At the Geneva Motor Show (27 February to 11 March 2001), Mercedes‑Benz presented the facelifted version of the A‑Class W168. For the first time the A‑Class was also available in a long-wheelbase version, with the wheelbase extended by 170 millimetres to 2593 millimetres. As a result, Mercedes‑Benz now offered the spaciousness of a luxury‑class saloon in the compact vehicles class.
As part of the package of technical and stylistic facelift measures for model year 2001, around 980 components of the innovative compact car were modified or redeveloped. A new design of the front end reinforced the dynamic appearance of the compact car. The front bumper, with the new-look air intake in the lower section, was more contoured than before, making the body appear broader and as a result more athletic. Other new features included integrated, replaceable protective strips in the front bumper and contemporary headlamps with a clear-lens design.
In terms of value appeal, ergonomics and manufacturing quality, the interior of the A‑Class matched the high level of larger Mercedes‑Benz saloons. By using first‑class materials, which also featured in the Mercedes‑Benz S‑C lass, the dashboard was given a soft, pleasant feel. The entire cockpit area had been revised. Without affecting the sweeping contours, the transition to the front windscreen was now more harmonious.
The contemporary shape of the centre console had been adapted to the new, high-quality interior design. Its upper part was slightly wider than before and extended into the interior at a shallower angle, giving the driver and front passenger an even better view of the control elements. The arrangement and design of the switches complied with the latest ergonomic findings. The most frequently used buttons and the car radio were moved to the top of the centre console, while the slide controls for heating and ventilation were now towards the bottom.
All of the centre console elements were integrated in a decorative trim panel which varied according to the design and equipment line: a textured surface with metal effect for the CLASSIC, a fine wood veneer for the ELEGANCE and high-quality aluminium for the AVANTGARDE. The new-design three-spoke steering wheel was height-adjustable as standard.
From mid-2001, alongside the facelifted variants of the successful compact model, Mercedes‑Benz offered a 170 millimetre longer version of the A‑Class which had been presented in the spring. The new variant featured even more space, the comfort of a luxury‑class saloon, exemplary adaptability and a record load capacity. With its economy of space, the long-wheelbase version of the A‑Class set new standards among compact vehicles – no other car in this market segment could rival its capacity: the 3.78-metre long model offered up to 1930 litres of space for passengers and luggage – 11 percent more than the standard version.
The passengers in particular enjoyed an impressive amount of space: because the innovative sandwich design meant the drive units were partly in front of and partly below the passenger cell, 53 percent of the body was available to the passengers. This was yet another figure where the A‑Class outshone conventional cars in its segment. The long-wheelbase A‑Class offered spaciousness never before achieved in this vehicle class. The longer wheelbase offered unique comfort particularly for rear passengers in the A‑Class. With 170 millimetres more legroom and 945 millimetres between passengers, they enjoyed unprecedented freedom of movement. In fact, the comfort dimensions surpassed those of many luxury‑class saloons.
Thanks to the adaptable rear seats with their 111-millimetre fore-and-aft adjustment, A‑Class drivers could decide whether to use the extra space for the rear passengers or for the load compartment. Even with the rear seats in their foremost position, the long-wheelbase A‑Class offered 60 millimetres more legroom than the standard version. This rear seat position also expanded the load capacity by 80 litres to 470 litres, which meant, for example, that the luggage compartment could accommodate three large suitcases with a total capacity of 219 litres (standard version: 158 litres).
With the rear seats removed, the maximum capacity of the luggage compartment in the long-wheelbase model, according to the VDA measuring method (loaded to roof height), was 1530 litres – this figure was significantly higher than the average load capacity of larger estate models and set new standards in the compact car class. In the standard version of the A‑Class, the maximum luggage compartment capacity was 1340 litres (according to the VDA measuring method).
From spring 2001 the two turbodiesel engines with common-rail direct injection developed up to 25 percent more output than before. Now featuring a standard-fit charge air cooler, the four-cylinder engine in the A 160 CDI (only available for the standard version) delivered 55 kW (75 hp) instead of the previous 44 kW (60 hp). Despite this, its fuel consumption remained around the four-litre mark – at 4.8 litres of diesel oil per 100 kilometres (NEDC combined consumption). The output of the A 170 CDI increased from 66 kW (90 hp) to 70 kW (95 hp). It consumed 4.9 litres of diesel fuel in the short-wheelbase version and 5.2 litres in the long-wheelbase version. The range of three petrol engines remained unchanged.
The standard-fit Electronic Stability Program ESP® was another feature that had been enhanced. In its latest generation, it offered even more convenient control and, for the first time, was combined with a new type of hydraulic Brake Assist, which ensured maximum braking pressure and hence minimal stopping distances in emergency situations.
The large windowbags, which Mercedes‑Benz had first used in the S‑Class, were also available as an option for the A‑Class. The airbags, measuring over a metre in length and twelve centimetres in width, expanded like a curtain across the interior area between the front and rear roof columns in the event of a side impact, protecting the heads of both the front and the rear passengers. The windowbags thus complemented the A‑C lass's other highly effective side-impact protection features, which included the sandwich design, robust supports and pillars, and standard sidebags in the front doors.
