Unsung Heroes : Mercedes-Benz A-Class W168

Richard Kilpatrick on the innovative small car since the 1959 Mini. Sadly, Germany’s reinvention didn’t go on to inspire as many copies as Issigonis’ baby.

A car with a reputation defined by notoriety and bad publicity at launch, Mercedes-Benz’s most blatant display of innovation undoubtedly shook the venerable firm’s confidence. Even as BMW generates a range of front-wheel drive cars under the MINI marque, it is over a decade later that Mercedes is to launch their first directly comparable FWD competitors in the strongly fought Golf and Jetta segments.

With the announcement of the 2012 W176, the innovative sandwich platform monospace A-class appears to have been an evolutionary dead-end, lasting only two generations and spawning only a couple of derivates – the short-lived Vaneo, and the gawky B-class. Yet the W168 was in many ways the perfect 21st century car – compact, generally efficient, incredibly spacious and comfortable, and carrying a prestigious brand. It out-Minis the MINI by a substantial margin.

Innovation – Not a Lost Art (yet)

It is unfair to suggest that car manufacturers have abandoned innovation – yet it’s clear that the fundamentals of packaging and material science are approached with more caution than during the automotive Zeitgeist of the 1950s and 60s. Casting an eye over those heady, and largely free of regulatory limitation decades, it’s possible to find as many bold new experiments hitting the market as it is to find total commercial failures. Even now, attempts to mess with the conventional have not always been a success, with Audi’s innovative aluminium A2 giving way to steel-bodied, unremarkable successors.

Searching for solutions to provide a small city car, Mercedes’ 1982 NAFA concept – a two-seater reminiscent of Minissima – evolved into the MCC Smart and the 1993 Vision-A concept, both using an innovative sandwich floor and crash protection structure. The A-class was a clean sheet design with no partnership or other firms’ past research absorbed, unlike BMW’s MINI – a wholly new car from the ground up, it is pure Mercedes-Benz engineering, and was conceived as a far-sighted platform with possibilities for 4wd, hybrid and electric drivetrains.

The 1993 Vision-A designed by I.D.E.A. – the production model would be the work of Michael Mauer’s team at Mercedes-Benz.

The supermini class footprint of the car – just 3.57m long – ensured it took less space on the road than popular conventional models like the Renault Clio and MINI, yet the interior space rivaled that of cars much larger. A width of 1.7m was disguised in part by the height, with the upright driving position already well established as a way of making cars feel more spacious.

A truly super supermini.

The high driving position accorded excellent visibility for driver and passengers alike, even if the thick A-pillars were a sign of things to come for all cars. I’ve driven both short and long wheelbase cars regularly, an A140 manual SWB and an A140 auto LWB, and found them stable, entertaining and considerably nicer than any similarly-sized car on long journeys. The LWB one was regularly pressed into service for drives to and from Scotland, including helping to move house on a couple of occasions, and even took the band DeathBoy for a 400-mile round trip for a gig in the North East.

Not just the band members – four, plus myself driving. Their drumkit, guitars, electronics and overnight bags. And no complaints from the passengers despite the long day and late night. Try that in a Clio or MINI!

And regular maintenance was straightforward enough. Compared to the appetite for wheelbearings and general trim and ‘broken’ bits often encountered on this class of car, the Mercedes proved reliable – a new battery at 8 years old on the automatic, and a suspension recall on the SWB model for rear trailing arms the only notable points.

Both cars crucially had the Lamella roof – a 3/4 length folding sunroof made of slatted solid panels. It’s something I consider an integral part of the car’s character, unusually airy and pleasant.

The drawback of the short wheelbase model was a pitching ride quality, particularly at low speeds. If ever a car could have benefitted from Hydragas…

It’s now a few years since I have driven an A-class, not for lack of desire. The banger-money examples are still the pre-facelift models, with cruder interiors and lacking all of the stability modifications. Whilst only a small number of cars were sold before the standard (recall included) fitting of ESP, the wider tyres and track, the improvements in build quality and the slight finessing of the styling with the bumper inserts make the 2001 models more desirable. And of course, that long wheelbase variant.

Class growth

The 3.77m long LWB variation introduced in 2001 (with several other revisions and improvements to the car including a mature, refined dashboard design) gave greater passenger space than an E-class, a maximum load capacity approaching 1600 litres (2,000 litres and 2.27m load length if the optional removable front passenger seat were installed), yet even the diminutive original could boast nearly 1200 litres with the rear seats removed. Compared to typical cars in the class, where 600-700 litres was the norm, the flat floor and tall roof allowed the diminutive car to carry things like washing machines upright.

The A-class engine package is a work of art – and functional. The wedge shape slides under, rather than into, the car’s structure in an accident, pushing the occupants above most typical impacts and extending the effective crumple zone.

A range of four cylinder engines, of compact alloy design with 8V heads and capacities from 1.4 to 1.9 litres powered the 1100Kg A-class. The M116 was purpose designed for the A-class – the tall engine was slanted quite dramatically in a wedge-shaped power ‘package”, that in the event of an accident slides under the sandwich floor. This, and the strength of the body, allowed the minimal front overhang and crumple zone to retain a high degree of safety in a collision. Of course, drawbacks  existed with this layout – maintenance is far from straightforward for the home mechanic should things fail, though there are no inherent weaknesses in the drivetrain (semi-automatic aside).

Diesel, and a 2.1 litre 16v option (the rare A210 Evo), were also offered.

Such is the package of the original W168 A-class, if legislation came out that required drivers to only own one car, then even as a car enthusiast I would seek out an automatic A190 LWB with the highest spec and sunroof I could find. On all practical levels, and even on some emotional ones, the A-class accomplished something almost unprecedented in terms of packaging, practicality and appeal since the launch of the original Mini in 1959.

With 1.5 million shipped, the W168 may not be the most obvious of unsung heroes – and perhaps grudgingly, the mainstream press forgets the infamous Elk-test occasionally and acknowledges the bold, dramatic step Mercedes-Benz took when launching the A-class as a competitor to the Mk IV Golf and derivatives in a package smaller than a Ford Ka.

Yet it deserves a place as such, not because the song is silent amongst buyers and critics, but because Mercedes themselves have turned to industry standard – the bloated, the inefficient, the conventional, in replacing the A-class. The 2012 model is 4.3m long and 1.8m wide, and weighs 200Kg more, offers less luggage capacity than the LWB original model and less practicality.

