Mercedes A Class W168, the car famous for rolling over in the elk test. Mercedes A Class W168, the cheapest Mercedes you can buy. But is it really that cheap?
Launched in 1997, the Mercedes A-Class W168 was an oddity for both the world and Mercedes. Front-wheel drive, short chassis, tall car? Essentially a taller Kangoo. It’s not a car to blame, because Mercedes hadn’t made small, cheap cars before, and we all know that the first time doesn’t turn out quite how we imagined. What they did bring new instead was the sandwich construction found on the first generation B Class. Basically, in the event of an crash, the engine slides under the pedals and under the floorpan, so you don’t have to pick up the engine or at least a bolt in your arms.
But isn’t the Mercedes A-Class famous for rolling over? And you’re talking about safety?
Yes, there was that slight inconvenience in the initial tests with the first models. After the famous test, the A-Class was withdrawn from the market for a few months until the necessary modifications were made, such as ESC and a modified suspension. But just like when you peed yourself once as a kid, your parents and grandparents will remember you just for that episode, no matter if you’re 40, have 2 kids and a stable life.
Mercedes A Class W168 Engines
- 1.4 MPI of 82 horsepower – The M166 engine was built specifically for the Mercedes A Class W168 and predates the M266 engine. Simple, unpretentious petrol engine with a single overhead camshaft, simple chain drive timing and no direct injection. By far the most popular engine on the Mercedes A Class W168, but with a serious downside.
- 1.6 MPI of 102 horsepower – The most balanced engine for the first-generation A-Class, but you’ll probably go for a 1.4 blender.
- 1.9 MPI of 125 horsepower – Good luck finding an engine like that, and especially good luck finding mechanics to work on that engine. Even if it’s the same M166 as the rest of the family, good luck finding a Mercedes A190.
- 2.1 MPI of 140 horsepower – With all the safety systems and modified suspension, I’m still not convinced I’d want a 140 hp first-generation A-Class. Mercedes A210 Evolution, the official car of epinephrine addicts. Mercedes A210 Evolution, the official car of the patients at the jaw-fracture clinic. Mercedes A210 Evolution, the official car of people who want to commit suicide, but who want to do it discreetly, so that the family can say “God forgive him”, while they are picking up their remains on the highway…sorry, street, you shouldn’t go on the highway with the first gen A Class.
1.7 with 59, 74, 89 and 94 horsepower – Another engine designed exclusively for the Mercedes A Class W168 and also the smallest diesel engine in the Mercedes range at launch, the engine is robust in its own right, although I can’t see why you’d want a diesel A-Class. More specifically, I don’t see why you’d want to go on a long drive in a first-generation A-Class. Also, the 59-horsepower version is to be avoided. No power, no good economy, not even an intercooler.
Mercedes A Class W168 General Issues
- I’ll start with the big one: even though the A-Class is a cheap car to buy, it will break you in half on maintenance. Don’t forget it’s a Mercedes, so the maintenance prices will still be Mercedes. Furthermore, the engines are transversely mounted and the only access points are for basic maintenance areas like oil pan and some spark plugs. For the rest, in many situations, you will have to take out the engine and you don’t want to know how much that costs in labor.
- Because the engine is located lower than in usual cars due to the sandwhich construction, so are many components located abit lower. Be very careful when driving through puddles, water or rocky roads. Although bad or rocky roads I haven’t seen for a long time in the UK, more like in Germany.
- The CVT automatic gearbox has a short life, shorter than the musical career of Rebecca Black. You won’t see too many Mercedes A Classes W168 with CVT, the issue being famous on the B Class. In any case, if you don’t want to replace the automatic gearbox every 50,000 km (and that’s no exaggeration), go for a manual.
- The suspension on the Mercedes A Class W168 is as melodious and graceful as a 150 kg guy who’s had 10 beers and thought this is his moment to show his ballet skills. Antiroll bars, coilovers, bushings, basically anything that has to do with the wheel will have to do with servicing.
- For the petrol engine, there have been reports of coil pack issues. Any naturally aspirated petrol suffers from coil pack issues, but in the case of the A-Class, the engine needs to come out. For the diesel engine, it’s the same issue, except it’s not the coil pack, it’s the spark plugs.
Mercedes A Class W168 Verdict
If you’re thinking of buying one because it’s the cheapest way into getting into Mercedes ownership, forget it. Better go and buy the second generation which is a much better car. As I said, it’s cheap to buy, but the labour costs of a Mercedes A Class W168 make this Mercedes a fairly expensive car to own. If you don’t crash and die trying to adjust the air conditioning because the knobs are so low positioned on the dashboard that you can’t see the windscreen, then you will surely die of a heart attack when you will read the repair bills.
Which engine do I recommend? Even though the market is flooded with the 1.4 MPI petrol, I still dare to believe in the 102 horsepower 1.6 MPI petrol. However, don’t take everything I write for granted, because I dared to believe in UK and got burned more than at the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.
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