At the GIMS 1997, Mercedes-Benz presented the A-Class. The A-Class has its roots in the “NAFA” concept, nicknamed “Vesperwägele” in 1986, the first small car prototype by Mercedes-Benz. This was followed in 1993 by the “Studie-A” concept, which prefigured the A-Class, particularly in the positioning of the engine at the front, sandwiched between the floor of the passenger compartment and the underbody.
When it was launched in 1997, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class was the brand’s first passenger car to adopt front-wheel drive (although the Vito and V-Class vans had already made the move in 1996).
Two petrol engines are offered at launch, the A140 with an 82 PS 1.4 litre and the A160 with a 102 PS 1.6 litre. The range will then be extended with the A190 with 125 PS and the A210 with 140 PS. AMG will commit two very confidential versions of the A-Class: A32K AMG with 354 PS (V6 supercharged) and the A38 AMG, with two engines of the A190, for a total of 253 PS. The diesel range appeared in 1998 with power ratings ranging from 60 to 95 PS.
The arrival of the A-Class marked a turning point for Mercedes-Benz, democratising the range. The model was also known for its generous interior space given the size of the car. But everything became more complicated on 21 October 1997. On this day, Swedish journalists are conducting a moose test with an A-Class. At 60 km/h, after several slaloms, the car became unbalanced and rolled over.
Initially denying responsibility for the incident, the brand halted production of the A-Class from 11 November 1997 to 26 February 1998. During this time, Mercedes-Benz invested almost DM 300 (EUR 153,4) million in recalling all the existing cars, correcting the suspension, installing an emergency braking system and equipping the A-Class with ESP as standard. A first! ESP was at that time available only on the luxurious S-Class.
Mercedes-Benz has turned this unfortunate incident into a strength. It was the first brand to make ESP standard on all its models, before it became mandatory in Europe. Since then, the brand continues to invest heavily in safety systems and is one of the leaders in this field.
From 1997 to 2004, 1,1 million Class-A were built, including the «Family» or long wheelbase version from 2001.