RICK KRANZ

How small is the Mercedes A class? Think Fiesta hatchback

Automotive News | March 6, 2012 - 4:07 pm EST

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.
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DETROIT -- Next time you see a Ford Fiesta hatchback rolling down the road, take a good look at that car.

That subcompact Fiesta is pretty close in size to a small German car line that's headed to our shores.

Earlier today at the Geneva auto show, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the redesigned A-class five-door hatchback.

The A-class model line will include a coupe and wagon, plus a crossover-like vehicle. A three-door hatchback also is planned, but that model will not be sold in the United States.

The A-class models will be the smallest Mercedes cars that are sold in the United States. Sales in Europe begin this fall, but U.S. shoppers likely will have to wait until 2014.

Why is the A class slated for U.S. sales?

Higher gasoline prices, tough fuel economy regulations and changing customer preferences, particularly for residents in urban areas, convinced Mercedes executives and U.S. dealers that there is a U.S. market.

Mercedes-Benz officials are optimistic, expecting U.S. sales to exceed 15,000 annually.

BMW already sells a similar-size model here, the 1 series. U.S. sales totaled 8,832 units last year, down 33 percent from 2010. The slump continues -- sales are off 25 percent this year. The BMW line is limited to a coupe and a convertible.

To these weary eyes, the photo released by Mercedes-Benz creates the illusion that its car is bigger than it is. Mercedes released the five-door hatchback's length, width and height, so I did some quick research.

After comparing the lengths and widths of several non-Mercedes models, I finally found a car that is kind of similar in size to the A-class five-door hatchback: the 2012 Ford Fiesta five-door hatchback. The A class certainly will not be priced to compete with the Fiesta. I just wanted a size comparison to a vehicle I'm familiar with.

How close in size is the A class to the Fiesta?

Pretty darn close: This Mercedes is 8.8 inches longer, 2.3 inches wider and 1.6 inches lower.

This is a small car. The A-class model line will bring a dramatic change to U.S. Mercedes showrooms. But will the public accept it?

Unless gasoline prices are considerably higher, and these models offer exceptional fuel economy, I think a car this small coupled with Mercedes' pricing will be a hard sell.

The A-class models will be the smallest Mercedes cars that are sold in the United States.

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