Mercedes lovers wince when the conversation turns to the tallish, compact A- and B-class cars that litter European cities. They are a far cry from anything the brand stood for in the past, and frumpy looking to boot. Mercedes is setting out to change that with a new family of front-drive vehicles that will be far more stylish and powerful than the current A and B.
The primary difference between the current and upcoming vehicles is that the next-gen cars will sit much lower. The controversial stance of today’s little Benzes comes from the “sandwich floor” design, a leftover from their initial development as electric cars. The batteries were to sit beneath the floor, but when the EV project was scrapped, the lofty height forced by the design remained.
The A-class will remain the backbone of the family. It will likely be complemented by a two-door coupe, which should be low and sleek—very much unlike the three-door “coupe” version of the current A-class, which was prematurely killed a few months ago. Of the bunch, the B-class will be closest in concept to the current model, remaining a compact minivan. And the Continental’s October 8 educated guess has been confirmed: The A- and B-class will be complemented by a crossover and a conventionally styled four-door sedan.
It is rumored that the tough-looking crossover will go by the name GLC (remember the Mazda of the same name?), and the four-door model could be called CLC. The latter name is currently used by a Europe-only hatchback Mercedes, which is based on the last-gen C-class and won’t survive much longer. The four-door will supposedly evoke the CLS, but we’ll have to see whether the styling team under Gorden Wagener gets the proportions right. There are easier tasks than designing a truly sporty-looking, front-wheel-drive compact sedan.
2013 Mercedes-Benz GLC-class (artist’s rendering)
AMG Power a Possibility
Front-wheel drive will be standard throughout the compact lineup, and all-wheel drive will be an option. Power will come from turbocharged three- and four-cylinder engines, with transmission options being a series of traditional manuals or a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual. If new AMG head Ola Källenius and his team get their hands on the A-class coupe or the CLC, power ratings approaching 300 hp are entirely possible.
Ironically, Mercedes is ditching the previous two generations’ sandwich concept just at the moment electric cars are becoming fashionable and perhaps even feasible. But the new, lower platform will do miracles for the looks and the handling of these cars. If the U.S. market matures to appreciate the fuel-efficient, compact premium cars that dominate cities in Europe and Asia, Mercedes might actually bring them here. That’s a big “if,” but our aggressive fuel-economy legislation will push us in that direction. And if the next small Mercedes-Benzes look like those shown here, that’s a nudge we’d be happy to receive.