Though it has existed in other markets, the A-Class is entirely new to Canada.
Our colleagues in Development have managed to take things further still with the new model. With its array of sophisticated functions and attractive design, I’m confident the new A-Class will be received with much enthusiasm. For one thing, we listened carefully to our customers and worked hard to incorporate their wishes into the new model. And for another, we’ve infused the new A-Class with smart technological DNA that is certain to surprise customers. For instance, our new user-interface concept serves as an intuitive connection between the car and its driver – anyone who experiences this system will immediately understand the enormous added value it offers. It enables them to communicate with their car simply by natural speech. This is a unique feature in this class of vehicle, though I imagine it will soon become something customers expect, thereby setting a new vehicle class standard. With the new A-Class, Mercedes-Benz has proven that it is possible to incorporate cutting-edge technology into the entry-level segment. Further down the line, we’ll be releasing upgrades for the car, much like those you download for your smartphone. Running these updates means you can ensure that your car always has the latest software installed.
One thing I particularly like about the new A-Class is how it feels when you get in: It fits like a glove. We achieved this effect through a combination of many different features, all united under one cohesive concept.
We see the new A-Class as a “cool lifestyle vehicle” – that was the description the team of colour and material designers came up with. We were prepared to break new and unexpected ground, but we always kept sight of Mercedes-Benz’s colour history. So a highly creative period began. We were researching trends from the worlds of fashion and music – we read street-style blogs, attended fashion shows and went to the Milan Furniture Fair.
The colours of the new A-Class needed to be cool and stylish. What we finally came up with were trendy exterior finishes combined with progressive interior schemes. Offering a range of decorative features, including elements made of natural open-pore wood, the interior gives the A-Class an authentic and exclusive Mercedes-Benz feel. Aluminum decorative elements complete the sporty look. Another customizable feature is the optional ambient light, which offers 64 colour settings. We also incorporated different light moods. The illuminated nozzles are a particularly cool A-Class feature, and a nod to the latest Mercedes-Benz show cars.
Because the A-Class is the sportiest, most progressive car in its vehicle class, we exterior designers focused a lot of our efforts on achieving just the right proportions for the new model. Proportions are an essential element of car design, and Mercedes-Benz is well known for its sensational proportions. We want to ensure that everything is in just the right place, especially because we are trying to keep things as simple and as pared-down as possible. So we’ll take away a line here and another one there. Our job is to achieve ever-greater clarity. We create form for objects not through lines, but through surfaces.
My own personal highlight of the new A-Class? That would have to be the low front section with the Panamericana radiator grille, and the elegant, highly precise multi-beam LED headlamps. The low front section was probably one of the most radical decisions we made. It was based on our desire to ensure that, for all its sportiness, the new A-Class also offered maximum safety for pedestrians in the event of an accident. Its big wheels – the largest in this vehicle segment – are another distinct feature.
One of the most significant challenges we encountered in designing the new A-Class was to preserve the extreme sportiness of its predecessor, while achieving a higher degree of functionality. It’s a challenge I feel we met extremely well. A car needs to be both intelligent and beautiful, and the new A-Class certainly succeeds on both fronts.
Among the features I helped to develop was the A-Class’s set-up assistant, something we refer to internally as the Wizard. It’s a highly intuitive system that helps customers quickly figure out how their car works.
While developing the user interface, we had to contemplate many different key questions: How much information can a person process at once? Where is the driver’s focus when they look at the screen? How much information can the screen contain?
I studied cognitive science, which is the science of higher cognitive functions such as visual perception, learning and emotions. This discipline exists at the intersection between computer science, psychology, neurobiology, linguistics, mathematics and logic. As a result, the interdisciplinary knowledge that I gained during my degree helped me to analyze the interface area between people and machines from various perspectives, and to then develop effective solutions that respond to this.
I had three main goals when developing the user experience. First, to ensure that the design of the content and controls, while thoroughly modern, also made people feel instantly at home. I wanted customers to understand the new A-Class immediately. And second, to develop something customers really liked – something they would delight in over the long term, not just for the first week or two. I wanted to ensure that every time they get into the car, they think: “Great! My car always provides me with just the information I need.”
Third, because people are very different, I wanted to build a system that could be configured to suit different people and different moods – a system that anyone could make their own.
We developed a prototype of the new A-Class very early on in the process so that we could get inside and look outside.
We asked all sorts of everyday questions, things as simple – yet critical – as: “What can I see when I sit in this car?” It doesn’t need to give a wonderful panorama of the stars, but the A-Class driver does need to have a good view of the road. And although this is a compact car, it offers considerable spatial depth between the driver and the windshield. A slim A-pillar creates an aperture between it and the side-view mirror for better visibility. This makes it much easier to see pedestrians or cyclists located at a diagonal angle from the driver. For the doors, we really pushed design boundaries, keeping them thin and thus maximizing the driver’s elbow room.
One of my colleagues is a passionate cyclist, and he pointed out that he doesn’t want to transport his two-wheeler outside on a bike rack: He wants it in the trunk, protected. And so we made this possible. By splitting the tail light, we’ve increased the width of the hatch. All my colleague has to do now is quickly remove the wheels and his bike will fit in the back easily – with no need to fold down the rear seat.
The A-Class is for young people who grew up with smartphones. Millennial customers like these can now communicate directly with the car itself, much more than ever before. And do you know what the “A” in its name stands for?
Avant-garde. This makes itself apparent in features such as the inductive charging tray – our response to a very common inconvenience. Now I just put my smartphone on the tray, and it charges automatically. I don’t need to look around for chargers or sockets. The full potential of the A-Class starts to come to light when the car is combined with the Mercedes me app. From outside their car, drivers can view the current fuel level. The app can also show them the nearest places to park.
My favourite interior feature? The big floating widescreen display.
The uniqueness of the new A-Class interior was achieved mainly through spacious architecture and the cutting-edge design of its display and control features. Our clean, minimal design approach constitutes a revolution from within. The widescreen is fully digital, with no mechanical parts. Even the speedometer needle is entirely digital. These advancements have been available to S-Class drivers for some time, and now it’s the turn of our compact-car customers to reap the benefits. The telephone system is a standard feature of the new A-Class, and is integrated into the multimedia system that is controlled via the touchpad on the central console. I like the look of the car at night even more than during the day. Its optional ambient-light feature, which is unique in this vehicle segment, is something I’m very proud of. Offering 64 colours and a combination of direct and indirect illumination, it can create very special light moods. I feel we’ve managed to implement this feature with an incredible coherence. This was only possible because we made interior illumination a key consideration right from the very beginning. We’ve also given the air vents a new design, so they now resemble turbines and also feature illumination. If I turn the temperature down, they go blue; if I turn it up, they go red. Details like these were important to us.