Vehicle: Concept A-Class
When: April 2011
Where: Auto Shanghai 2011, Shanghai
What: new-generation compact class from
Drive system: four-cylinder 2-litre internal combustion engine with 155 kW (210 hp), 7-speed dual-clutch transmission
New 270 model series turbocharged four-cylinder internal combustion engine with direct injection, up to 200 bar injection pressure with fast-response pìezo injectors
COMAND Online multimedia system, use of smartphone functions such as Internet radio, E-mail and social networks as applications on a 17.8-centimetre display, operated via rotary-push control knob
LED high-performance headlamps, daytime running lamps and tail lamps with glass fibre elements in aluminium sheaths
Radar-based collision warning with Adaptive Brake Assist as a world premiere for compact class vehicles
A long bonnet, low silhouette and slim window areas: the proportions of the Concept A-Class presented at the Shanghai Motor Show stand for concentrated dynamism. Its sporty appearance is given particular depth by the interplay between lines and surfaces. ‘The Concept A-Class introduces the new Mercedes-Benz design idiom into the compact class in a sculptured, light and expressive interpretation,’ said Professor Gorden Wagener, Head of Design at Mercedes-Benz. ‘We use the term “captured energy” to express the sheer dynamism exuded by the Concept A-Class. Our formal sources of inspiration were the wind and waves, as well as aviation engineering, resulting in this “cool” look.’
Not only visually, but also technologically, the Concept A-Class was set to usher in a new compact class era at Mercedes-Benz. This front-wheel drive model was powered by a four-cylinder petrol engine from the new M 270 series. It was designed for transverse installation, and thanks to direct injection and turbocharging it offered a high performance potential together with minimal emissions and fuel consumption. Other highlights of the all-aluminium engine include injection pressures of up to 200 bar and fast-responding piezo injectors.
The Concept A-Class was equipped with the two-litre variant of the new engine, delivering 155 kW (210 hp). This BlueEFFICIENCY unit was combined with the new Mercedes-Benz dual clutch transmission. As a three-shaft transmission, it featured seven forward gears, shifted automatically without any interruption in tractive power, making the new transmission particularly economical, sporty and comfortable.
One major characteristic of the new design idiom at Mercedes-Benz was the expressive interplay between lines and surfaces – which the designers refer to as a ‘clean’ concept. Concave and convex surfaces with the resulting light modulation create a unique sculpture-like presence. The Concept A-Class emphatically continued this theme of defined edges and interacting surfaces, which Mercedes-Benz first showed in the F 800 Style.
Three prominent lines structured the side view: the front structural edge formed a dropping line towards the rear, while the pronounced shoulder muscle over the rear axle emphasised the car’s coupé-like character. A further line extended upwards in front of the rear wheel arch in a sweeping curve. These lines lent depth and dynamism to the side profile. The door handles were recessed into the doors, emerging electrically at the touch of a button.
The unusual, wing-like shape of the exterior mirrors embodied flow and lightness. Another prominent feature is the open side skirt, which created an unusual light-and-shadow effect. Reminiscent of a turbine rotor, the large 20-inch wheels reinforced the impression that the Concept A-Class was shaped by the wind.
The front end of the Concept A-Class is a real eye-catcher. The brand emblem appeared to be surrounded by a starry sky. Where there are otherwise apertures or louvres, the radiator grille consisted of numerous metallic silver ‘dots’ on black stems a theme also reflected in the design of the wheels.
The visually wide rear end radiated power and athleticism, and was likewise enlivened by an interplay between convex/concave surfaces and pronounced edges. The tail lamp clusters continued the muscular shoulders towards the rear emphasising the car’s width with their horizontal orientation. The aerodynamic spoiler lip in the tail lights improved efficiency, while the diffuser created a downforce to aid roadholding.
The interior of the Concept A-Class, which is flooded with light from the large panoramic roof, likewise appears to be from another planet. Many of the unusual features were inspired by aircraft engineering, at the same time reflecting ideas from the ‘Mercedes-Benz Aesthetics No. 2’ interior sculpture of 2011. Various component groups were reduced to a minimum, for example the dashboard and centre console are merely brushed aluminium structures. The result is a transparent, light, bionic design effect.
As an extremely eye-catching detail in the Concept A-Class interior: the dashboard in the form of an aircraft wing with a translucent, stretchable textile lining. Thanks to this sophisticated fabric, vapour-coated with chrome particles, the bionic cellular structure of the dashboard remained visible – its design reminiscent of a canvas-covered aircraft wing whose underlying struts were discernable. Dramatic backlighting made this instrument carrier appear particularly futuristic. Thanks to the translucent high-tech lining and lack of a conventional support structure, the dashboard appeared to be free-floating. Its lines continuing into the door panelling like vapour trails from the winglets of a jet.