Even the Smart marque has suffered the ravages of Euro-NCAP bloat, with a protruding nose, and the ForFour model – the natural placement for the W169/W169 platform – is long gone, with a rumoured replacement based on a Renault shared platform (as the A-class’s relative, the Vaneo, will be based on the Kangoo).


Richard Kilpatrick
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  1. Clever in design but naff in execution. I always liked the look of the A class but would never buy one as it was overpriced, badly built and a naff ride. It was a perfect fit to Mercedes today, going away from the solid strewn hunks of rock of yesteryear to attract the younger buyers with ugly misproportioned cars. The B Class that developed out of it as another one – a car to try and fit a market. My mate had one as a hire car when his Mazda went in for repair and hated it. It was cheap feeling compared to his Mazda, and felt more akin to driving a bus than a car. Unsung hero – my ****.

    • Badly built? I have two from 1999. One has 250,000kms abs the other has 380,000kms. Both work perfectly. The fit and finish is great, they are solidly built and extremely durable and reliable.

  2. Hmmm, can’t go along on this one sadly. The A-Class was always horribly compromised in its effort to to package a 4 metres car into a 3,60 metres one – for what exactly? What is the actual benefit to owners? It might be somewhat easier to park and er… that’s it.

    The other side of the medal is that the car would be better on fuel if it were longer and lower, I would have enjoyed a more comfortable, less bus-driver like driving position in it (I *hate* having the pedals right below me instead of right in front of me, it starts to feel really uncomfortable after half an hour especially when the seat squabs are too short, as they nearly always are in small MPV-like cars) and a better ride/handling balance would have been achieved (as it was, it was a choppy-riding *and* understeery thing in equal measures after it was made elk-proof).
    To put insult to injury, not only it didn’t have nearly the quality finish you’d expect from M-B even in the dark and distant late-Nineties (when the brand was at its lowest ebb quality-wise) but it wouldn’t stand comparison to conventional hatchbacks of the day from bread and butter brands. It looked and felt cheap – however ot would take one cursory view of the price list to see that it really wasn’t.

    Three or four years down the road, BMW showed the world how to build a credible, quality small car. You can argue about the virtues of ‘packaging’ until you see blue in the face, but the bottom line is that unless you happen to live with your parents in a 2-bed apartment in downtown Tokyo and need a car as your personal space without it taking up any space, there is no benefit.

  3. The long wheelbase models have a much better ride quality than the original – and are still shorter than most superminis. Really don’t get the ‘badly built’ comments, having lived with them for four years or so (and being a VERY fussy car owner), nothing went wrong or fell off and the only time one broke down was when the original battery (at nearly 8 years old) had had enough.

    Compared to the 8 year old W124 200TE I had, the interior felt cheaper and less weighty, but that W124 was rusting, suffered failure to proceed several times (usually ignition related), and at 8 years old needed some fairly expensive self-levelling suspension bits replacing.

    I’ve never driven a B-class. Unlike the A-class, which makes sense in part due to having such a tiny footprint, the B-class just seems oddly proportioned and the styling doesn’t sit well. It’s probably a nice car to live with, but the W168 is the original and purest form of the concept.

    • Agree with you Richard. The earlier versions weren’t really up to scratch in terms of quality, but the later (post 2001) models were very pleasant inside. They can’t be compared the the crappy ‘margarine tub’ plastic interior of most mainstream cars of the time. Plus, they were endlessly practical, especially with the removeable passenger seat. Nothing of a similar size came close. Now the A-Class is just an alternative to an A3/ 1 Series or Focus in Primer Grey.

      • I wasn’t a fan of these & not just because of the Elk text.

        Without the star badges they could have been made by anyone stylewise. The next generation did better, but it wasn’t until the 2012 ones that they actually looked like a proper Mercedes.

  4. Sorry, this is a complete ZERO of a car. This displayed everything that was WRONG with Mercedes. They should have axed it when it spectacularly failed the Elk test, just like the latest Chrysler ‘Cheap’ Grand Cherokee does

  5. cmon in 1997 the A FAILED THE Moose test…it happens, the problem was that a not so modern also german but from another germany (DDR) myticaly Trabant passed it faster….and the plastic body of the trabi can not rust
    still remeber the video

  6. A bold step when with the Millenium approaching car makers were looking to put out bolder designs (even the 90s Ka, Focus and EU Twingo were more distinctive than their current anodyne forms).

    Mercs reliability and quality of the late 90s / early 2000s (and onwards?) were shocking. A case of the Chrysler beancounters taking over from the engineers who gave us gems such as the W123.

    The ForFour was built on a Colt platform at the NedCar plant and ended up sharing little if anything with the A class.

    Never rid in an A class, but was a passenger in an A2 once. Similar concept. Rear space seemed generous mostly because of the height but also because of the ample footroom below the front seat.

  7. The original Twingo was fantastic, albeit cribbed from an FSO – I wish we’d had those in RHD form.

  8. Have to say I wholeheartedly disagree. I’m not convinced the whole A-Class thing was worthy of such applause. At the end of the day, yes, they turned the engine on its side and stuck it under the car, but so what, the car itself was horrbly compromised from day one, obviously it handled not very well and the drive and suspension were tooth rattlingly horrid. The fit and finish was also dire in early cars, the removable and “innovative” seating in the back was so heavy to actually remove it made a mockery of the feature. I tried it once and can honestly say I thought I’d never walk again after lugging the seats out of the car and across the drive. Perhaps with the passage of time and legend, it’s all too easy to view the A-Class as an innovation, but, at the end of the day it was simply a reasonably well packaged small family car and there have been many many others that have done it infinitely better but because they are of a more conventional design (if there is any longer such a term in the car world) they are overlooked. IMO the A-Class deserves no such recognition because it didn’t actually bring anything new at all to the party – unless I am missing something? I’m more convinced, if the car hadn’t flipped on it’s side at the mere hint of a traffic cone, it would never have got the coverage it did – good or bad.

  9. Clever design,good utilisation of space,but the honda jazz does it better,horrible to work on,electrical gremlins abound and are rusting badly now.

  10. James: Removing the seats from our A140s was never difficult. Fold, lift handle, carry. I had no problem carrying the single seat single-handed, whereas the single seats in my Voyager were some effort to move (but I still managed it even with a broken leg) and the rear bench I was pleased just to be able to get onto the ground. I can’t remember how much the rear seats weighed now but I’m fairly sure it was 20Kg or less – certainly no more than a well-packed suitcase.

  11. @ francis – i think ur right this story should be about the jazz, a far superior car that is definately under rated.

