Mercedes-Benz went small in a big way with the current A-Class, introduced in 2012. And it's aiming to go big in a small way with its next A-Class in 2018.
The popular hatchback will have an interior with opulence to rival larger Mercedes models costing twice as much. The group's smallest car also will outdo its bigger brothers for style and tech, introducing both a new interior look and innovations that will spread across Benz's range.
From below $40,000, the current A-Class hatch has been a hit in Australia - it's the brand's second most popular model and is among the reasons Benz easily outsells Audi and BMW here.
The new A-Class will go into production in about April and should be here midyear. Benz has staged a sneak peek at its interior.
The cabin of the W177 (company code for the coming A-Class) is stunning, especially in high-grade form in the pre-production car shown at Stuttgart HQ.
Two features are eye-catching; the wide screen that houses instrument and infotainment displays behind a single piece of flat glass and the dash's jet turbine-look face-level vents.
"I believe this is the most beautiful air vent available," says proud interior design director Hartmut Sinkwitz.
He's probably right. The vents are not easy to manufacture, he admits, but their intricate design adds a decorative touch to the layered instrument panel's simple shapes. No bulging cowl is needed to cover the instruments, so the top of the dash is full-width flat.
Between the front seats is the device that will replace the twist and push pointing device presently used by Mercedes. Audi and BMW use similar set-ups. The new A-Class instead uses a large touch pad with an adjacent palm rest.
Mercedes designers say the new device can do more than the old wheel, such as responding to the fingertip pinch, zoom and swipe motions familiar to any smartphone user.
Company studies have found most younger drivers - and a small majority of older drivers - prefer the pad. So it makes sense to introduce the change in the Mercedes-Benz that's most popular with younger buyers.
Designer Sinkwitz believes the touch pad is more user-friendly than the less than intuitive wave-in-the-air motion-sensitive technology found in recent high-end BMWs. "We are not in favour of gestures," he says.
The new A-Class isn't all glamour. The engineers and designers have improved interior space and outward vision and increased shoulder, elbow and headroom.
There are slimmer windscreen pillars and a larger, easier-to-get-at cargo compartment.
It's obviously a little larger but Mercedes is keeping the exterior design under wraps for now. Literally. The car displayed in Stuttgart wore full exterior camouflage, even though it was in a security guarded dimly lit room.
What is crystal clear is that other makers of premium small cars should be worried. The new A-Class threatens to make everything else look a little cheap.
All versions of the new A-Class will feature the same dash design but the flat-screen displays will vary according to model grade. The basic version has two seven-inch screens, one for the driver's instruments, and another for the central display. Mid-grade models get seven and 10-inch screens and the top-end versions get the luscious double 10-inch display seen here. Only the latter two will use full-width bonded glass technology to create the impression the two screens are actually one.