he Mercedes-Benz A-Class is a subcompact executive car (regular subcompact in its first two generations) produced by the German automobile manufacturer Mercedes-Benz. The first generation (W168) was introduced in 1997, the second generation model (W169) appeared in late 2004 and the third generation model (W176) was launched in 2012. The fourth generation model (W177), which was launched in 2018, will mark the first time the A-Class is offered in the United States and Canada. This fourth generation A-Class will also be the first to be offered both as a hatchback (W177) and sedan (V177).
Originally produced only as a five-door hatchback in 1997, the second generation W169 introduced a three-door hatchback. In the markets where the A-Class is or has been sold, it has represented the entry level model for Mercedes-Benz. Having grown by 68 cm (27 in) since the original model, the 2012 third generation A-class was longer than the first-generation B-class. And although sometimes referred to by fans as the 'Baby Benz', Mercedes themselves actually use that moniker for the 1982 Mercedes 190 (W201), their first compact executive car model.
In 1994, Mercedes-Benz confirmed that it would be launching a compact car - the A-Class (A 160) - by early 1997, which would be the company's first venture in this sector of the market; it was hinted at this stage that the new car would be shorter than the average supermini but as spacious and practical inside as a large family car.
The A-Class was first revealed to the motoring press late in 1996, and finally launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in the autumn of 1997, the W168 A-Class was quite unusual for Mercedes-Benz featuring a front-wheel drive layout and unusual tall but yet short body.
This was the first complete exterior designed by Coventry University trained Steve Mattin, for which he was named Autocar magazine's 'Designer of the Year'. Earlier, Mattin had mostly worked on design for the W210 E-Class in 1991. Concurrent to the W168, he designed the exterior of the W220 S-Class. The final design freeze occurred in January 1995, at 32 months before August 1997 start of production.
The W168 became infamous in 1997 after flipping over during the traditional "elk test" performed by the Swedish automobile publication Teknikens Värld. According to the report, the W168 overturned when manoeuvring to avoid the "elk". Mercedes initially denied the problem, but then took the surprising step of recalling all units sold to date (2,600) and suspending sales for three months until the problem was solved by adding electronic stability control and modifying the suspension. The company spent DM 2.5 billion in developing the car, with a further DM 300 million to fix it.
Between 1997 and 2004, 1.1 million first generation A-Class models had been sold.
The A-Class was facelifted in 2001, with minor alterations to the headlights, front and rear bumper design and the addition of a new 170 mm (6.7 in) longer wheelbase version. It was launched at the Geneva Motor Show.