    @ Richard – not actually owning the A class but knowing people that have, most of them never bothered to get the seats out as they were just too heavy. One of these people has owned a Renault Scenic since and they say they are much lighter. I do agree with you about the Twingo thou, the original was a great concept if a little strange looking just a shame we never got it over here. The current one is a bit of joke.

  12. Dave, there can be an article about the Honda if you want, I’m sure you know where to send it! I wouldn’t think to write one about it because a: it’s younger than the A-class by some margin, b: it’s still in production on much the same platform, and c: by virtue of a negative attitude from a dealer, my father’s replacement for the SWB A140 was… a Honda Jazz. He wanted a B-class originally, but the salesman messed him around and the Jazz impressed.

    Now, I’ve done about 1,000 miles in that Honda, and it does impress in some ways. I like the seat mechanism in the back and I like the glass roof (it’s a newer one, 2009 I think). But I do not like the harsh suspension, the mediocre fuel economy, the gutless performance (okay, not much worse than the A140, but what a fuss it makes about it) or the vast expanse of black plastic in it. The paint is thin, and there’s not much underseal in the inner arches, either.

    The 4m long Jazz also has much less comfortable rear seating, IMO, and seats down it’s only 848 litres, vs. 1600 for the 3.77 W168L with the seats removed (that’s for both to have a flat floor – I don’t have a spec for the A-class with the seats simply folded forward, though I know it’s a very usable space whatever size it is).

    It handles quite well, but in almost every regard, I think my Citroën C3 Airdream is better. More refined, more economical, slightly nicer dash trim and in car entertainment, much nicer ride and handling, and where legal it’ll do 100 with five occupants, still return 40+ mpg and isn’t screaming for mercy. The C3’s boot and seats and not as versatile – getting four SLK wheels in was a struggle – but the panoramic windscreen is really great, one of my favourite things about the car.

    If I’m doing to do an article on an interesting Japanese car, it’ll be the Toyota Sera or something with a rotary engine. The Jazz is good, but it doesn’t do a thing for me.

  13. @Richard Kilpatrick

    Used to see mk1 Twingos about the university area with foreign students driving.

    Apparently Renault decided the UK didn’t need a small Renault (smaller than Clio).

    The success of the Clio and the demise of the bigger Renaults made them change their mind.

    Though the current Twingo just looks like a shrunken Clio, less distinctive than the mk1.

  14. @ Richard – I’m not sure what Jazz you have been driving but I had the original version as a courtsey car and I have to say it was a hoot to drive and I got pretty good fuel eco from it

  15. @ Dave – a 2009 1.4i – 44mpg best. The best I’ve had out of my C3 is 72mpg. I also gave the Jazz a full valet last month, so got to run over the entire bodywork and interior and see how it was aging.

    I had a Kia Picanto as a hire car once. It was a hoot to drive. Still vile, though. Courtesy & Hire cars get different rules to things you have to own.

  16. I did read that it was almost impossible to convert the Mk1 Twingo to RHD, due to the engine layout.

    I guess Renault didn’t think they could sell enough in LHD, though only a few years later similar niche cars the Smart & New Beetle seemed to start UK sales only available in LHD.

  17. What is heroic about an ugly, badly made blob of pap? They drove horribly, were overpriced, didn’t have much space inside and had ropey electrics… Typical of all German cars, solidly made but not WELL made and eye wateringly overated..

  18. As it should do, with 1200 litres cargo capacity in a car only 4.04m long. Of course, the Austin Maxi – at a little over 4m long, 1.6m wide and under 1.4m high – is roughly the same size as the Honda Jazz.

    Difference being, of course, that the Maxi was a fullsize family car in British terms, when the Jazz is a supermini. And that reflects the trend, and what the W168 addressed – modern demands for car design and construction mean that a 4m long car with relatively cramped room for four and 800 litres of space is considered good!

    So, to make a car that was shorter than an Allegro… etc. – well, the argument is already made. There’s no point trying to debate it when comments like “didn’t have much space inside” can be made about a 3.6m long car with 1200 litres of luggage capacity – or legroom comparable to cars 5m long – come up!

    The Maxi is a great example of everything that has gone wrong with the automotive industry and consumer tastes, frankly.

  19. @Richard – I must be weaker than I thought 🙂 but I vividly remember dragging the double seat into the house and thinking it was incredibly bulky and heavy not to mention all the sharp bits that pretty much shaved my shin bones… It was a few years ago now but I was left very unimpressed by the car as a whole, seats aside, thought it drove very poorly and was pretty cheaply screwed together. Not saying it’s the worst car but certainly not standout for me at all.

  20. Again, what is the customer benefit of condensing a given amount of passenger/luggage space into a slightly shorter package at cost of everything else, if not in a Communist state where everyone can be cajoled into driving the same car and thus parking spaces can be smaller? I could build a car with the proportions of a council flat and it would have even more space on the same amount of real estate, but it would be pretty useless as a moving object.

    If you want more efficiency, cars need to be *lighter* (which would also benefit dynamics). And that’s where the A-class falls flat on its face (like most if not all cars that followed it, in fairness) as it’s about as heavy as my old Saab 900 Turbo (also with 1,600 litres of cargo space – in a somewhat more elegant package) was.

    A genuine 4/5 seater with safety, comfort and accomodation worthy of an upmarket brand that weighs < 1,000 kgs, now that would be progress (Audi A2 anyone?). Wheher it'd be 3.6 or 5 metres long – frankly I don't give a d*mn (but it'd have a better chance of driving and looking well if it wasn't the former).

  21. I have to confess that my prejudices against the A Class were based on road tests rather than my own experiences. Back when Top Gear was about normal cars and not about three middle aged public schoolboy’s misbehaviour, they were less than complimentary- showing how the dashboard visibly moved due to poor build quality, and slamming it for its ride qualities (or lack therof).

    It was well packaged, but it was badly styled, and looked cheap whilst being rather expensive.

    I have driven and liked the Audi A2 (although itself a flawed car). It is a shame that both these Germans proved to be an evolutionary dead-end. In the case of the A2, had they developed it more thoroughly it would have been a real winner.

  22. “Again, what is the customer benefit of condensing a given amount of passenger/luggage space into a slightly shorter package”

    Real estate, parking, etc. costs money. In the UK, I’ve seen people leaving their cars overhanging the pavement, not able to fit them into the garages built into their houses… this is just a silly argument. Cars – all cars – have become huge.

