However we did trade the car in soon afterwards so I don’t know if this problem continued or not. (I see the car quite regularly as its now owned by elderly couple - if you own Y131 SBN or my old Athol Blue W637 JHE please send me an email)
This brings us onto our current A-Class.
The A210 Evolution LWB
At the time we bought this car we where looking at buying a smaller sportier car but in the end we bought a A210 Evo which is a cross between something sporty and something with a load of room inside.
Now some would say its not sporty, well define sporty. 0-60 isn’t Porsche territory and it’s not as cheap as something like the Honda Civic, but I’ve already stated on this site that I wanted a White Civic Type-R but Honda UK wouldn’t accommodate me. I’ll have one though if the price is right next time I go to Japan. The Jap Spec is a better car anyway!
I have to say the A210 is brilliant to drive compared to the other A-Classes I’ve owned. It’s fast, a little too fast sometimes and it handles miles better than the other two, although it does have a tendency to drive on three wheels when pushed near the limit on the corners as I found out on a recent track day. On the straight and narrow the speedo does have a tendency to climb round to the wrong side of the dial rather quickly. I wont say how far round the needle has been.
Okay its not as quick as some cars for the same money but they don’t have the three pointed star on the front. Plus even though I live in an A-Class hot spot, our A-Class stands out because of its body kit and nice alloys.
Besides, if I’d have bought the Honda Civic Type-R I wouldn’t be able to nearly as much stuff in the back as I can in the A-Class.
I have loads of friends who own A-Classes and constantly meet people who own A-Classes and ask me about ours. For those who are reading this and want to meet other A-Class owners then I always point people in the direction of the Baby Benz website, who have regular meetings of like minded people throughout the country.
If your interested in an A-Class then there are a few things to check before you hand over your hard earned cash.
The most common faults are listed below,
1. Steering rack. With the engine turned off, move the steering wheel from left to right. If it makes a clunking noise then the bearing which connects the wheel to the rack is in need of replacing. Its an expensive part especially with labour from MB. The A-Class steering rack has been updated three times since the model was released, that I know about, and this has been the topic of many a subject at Baby Benz meetings. This only affects older models.
2. Rear suspension, Where the spring is held onto the rear trailing arms have a tendency to rust which allows the spring to move. Parts are cheap, labour is expensive. Have a look under the rear, its worth getting your hands dirty for this one. This only affects older models.
3. Rear trailing arms bushes. While you’re down checking the springs check the trailing arm bushes.
4. Rear Wheel bearings, these can go. Check them.
5. Rattles from interior. Its not that the interior isn’t put together well, its just that some bits might not be secured properly or the part didn’t fit exactly. Common areas to look at are: Rear seats (take them out and put either insulation tape or foam over the securing posts in the floor), headrests (Easy one this, take them out and pull the posts further apart, not too much mind you. When they go back in they will fit more snugly than before). Tailgate (remove the cover and install bits of foam around the door, then screw the cover back on) Any other rattles can be fixed as per the tailgate.
6. Air Mass Sensor. This is £500ish just for the part! However whether or not this needs replacing is like the lottery. I know people who’ve done 90,000 miles and it’s been okay and other with 10,000 miles and it needed replacing. If it worries you get a warranty if you can. Remember that all MB under 3 years old should have a warranty with MB.
If you buy an A-Class then Join the Baby Benz Club, its free and the people you meet are a nice bunch who share a common enthusiasm the A-Class and who knows if you turn up, I might even take you for a spin in my A210!
Now there are two reasons why we changed from the A160 to the A140, the first is we wanted something which had air conditioning, but the wife still wanted to have an A class but with a smaller engine (She said the A160 was too powerful for her!), as she likes it so much.
The new A Class is much the same as the old version except for a few cosmetic and functional changes.
The most noticeable change on the outside is the new wheels, the bonnet, lights both front an rear and the tailgate.
The front of the car has been slightly redesigned and if you look at the front of the old car next to the front of the new car only then do they become apparent. The bonnet has been creased slightly so that it keeps a line from the new lights up to the top of the bonnet and the shape of the lights has been changed making them appear more bulgie!
The rear tailgate has also be redesigned with a more flush fitting spoiler and a newer easier to open handle, the pre-face lift models had a buttom which you pushed and no handle, the new version has a handle which is pulled to open the door. The rear lights have also been restyled and now look slightly indented as opposed to the bubble shape of the old version.
Inside the centre console has been completely redesigned. Well, all the switches and dials have been moved around so that the heater controls are now at the top of the console and you dont get the wavey line for the heater controls any more. The console surround on the Avantgarde is now a nice polished aluminum finish instead of the tacky plastic from before. This Aluminium finish has also been carried across to the trim along the tops of the doors.
The steering wheel has been replaced with a thicker, more sturdy version with a better better looking badge design and surround in the middle.
One of my major flaws with the old A160 was the floor mats which had a tendency to move around quite a lot but the new mats can be fastened down with nice little clips!