The form of the air vents in the dashboard was likewise inspired by the engines of a jet aircraft. The translucent, backlit vents changed colour depending on the temperature the occupants selected for the climate control system: blue if cool, fresh air was vented into the interior, but red if the airflow was heated. The prominent displays in the instrument cluster, which were inspired by the afterburner of a jet engine, were likewise in red. The central control unit was designed as a high-tech flight panel with a shift lever in the shape of a ‘thrust control’. With their moulded-over head restraints and very pronounced lateral support, the seats were reminiscent of the pilot seat in a jet fighter.
Titanium and silver tones were combined with a light, elegant beige in the interior. Magenta was used to produce highlights that contrasted with the car’s ALU-BEAM silver paint finish, which followed the dynamic contours of the exterior like liquid silver.
The Concept A-Class made use of modern materials such as the high-tech lining on the dashboard, or metallised leather where semi-aniline is dyed with metallic pigments and embossed, and also high-grade nubuk leather. This built a bridge between 125-year tradition of the Mercedes-Benz brand and its claim to progressiveness.
A smartphone featuring all the applications, services and contents of the digital lifestyle was fully integrated into the operating concept of the Concept A‑Class. When the phone was inserted into the recess provided in the centre console, it was automatically synchronised with the COMAND multimedia system. All the functions of the smartphone, including internet radio, email and social networks such as Twitter or Facebook, were shown as applications on the 17.8 centimetre display and could be operated via the rotary/push control.
The visual presentation of the screen elements was revolutionary and unique, with a deep, three-dimensional look created by laser-like, magenta-coloured lines. The user could dive intuitively into the spatial depth of the menu structure through flowing movements and animated transitions. This near-series display concept was designed and realised by designers and engineers at the Mercedes-Benz development laboratory in Palo Alto, Texas/USA. The menus in the Concept A-Class were in both Mandarin and English.
A very special effect was created by the lights of the Concept A-Class, as the innovative full-LED high-performance headlamps repeat the starry sky motif of the radiator grille with numerous lighting points. The daytime running lamps consisted of 90 optical fibres with aluminium sleeves, arranged in a wing-shape within the headlamp. The tentacle-like fibres formed individual, diffused light sources to create a dramatic contrast between soft and harsh.
The LED turn indicators also created an unusual effect from any perspective: the lights appeared to float freely within the headlamps like an enclosed air bubble in a perfume bottle. The indicators were mounted in six chambers at the top of the Perspex headlamp unit, their vapour-coated reflectors remaining invisible.
As had already been brought to series production maturity in the Mercedes CLS, the LED high-performance headlamps of the Concept A-Class combined the Intelligent Light System with LED technology. The projection module of these LED headlamps was no longer round, but flatter and thus more sporty. This sporty impression was reinforced by the matt carbon-fibre housing, contrasting with the aluminium surround of the projection module.
Optical fibres with aluminium sleeves were also used in the tail lights. 120 optical fibre lighting points formed each C-shaped tail light cluster to create a unique visual effect with their subtle glow. They lit up appropriately for the brake light function. When braking, the continuous light band between the two tail light clusters also lit up to make the Concept A-Class appear even wider. The indicators are self-contained elements in the centre of the tail lights. The base unit of the tail light is of carbon-fibre, with the numerous red elements providing visual depth.
In the Concept A-Class, safety pioneer Mercedes-Benz showed another milestone in the democratisation of automotive safety technology: the concept car was equipped with a radar-based collision warning system with adaptive Brake Assist – a world first in the compact class. This system gives a visual and acoustic warning to a possibly inattentive driver, and prepares Brake Assist for an absolutely precise braking response which is initiated as soon as the driver decisively operates the brake pedal.
In contrast to other systems available in the market for the compact class, the new Brake Assist Collision Prevention Assist was not merely an urban driving system designed to minimise the effects of minor collisions. Instead this innovative solution aimed to provide protection against typical rear-end collisions in all driving situations. Mercedes-Benz expected the new safety system to have a significant, positive effect on accident statistics. Following detailed analyses of accident data, Mercedes-Benz safety specialists estimated that this radar-based technology could help to prevent around 20 per cent of all rear-end collisions, and mitigate the severity of a further 25 per cent.