    “at cost of everything else”

    Eh, I disagree that it is as a cost of everything else. I have driven these cars extensively, used them as transport, and I’m hardly inexperienced or dispassionate about cars. Whilst using the LWB one (which was bought with a former partner, and she still has it) I also drove an MR2, an MX5, a Citroën C6, a Delica, SL500… etc. The A140 LWB was comfortable, delivered good economy (it was a full auto, and returned 45mpg overall, and over 30 in town).

    “If you want more efficiency, cars need to be *lighter* (which would also benefit dynamics).”

    The A-class was lighter than most competitors when it was launched. Bear in mind that it was supposed to be an alternative to a Golf, not a Ka.

    Preaching to the converted on the SAAB point, but really – the A-class flew in the face of growing external dimensions and mass whilst trying to solve the demands for internal space and flexibility that most people used as justification for buying much heavier and vastly less efficient SUVs. Give me the choice between sitting in the back of a Mk IV Golf (yes. I have had one) or the A140 – I’ll take the A-class every time.

    And if it had been developed for lighter weight, lighter materials, the essential packaging and platform was a good idea.

    Even the price argument falters. The last Classics were a great deal. It was a choice between an A140 LWB Classic or a Streetwise. Same price.

  23. @ Richard – you are definatley right about cars getting bigger. Shame cars are growing on the outside but shrinking in the inside. The current mondeo is bigger than the old granada, but does not have any more room inside!

  24. There is a glimpse of an early Mercedes A-Class prototype at 1.14 in this 1997 New MINI Preview video:

    “Media preview of the new MINI on the eve of the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1997. It successfully diverted publicity from the arrival of the new Mercedes A-Class and Smart cars. This news clip includes an interview with the late John Cooper.”

  25. Richard these A Klasse are RUBBISH!

    Oh hang on I’ve actually extensively driven them, and actually they are bloody good! I even collected a new B Klasse from the factory (the write up is on here somewhere). The space packaging is excellent – anyone who disagrees needs to visit the gym! Im no waif and I find plenty of room inside, the family LWB original A Klasse has ridiculous amounts of legroom in the rear. I concede that large wheels/rubber band tyres kill them though. Every month I exercise my mums current CDI automatique on half lap of the M25 (and back) and it really quite happily sits with the S-line/mtech reps.

    So why don’t I own one?

    The wife hates them!!!!

  26. Unsung hero? The reliability makes BLMC products look good. The original A-class was a pile of overpriced junk – a tippy one at that. Isn’t “clever” packaging supposed to make a car better? Not in this case.

  27. Twingo… now that’s an unsung hero. Funky little car only known about in certain cirlces over here. One of my neighbours in Essex had one.. ace!!

  28. Richard, the A-Class did not offer any real benefit in terms of accommodation over the cars that it was meant to compete with (i.e. the Golf IV), and they weren’t huge at the time either. For the 40-50 centimetres of overall length it ‘saved’ (again I ask – to the benefit of whom?), it made massive compromises in terms of centre of gravity, frontal aspect (which is one half of aerodynamic efficiency), driving position, and most people would argue aeathetics too. Comparisons with an even stupider genre of high rise vehicle only serve to highlight how flawed the whole thinking behind it it. If you are going to make something that’s meant to transport a finite number of people and thier luggage over long distances at a considerable speed, your first priorities would be to make it dynamically stable, have it carve through the air as efficiently as possible and provide a driving position that’s both comfortable and active. The A-Class was fundamentally flawed on all these aspects.

    Between 1999 and now, I must have driven about 700 new vehicles for road test purposes and I’m afraid even the long wheel base A-Class I tested in 2000 was off the pace in any and every way compared to regular C-segment cars, all of which were a darn sight less expensive, like for like (to the tune of about £4-5K), to begin with. It was relatively slow, noisy, not that good on fuel, had a choppy ride and stodgy dynamics, undistinghuished build quality, a compromised driving position and although it *looked* like you had lots of legroom in the rear, the false floor meant that you had to adopt a knees-up position with no space for your feet under the seat in front of you. Brilliant.

    As far as I’m concerned, making ‘packaging’ to extremes while compromising dynamic aspects in order to do so, is little more than an intellectual exercise of urbanites who fail to see that the distance needed between vehicles travelling at any sort of speed makes half a metre of vehicle length utterly irrelevant, while using cars to get around in urban areas is hardly an efficient way of moving things around to begin with. I live in a city. I have two cars (the longest of which is 401.5 cm, by the way). I use either to get *out* of the city. The ‘city car’ properties of either are irrelevant to me and if I need to move large quantities of stuff around, I rent a Transporter van.

    The fact that towards the end of its life cycle, Mercedes saw fit to dump A-Class cars at a fraction of the price it was meant to sell at, merely indicates the market saw it much the same way.

    The A-Class was an evolutionary dead end for a reason. Keep in mind, the sandwich floor construction was mainly devised to accommodate fuel cells and electric drive trains, which as far as M-B was concerned would become the main raison d’être for the breed; the conventional petrol and diesel options were merely there to kick things off in anticipation for the big revolution that never happened.

    Failing that, the A-Class was a solution in search of a problem.

  29. Eric, based on that rationale the original Mini was equally silly. Awful ride, horrid driving position. Yet few would deny the greatness of it.

    You want wasted opportunities? Saturn and GM’s spaceframe platforms (Fiero, TansSport/Lumina, the ’80s and ’90s Z & U-body). No doubt they have no relevance because they’re American and thus, also rubbish.

    The number of non-owners expressing negativity about the A-class just reinforces to me that it’s an unsung hero!

  30. @ Richard

    You forgot the brilliance but dead end which was Fiat’s spaceframe construction that the Multipla was based on. Bloody brilliant but ugly.

  31. The original Mini indeed had more than it’s share of er, ideosyncrasies that would have left it behind on the scrapheap of history with all the other austerity-measure cars if it weren’t for one star quality: it was massive fun.

    As utilitarian transport, it was rendered obsolete by the early 1970s at the very latest and that role now is being fulfilled by any number of Far Eastern sh*tboxes to a far higher degree of perfection than BMC/BL/AR/BMW would have ever been able to muster.
    As an accessible fun generator, small and (relatively)affordable sporting machine and icon standing for everything that was great and exciting about Britain in the 1960s, it is still unsurpassed and successfully passed its genes to a modern-day equivalent.
    None of this is what Issigonis intended, but it’s the reason Mini/MINI has its rightful place in history and relevance today, anyway.

    The A-Class on the other hand, doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘fun’. It was an authoritarian expression of what others felt the great unwashed should drive, or aspire to.