What I am amazed at is that Mercedes haven’t bothered to do anything about the electric window switches, which I still think are far to low and hard to find behind the handbrake.
Neither have they tackled the window wipers, which work brilliantly for the passenger but the drivers side doesn’t clear right to the edge of the window as the wipers where designed for the left hand drive version. Why haven’t they sat down to make a right hand drive version, why?
Altogether the new A class is the same as the older version it has been tweaked to look and feel better on the road.
If you are going to have a look at the A-class then have a butchers at the Long Wheel base version as if you have teenagers or pets the room in the back is amazing, even if the front seats are pushed right back. More than most other cars i’ve looked or sat in, in the past. More than enough for the taller adult.
Update: having driven the A140 now for 4 weeks every day, I can now add a few extra comments on drivablity.
If your after a sports car, then this car definately isnt for you, but if your after an everday, commuter or "kids to school" car then this is a definate car to look at. although it might look small on the outside, it will take 5 adults in relative comfort and will still give good mpg, even behaving well on the motorway. 70mph @ 3,000rpm, not bad for a 1.4. it doesnt sound like the engine is screaming either.
The handling is pretty good for a car of its height and I dont know where the stories of instability originate from but they are truly unfounded. This thing corners superbly and having done several high speed lane changes, very quickly I can tell you it stays stuck to the floor.
The version we have has the tiptronic, semi automatic gearbox and if used properly will add to the mpg. The auto box on its own is good but using the semi auto box will liven up your day.
Load space is also excellent and having got a full double bed inside ours I was well chuffed :)
All the seats come out, including the drivers seat, which makes for excellent cleaning but poor driving position.
The brakes on the car are also excellent and coupled with the automatic skid reduction makes things even better, although turning it off does make acceleration faster as the engine is free to rev and not limited by the Traction Control.
Still not sure about the wiper blades, they still go the wrong way. fine if your the passenger but crap if your the driver. Makes motorways driving a bit annoying, as the blind spot is about 12 inches wide.
I have owned this car now for just over a year and am very happy with My A160 Avantgarde.
The car was bought as a second car for the family and on the many occasions I have driven it, I have been pleasantly surprised. I am not a fan of small cars but the A Class has quite a big inside for a car of its size. Even sitting in the back seats is not uncomfortable and i m 6 foot tall.
The engine is surprisingly powerful for its size, although you wont be winning many traffic light races.
When we bought the car it had the tiptronic 5 speed auto box, which is quite smooth although using the tiptronic bit, change down = push left and change up = pull right, does sometimes make the car leap between gear changes. Even on the motorway the A class is very quiet even above the speed limit and seems to eat the miles up with minimum effort, @ 80mph I got just over 50mpg using normal Unleaded.
As the Avantgarde has the sportier, harder suspension, this allows the car to corner a lot better than the Elegance (which I also test drove on the day we purchased the A160). Although this does sometimes mean that your spine takes a good battering on badly maintained roads.
If you are about to buy an A class it might be worth spending that little bit extra and getting the air conditioning as well as the sun roof, as sometimes the sunroof is not really practical and sometimes when we’ve has a full load of people on a rainy day we have had a lot of condensation on the inside. The sunroof is excellent in nice weather as it goes quite far back, almost to the back of the rear seats.
However on the motorway at high speeds, driving into high winds the sunroof can sometimes whistle, but I am told that this problem has been sorted out now! The dealers where actually aware of this as when I complained they informed me "The problem only occurs when speeds exceed 80mph!"
Inside the car is quite roomy, plenty for 5 adults, although I wouldn’t advise a long journey with 5 adults inside.
The driving position is quite good as you sit high up and the front seats both adjust up, down and forward and back, along with the steering wheel moving up and down. In the back the seats move forward and backwards to give greater boot/rear passenger leg space, depending on what you need the most. All the seats can be removed from the car making luggage space excellent. I have managed to get 2 cement mixers in mine with all but the drivers seat removed. Removal of the seats also makes cleaning the car a breeze as you can get an upright vacuum cleaner inside!
Okay the interior inside isn’t the most visually appealing as there is plastic everywhere (newer models have aluminum and wood trim) but the quality and finish is very good. Apart from the speedo/revcounter display as a good push can move it up or down by a few millemetres
Safety has been though about and the car has 4 airbags, but there all for the front passengers. There are 4 proper seat belts and a lap belt for the middle rear passenger (The post facelift models all have 5 proper seatbelts) and all seats have a head restraint.
Overall, I think that for the price Mercedes have come up with a good package and have produced a nice to drive, reliable and practical car. However my only moan is the switches for the electric windows are not high enough and you have to fish around or look before you get the right switch, which can be dangerous at 70mph on a busy motorway.
If your looking for a smallish car then the A Class is worth a look especially if you have kids or pets, due to its large cabin space. It will also return good MPG without the sacrifice of too much performance.
A smashing little run about!