    I should hope my frame of reference is a bit more encompassing than that of most A-Class owners – former or present – too. :o)

  32. Fun isn’t just about driving. It’s how the car fits into your lifestyle and what you do with it – one of the reasons I like having the sunroof on an A-class.

    My frame of reference isn’t that small 😉

  33. I had a bad back a while ago and started to think that an A-class would be better for me. I drove a 170 CDI and have to say I was terribly underwhelmed. I just couldn’t see why such a poorly executed car was so expensive.

    I accept the LWB was better and then when they did the Mk.2 the whole thing seemed a whooly more acceptable package, but by then my back was a lot better.

    That being said, the new A-class should not be called an A-Class. It may be very nice but it is wholly derivative and does not move the game on at all. It’s another Golf.

  34. Preferred the A2 to the A class. I’d buy an A2 tomorrow if it was still on sale. Either way, I think the stellar success of the conventional Audi A1 (and inevitable success of the new Merc A) just demonstrates that packaging ‘innovation’ doesn’t sell small premium cars. I think innovative packaging is something buyers associate with Honda Jazzes and Citroen C3s, not premium small cars (which seem to have to be junior C-segment premium cars to be successful now). Shame really- I thought the pared-back Teutonic efficiency of an Audi A2 was quite a cool ‘look’…

  35. The A2 definitely needs attention, but I don’t think it’s an unsung hero for a couple of reasons:

    1: It didn’t actually pioneer the construction used, though it was unusual in bringing it to a new market.

    2: Unlike the W168, it really didn’t find the mass market appeal. It was even more expensive, even less well equipped.

    (I also am not an Audi fan, so don’t have a great deal of enthusiasm for them – not that this stops me recognising that they’re interesting).

    The C3 really isn’t innovative in terms of packaging at all. It’s a BIG car, in absolute terms, and quite cramped in the back/boot, the seats don’t even fold properly. Still, I was surprised to find I could sit in the back of a Fiat 500 with the driver’s seat in the right position for me. Small cars are no longer small in any real measure.

  36. @35, Eric Van Spelde,

    You refer to the A Class as not ‘understand[ing] the meaning of the word ‘fun’. It was an authoritarian expression of what others felt the great unwashed should drive, or aspire to’.

    If anything, that best expressed Issigonis’s attitude to car design- his was a very patrician ‘Shut up and drive!’ approach. He didn’t hold with having unneccessary fripperies in his cars, such as a car radio, so made no accomodation for them. If you didn’t like his prescribed driving position, or minimalist styling, or cabin erganomics, then tough. He knew what was good for you and your place as a driver of his creations was not to reason why.

    Of course, what the great man failed to appreciate was that customers could vote with their feet, and so prospective customers for his larger cars, such as the Maxi and the 1800, often took their money to companies like Ford who would give them exactly what they wanted for their money.

    Issigonis’s best cars were his small cars, the Minor, Mini and the 1100, the latter two had very few serious rivals back in their heyday.

  37. Twingo was cribbed from an FSO – eh?

    The A class was maybe a case of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory? At least MB stuck with it, also the Smart.

    The A2 may be a classic with its aluminium body but can anyone forgive its sealed bonnet?

  38. The FSM (sorry, I got FSO/FSM confused – they’re kinda linked) Beskid, designed in 1982 by BOSMAL, but without funds to protect the body patents and similarly with FSO’s FSM co-operation with Fiat focused on producing the 126 etc… it would appear to never have reached the market and when the patents expired, the Twingo brought that basic design to market.

  39. The rear kamm tail looks a bit similar to the Fiat Cinquecento / Lancia Y10, though they’re more of a classic 2 box hatch than a monobox.

    As for the A2 (I am not the commenter ‘Will’…)
    I am *not* an Audi fan. I detest the things.
    However – to me the A2 was a last flourish of the Audi of old, which was almost a Teutonic Citroen, before they became expensive VW FWD BMW clones for pushy middle managers to bully Honda drivers in.
    I was told by that A2 owner that the bonnet is in fact just held on with 2 clips, easily removed, and being aluminium very light to remove.

    The Anodol A2, however, was the first fibreglass 4 door saloon car….

  40. @ Richard “based on that rationale the original Mini was equally silly. Awful ride, horrid driving position. Yet few would deny the greatness of it.”

    I agree but the ride and driving position are relative – this was not seen as horrible at the time. today of course people would be shocked to have to sit like that in a car. Equally by today’s, and probably the last 40 years,standards – the original VW Beetle is truly horrendous to drive, but again no one would dispute its mark on the car world – although some would dispute it actually changed anything – it didn’t – the Mini, however, very much did.

    Alas the A-Class has done neither, it hasn’t changed anything in terms of the fundamental design of cars and it hasn’t been a particularly notable success either. In that sense I really don’t see how it has ended up as an “unsung hero” on Aronline?

    I wouldn’t disagree with some of the comments about the newest A-Class – it is not a bad car to drive or sit in – but that has nothing to do with this article.

  41. BMW and Audi went for radical engineering solutions, whereas BMW wanted a small(ish) can with style and charcter, that drove well, i.e. the MINI.

    As everyone has copied the BMW approach for premium small cars (cute/swish styling on conventional mechanicals), e.g. the 500, C2, A1 and Adam, they clearly got it right.

    Interestingly, left to their own devices, the Rover engineers would have produced something much more radical, and probably less successful in the market.

  42. The C2 wasn’t really a “premium” small car, more a Saxo replacement (and a bit less successful at it as the boy racers had moved onto Civics by then).

    Methinks the DS3, Citroens attempt at a Mini that seems to sell very well, and does look quite funky.

    The MiTo was meant to be a bit of a premium supermini, but it is one of Alfa’s less successful designs, grafting the 8C headlights onto a stubby bonnet.

    If they had chosen 159/Brera style lights however…


  43. The A-Class was function over fashion and there lies the mistake, Rover were admittedly going to make the same mistake with the MINI before BMW stepped in understanding the market and forced them down the style over content route, the original Mini was originally praised for the packaging, however things moved on and it became a cult car for cultural rather than practical reasons. The Hillman Imp was a better car than the Mini, faster, better handling (after the “pivot” tweak) far more refined and a much smoother ride – the Mini looked cheeky and that was enough for it to stand out. If practicality was genuinely still high up buyers’ lists then the likes of the Citroën Berlingo would outsell everything. Cars are aspirational purchases today. People like us who admire and understand the engineering aspect of motoring may sneer at the modern approach, but sadly that’s where we are.

  44. Can’t win, either’s it’s fashion, or it’s functional. I think what Mercedes wanted was “functional” fashion – personally, I like the styling of the A-class with the exception of the original interior.

    But it’s odd to paint it as lacking commercial success. The original model shipped 1.1m units from ’98 to ’04. By comparison the total production for the previous “Baby-Benz”, the W201 190, was 1.8m over 11 years. The original Mini also took 6 years to hit 1m units – and unlike the W201 and Mini, the A-class did not have US-market sales.

  45. I had a brief drive in an early A-Class post the “Elk” mods and my abiding memory is of under-steer. I’m sure it sold because of the 3 pointed star on the bonnet and whilst I find Benzes a little idiosyncratic, I can usually see why people buy them, but not this one. In my opinion, the original 5 seat only Renault Scenic was a much better car and did the same job for substantially less money.

  46. The best memory i have of an A class was a T reg model manual gearbox but no clutch pedal-easytronic if you like,it was one of the finest shifters i have tried-intuitive clutch sensitivity, a favourite of mine,my all time favourite is the Golf R32 DSG which is peerless-way,way betterthan BMW’s DSG ‘box.To be honest,the first series were the best,but they age and im starting to see shagged out dogs about,they were more popular than the A1 which to me looked a better car but was handicapped with expensive aluminium production.

  47. I remember driving one of these when my ex’s mother was looking for a replacement for her 1997 Rover 214.

    It was a black, low mileage Y reg A140. The dash was horrid, the drive wasn’t bad but like most modern small cars – dull.

    In the end she opted for a full spec low mileage Y reg Audi A2 1.4 SE. And I must admit that as a full on Audi Hater (they really are naff, vulgar cars) that it wasn’t too bad – mainly because it was quite roomy for its size. The perceived quality on the inside was lacking compared to the other Audis and it drove with the same lack of ability as the bigger ones. But what really put me off it though was the throttle delay which appears to be evident with all VAG petrol cars now. Too slow even compared to the mess that was the Lucas Drive by Wire on the 2.1 XUD Xantia…

    The only reason she got it was the heated leather and full length electric moon roof…

    Richard, is it a Mk2 C3 you have? My dad had a 1.6 auto Exclusive (which he didn’t have the joy of driving, alas) which was a nice looking car both inside and out. Although perhaps I’m oddly shaped but I found myself sitting in quite a high, upright position in it… However, on the drive from Glenrothes to Dunottar where we spread his ashes, the drive was comfy and relaxed though the gearbox was extremely frustrating in anything other than Miss Daisy mode.

    The Pug 207 I’ve got at the moment has a better driving position but the whole car is so bland in comparison to the C3.

  48. The original A Class used innovation to give its customers the space of a Golf in the package no bigger than a Polo, of course to achieve this within the price range that would remain attractive to Golf customers meant that the quality of the chassis and interior was compromised. It’s an open secret that after its launch they found that most A Class felt little advantage in having a smaller car than a Golf, but were particularly less than impressed by the quality of the interior, in reality their customers would have been happier with a Golf.

    The simple fact was that it was a solution to a problem that did not really exist and had it not had a three pointed star on the bonnet would have almost certainly been rejected by the market as overpriced. From this one can see direct comparisons with the original mini which was by and large at launch rejected by its target blue collar market in favour of the simpler and bigger Ford Anglia and also as with the A Class struggled to reach a financially viable price in the market.

  49. @ Richard – I think comparing sales of the mini and 190 to the A Class is rather like comparing chalk with cheese. The Mini was sold in a period of lack of credit, low wages compared to purchase price and less the consumer market had only started this side of the pond, and even if it had gone on sale stateside it would probably flopped as Americans love big cars. The 190 is even more bizarre a comparison, as it was highly priced, being even dearer than the comparable BMW, and the image think that some many people demand these days was only just startimg in the 80’s. In fact many people would have been dreaming of a top of the range Sierra or Cavalier and not Merc. The A Class was smaller than the cars it was aimed at, but price wise is was not much dearer and so made it more accessible, and in the image growing market of the 90’s people wanted premimum brands. This is why MINI’s have taken off, as have so called Premimum Supermini’s which have basically ripped off it’s formula. What’s premimum about a DS3? A few years ago people would have looked at it, said it was wierd and not touched it. Unfortunately the world has changed, and not for the better, since the original Mini was launched, with the kids today growing into a world of image importance without moral values (Rant Over)!

  50. @51 and 52 – Nice spot! Probably not, but I think that car may have had some ‘tidying’ to be on display. FSM were heavily involved in development of the Cinquecento though. I always thought the passing similarity of the Lada Oka and Fiat Cinquecento was interesting.

    My C3 is the 2010 model – the Airdream+ super-eco thingy. 1.6HDi. Congestion Charge exempt, currently has free road tax, completely allowable tax write-off and over 60mpg average, with over 70 achievable on a run without having poor performance. And the big windscreen is lovely; shame about the pillars of course.

    @53 – I feel it’s a solution to a problem no-one wants to acknowledge. It didn’t provide Golf-like space, it provided S-class like space, OR Golf-like space and better boot space, OR van-like space. It’s a very small multi-purpose vehicle. People don’t want to admit that driving a smaller car might solve that bit where they can’t park their car in the supermarket, or where the neighbour is overhanging the driveway, or they can’t use their garage, etc.

    In 50 years time, the A-class will be regarded very differently.

    @54 – most of the rant I agree with. But the point is, the A-class was not a commercial failure. Over 1m cars in 6 years is not to be sniffed at, particularly when trying something new on the market AND dealing with bad launch publicity.

  51. In 50 years time, after the oil has ran out and civilisation has collapsed, the A class will be but a fleeting memory amongst the survivors who tell tales of these self propelled carriages, large metal birds carrying hundreds of people to far off lands, messages that can travel to the other side of the world instantaneously, boxes with video and sound that provided entertainment and homes that could light, heat, wash and cook at the flick of a switch!

  52. I count myself as a big time petrolhead. However here’s one car that never made onto my radar. I know nothing about them. I certainly would not go looking for one.
    Some mention of Audi A2 a friend has ahd 2 loves them not a bad motor if a bit bland. There is a small time dealer near me who actually specializes in them

  53. The A2 is interesting – and I don’t see how saying one car is undeservedly overlooked is in any way denying the merits of another one. I just don’t see any point in expressing an opinion or presenting something on a car that I’ve never even sat in, let alone used for several years 🙂

    I’d be up for doing something on Audi, but my knowledge comes crashing to a firm halt at the end of the C3/B2 bodies. Keith got me thinking about B3 80s a while ago and yeah, I think I like them more now than I did when they were launched – but apart from vaguely considering an A3 or A5 Cabriolet as a possible car if there’s a good contract hire deal on, no mental energy has been spent on Audis.

  54. @58 I liked the last of the Audi 80,s/early A4’s they had a look of the NSU Ro80/auto union about them,increasingly Audis of late are getting on my nerves a bit-like BMW they are saturating the model range with silly niche cars,the X5/X6 are SMS/drug dealer motors at the best of times- oh and discs and pads aftermarket for the Q7 are nearly £500!

  55. My uncle bought a brand new A-Class when they first come out, it spent more time in the workshop then it did on the road, an endless stream of problems and breakdowns, still standing by the shiny star, he concluded that it was first run niggles and traded it in for another new one, the second one only spend half the time in the workshop! Still dreadfully unreliable, he had no problems whatsoever with his previous two Fiats a Uno and a Punto.

  56. @54 Daveh
    The classic Mini did actually go on sale stateside in the 1960’s:

    “Between 1960 and 1967, BMC exported approximately 10,000 left-hand drive BMC Minis to the United States. Sales were discontinued when stricter federal safety standards were imposed in 1968 and the arrival of the larger and more profitable Austin America (or 1100/1300 in UK) (sold in the United States until 1972) sealed the fate of the Mini. Mini sales slipped badly in the 1967 calendar year and the US importer was expecting the forthcoming Austin America to find a larger market. The America was finished in 1972 due to lacklustre sales (like the Mini’s final year) and the introduction of bumper height standards, that would have killed the Mini as well, had it survived.”

  57. Anyone who has watched “Some Kind of Wonderful” should know Minis were sold in the USA 😉

  58. Minis that were originally sold in the United States are now hard to find for sale, so most of the classic Minis now running in the United States have been imported by individual enthusiasts from UK or Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. There is however increasing difficulty in finding cars that are old enough to meet the 25-year emissions exemption import rules and yet are still in reasonable condition and price. This has led some importers to place the vehicle identification number (VIN) plates from older cars onto Minis that are less than 25 years old, claiming that the car was “restored” by replacing every single part with the exception of the VIN plate. Such Mini’s are termed “re-VINs” and are surprisingly common stateside.

  59. Thanks for letting us know. My information was based on the official press release of the MINI, and the making of The Italian Job, where they both stated the Mini was never sold in the states.

  60. Very Leylandish in many ways the original A class. Innovative design let down by poor execution. However, this was a properly managed, properly resourced and financed manaufacturer who could afford to refine and develop the car. Current cars are technically excellent. Just not what the market wants anymore, which is why the new A Class is a Golf clone.

  61. The Honda Dsi Jazz followed the A class by about 3 years, I remember a conversation with Honda dealer and issues with customers trading in an A class against a Jazz, the A class wa simply not wanted on the forecourt too much hard work to dispose of.

    For many years the Jazz had to stage to itself,the highest position for customer loyalty in the UK, customers trading in old Jazz for new.

    Driving the Jazz reminds me of the advanced features of some of the Austin cars, massive internal space in a short car, the innovative seats which make the car so practical in carrying big loads.

    My take on the German Car industry, The Germans tell the world they the best, The Japanese just get on with it

  62. Whats the matter with you idiots and your resounding chorus of blether ? the bottom line is a car is an instrument of use similiar to a toenail, you jackasses need to get a life and no one real cares about your useless drivel mind you if you folks knew as much as you want others to think you know you would have realised that you DONT know what you thought you knew

  63. Richard – how refreshing to read an objective and deservedly complimentary commentary on the A Class Mercedes. I bought my 1998 model A160 in mid 1999 as a demonstrator and replaced it, with a second-hand C Class, only this month. I LOVED that A160 and every small car produced in the past thirteen years seemed derivative and merely ‘packaged’.

    The late 90s was a period favouring ‘retro’ styling but not the A Class. It was not just of its time but ahead of its time and in my whole period of ownership there has never been another car of its level to tempt me, and certainly nothing as equally practical with the small exterior dimensions convenient enough to carry in comfort my three children and wife around urban Sydney. It was also the only entry-level car of a premium manufacturer that was in a class of its own – not a mere cut-down or smaller version of the next larger model of the stable in the way that the BMW 116, BMW1 or Audi A3 were.

    My main admiration for the A Class was its design integrity that epitomised function over form – its shape was dictated by the practical requirements of fitting as much as possible into as small and safe a size as possible. Yes, safe! The height which initially contributed to failure in the ‘infamoose’ elk-test did, on the positive side, allow an SUV level of vision that raised the passengers above the level of major impact height, while the ‘sandwich’ floor construction channelled the engine to safety in the event of a collision. Seemingly contrary to most opinions I truly love the honesty simplicity of the resultant tall and distinctive shape and the modifications post the elk-test including ESP and wider track etc made the A class a car way ahead of its time. To their credit, Mercedes added many details in their efforts to make a practical inner-city car. I have renovated numerous homes and moved house with greater ease thanks to the removable seats (and if they’re heavy it’s because they’re very solidly made!). Huge pieces of furniture and ‘white goods’ seemed to disappear into its ‘Tardis-like’ interior. Potential parking mishaps have been reduced in severity thanks to the plastic-skinned front wings, rear tailgate and bumpers. The clutch-less manual on my model was ideal for enjoying the benefits of manual control without tiresome pedal pushing, which again, made it most suitable for city living.

    As for the interior: in my nearly decade-and-a-half ownership the interior remained intact and remarkably new in appearance – unlike some two-year-old Holdens I occasionally drive at work. Inner-city driving saw me onto a third gear lever but otherwise the interior resisted children and normal wear and tear with ease. Yes, the ride can be bumpy on some roads, but understeer? Really, the car should be judged on its merits for a specific job and acknowledgement made regarding the compromises that prevented it handling like the sports car it was never meant to be. As for justifying the benefits and worth of a small-size car: if people don’t get it they probably never will unlike those of us living in the inner city. Currently I have to fold the (thankfully electronic) wing mirrors to fit my replacement car in the garage!

    Economies of scale claimed my A160 in the end. To fit everything into that brilliant tight package prevented sharing components with other models and fixing my clutch-less ‘funshift’ transmission would have cost twice as much as the car’s value. After more than thirteen years it was the first time I had any trouble with this feature and were it not for this issue I still would happily be driving my W168 A160 today. I miss it.

    Mercedes pushed the envelope with the A Class but sadly for them, it was too good and too different for too many people. It must be admitted that some preventative R&D clearly could have produced an even better car rather than retrograde changes responding to the roll-over: in the end it is hard to beat linear development from a clean slate. However, as can often be the case with radical designs, time will inevitably provide some balance in opinion and I predict history will be kind to the original iteration of a brave, unique and brilliant car that may yet spawn worthy imitations.

  64. It’s funny how cars can be considered flops. Both of the 1st 2 generations of A class sold over 1 million units. Not as many as Mercedes would have expected, but still not a complete disaster

  65. Just to add to this section, Keith took me along to Techno Classica – a 1200+ mile round trip – and inevitably I wanted to drive as it was my first time driving a RHD car in a LHD country. The weapon of choice being a much older, cheaper A-class in relative terms to the ones I had before, at 11 years old and almost 110,000 miles.

    Adding to that, it’s an A170 CDi, so my first experience of the diesel engine. LWB of course, no sunroof but nice trim including drawers under all the seats.

    Before setting off I gave it a quick oil & filter change; having never worked on a CDi and not seen an A-class engine bay for 4 years, took a while to figure out the clever air cleaner (which is huge); no massive screws or fingernail smashing clips, just bayonet fit after removing the washer bottle. Engine oil drained through the dipstick, filter accessible, if a little fiddly, from above. Aside from the headscratching on the air cleaner which could have been avoided with a manual or having seen one before, it could be done in minutes.

    With the mileage, there was some wear in the rear suspension evident – a clonk on speed bumps if taken too aggressively – some rough road compliance is lost if the car’s on original dampers – but it still tackled the drive beautifully. Germany to Calais had one stop and a diversion to fill up before grabbing the ferry (diesel being notably cheaper on the continent, unless you fill up where they can catch all the tourists), the drive back to the Midlands from Dover was done in one sitting.

    I get backpain, and have the broken foot to deal with, yet got out of the A-class after the run (rested slightly by the ferry crossing in the middle) absolutely relaxed, no untoward aches. The A170 lacks cruise control as well.

    Again, a couple of old criticisms were remembered, mostly the mirrors which are just too small and the lightweight bootlid which you always double-check has shut (and it always had), but particularly with the price of such cars now, it stacks up very well against a Clio or Punto of similar age, probably better value than a Golf, and felt like it had taken the abuse well.

    Oh, and the squeaky wipers. I’ve encountered that enough that I’m going to put that down to “they all do that sir”.

    It’s a shame Mercedes didn’t stick with it. When we parked it in an underground garage next to Alexander’s ADO 16, it really underlined how compact and clever the W168 is.

  66. I have to say I love the W168, my grandma has one, a 2002 LWB 140 full auto and its great. I have used it numerous times to transport things with the seats out and I enjoy the drive. Its a very versatile vehicle without looking like a Kangoo breadvan or similar. For a small engine it is also incredibly long geared making motorway drives nice and quiet aswell as economical. The 5speed auto is very smooth for a FWD effort and the comments about ride quality dont stack up on the LWB cars. We switched from Conti Ecos to a Kumho tyre and the ride quality improved dramatically, even better if the tyres are pumped up 2psi OVER the recommended. It only does low miles so it has had to have 2 batteries in 4 years but apart from that has been faultless and has never failed an MOT, all suspension is original on it and nothing bar tyres and brakes has ever been replaced. I concede the plastics inside arent of the highest standard however it doesnt rattle and I dont know about others but I dont drive along stroking the dash looking for soft touch materials??!

    I only have 2 gripes, the power steering is too heavy for a small car and the rear wiper is terrible, always has been. The juddery front wipers were cured with new blades, a thorough clean of the glass and a tightening/greasing job on the mechanism.

    They are generally proving to be stronger than a MK4 Golf, look at all those that spit manual boxes, let along autos! Also no timing belt to do and general service work is easy. Plugs are a bit of a faff but for anyone with a brain its not the end of the world. Neglect oil changes at your peril though!

    Also it does display superb high speed stability, far superior to a KA or similar and is far, far quieter than a Clio, Corsa or Fiesta. Nice car in my opinion, very few downs compared to the ups.

  67. The interior quality comments are equally applicable to any Mercedes of the era – before I got the 300C (which is unashamedly crude inside), I seriously considered a W211 E-class and whilst the ambiance and styling was a cut above the Chrysler, the material quality and robustness was very poor.

    My SLK has door trims that need gluing, worn out rubberised paint all over the console (I’ve seen seen a beautiful leather-trimmed treatment from Singapore). From a supermini perspective, I rate the facelift W168 interior above the Clio and similar cars, which it cost slightly more than. It’s better than the blobby R3 dash and switchgear, too.

    If I could find any way of justifying it I’d have one again.

  68. Great article Richard.
    I always thought that these were very innovate cars.
    I read somewhere some time ago that Benz weren’t the 1st to use sandwich floors. It was Toyota with their 1st Previa Van/SUV. The article also said that Toyota had a patent on this & Benz paid into it. Interesting too that Toyota no longer use this in their later Mk2 models. Probably on cost & weight factors.

  69. Dear Richard,
    Thank you for your article. I owned two of these the A140-2000 (now in the hand of my friend) and an A-190 avantgrade (2000), which is my workhorse up to now. Both I bought them used and fix them little-by-little. IMHO this is a well designed car. I have driven many types of merc: the E320, C240, the CLE, S, the ML, and I settled with the old A. The height is perfect for my body, the car is so unobtrusive to drive (close to being ignored for being so tiny and “old”), yet it is a little monster.

    It fits well as a city car, parking it is easy and squeezing myself through the horrendous traffic in Jakarta is a breeze. The body is super thick and not easily dented by the crazy motorcycles. But, when I need to drive out of town, in a freeway it could be pushed to 165 km/hour (or faster) stably, effortlessly, and still offer a lot of room if you want to try — to the dismay of car drivers of newer models.

    The key is good maintenance. Your car is not a brick. Listen and feel and fix it asap if there is a problem. Parts are not all that expensive. Know your playing field. As there are zillions of speed bumps and potholes in Jakarta, obviously tie-rods and shock absorbers wear a lot faster. Also, clutch and transmission could be next due to the stop-and-go traffic. I have passed and learned through the many A-190 idiosyncrasies to the point of worrying the technicians of the garage. In short, I intend to keep and run it as long as parts are still available.

  70. lovely car if they made it easier to work on.
    If they fitted a better automatic gearbox it would have been a hero but in its current form its not worthy of that status.
    Still impressed at the amount of space in the vehicle. its very comfortable.
    @Richard hows the vehicle going now? 20 years later

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