For the perfect on-board climate, the A‑Class could be fitted with a newly developed air conditioning system (optional extra) which was controlled by a dew point sensor according to the humidity. The Mercedes‑Benz compact car was the first car in this market segment to feature a high-tech system of this kind.
Mercedes‑Benz offered the long-wheelbase version of the A‑Class with a special Taxi package which included optional extras specially developed for taxi use: in the centre console there was space for installing a two-way radio, and the taximeter was fitted above the rear-view mirror, where it was easy to see and reach. The optional pre-installation for fitting the single-arm taxi roof sign was available free of charge. The standard equipment for the taxi version was based on the CLASSIC line and included as an option two integral child seats, a stowage box underneath the driver's seat, plus a two-way radio antenna and a hands-free system.
In March 2002 Mercedes‑Benz presented the A 210 EVOLUTION, the new top model of model series W168. It was available with a short or long wheelbase. The A 210 EVOLUTION could be distinguished from other versions of the A‑Class by its high-quality equipment with AMG body design, 17-inch light-alloy wheels and a sumptuous leather/Alcantara interior. Its newly developed four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 2.1 litres promised tremendous tractive power. Outwardly, the new model's most distinguishing factor was its dynamic exterior with AMG body design. Hallmark Mercedes‑Benz features included wind-deflecting elements on the rear window, new 17-inch light-alloy wheels, blue interference indicators in the clear-lens headlamps, discreet red trim strips and new exterior mirrors with integral indicators.
Inside, the A 210 EVOLUTION featured dark grey leather, light Alcantara and brushed aluminium. There were also unusual items of equipment such as silver-coloured seat belts, an ergonomically shaped, two-tone leather steering wheel with light-coloured topstitching and sports pedals in stainless steel with rubber studs. The high-quality, functional details emphasised the individuality of the compact trendsetter.
In keeping with the high-quality, sporty interior, the new four-cylinder engine delivered superior tractive power. The output of 103 kW (140 hp) at 5500 rpm and the maximum torque of 205 newton metres at 4000 rpm ensured dynamic performance figures: the car sprinted from 0 to 100 km/h in just 8.2 seconds and the top speed was 203 km/h. According to the NEDC formula the model consumed just 7.9 litres of petrol per 100 kilometres. The A 210 EVOLUTION complied with the D4 emissions standard, and its emissions levels were already below the EU4 limit which was not due to come into force until 2005.
The sports suspension enabled dynamic handling with good long-distance capability. New spring/damper elements and a special rear-axle torsion-bar stabiliser made the A 210 EVOLUTION an agile compact car. To reflect this, it was fitted with a high-performance brake system with disc brakes all round; the front discs were not only internally ventilated but perforated too, ensuring significant advantages in the wet.
In September 2003 the A‑Class marked a special milestone: less than six years after the market launch of model series 168, the one millionth Mercedes‑Benz A‑C lass model rolled off the production line in Rastatt. The milestone vehicle was a long-wheelbase A 170 CDI in comet grey. Mercedes‑Benz used this historic moment to look back at the development of the A‑Class and analyse the statistics. Germany had established itself as the most important market for sales, followed by the core European markets of Italy, the UK and France. Over 40 percent of A‑Class customers were female. Since the introduction of the 170 millimetre longer body, over 40 percent of A‑Class customers had opted for the long-wheelbase version.
At the 60th International Motor Show in Frankfurt/Main, Mercedes‑Benz celebrated the milestone by introducing the special "Piccadilly" model of the A‑Class. It was available in the CLASSIC, ELEGANCE and AVANTGARDE lines with an extensive range of optional extras and came in the exclusive paintwork colours alpine blue and tropical black. All models except the A 210 EVOLUTION could be ordered in this version. Standard equipment for the "Piccadilly" special model included air conditioning, a stereo car radio, the ELCODE locking system with remote control, a leather steering wheel and a leather shift lever. The sporty, elegant look was underlined by new 16-inch twin-spoke light-alloy rims and the exclusive paintwork colours Mercedes‑Benz offered for the special model: alpine blue and tropical black. The name "Piccadilly" appeared in the mirror triangle, on the standard velour floor mats and on the shift lever.
At the International Motor Show in September 2003, three Mercedes‑Benz A‑Class models with the pioneering fuel cell drive were used for the VDA (German Association of the Automotive Industry) press shuttle service. The Mercedes‑Benz A‑Class, in the form of the F-CELL model, had been used to research the drive system of the future since 2002. From the end of 2004 60 of these fuel cell-powered A‑Class models took part in long-term trials under realistic everyday conditions in Germany, the USA, Japan and Singapore. By summer 2005, the cars had covered a total of 370,000 kilometres. Around a third of this distance was clocked up in Singapore alone, where six A‑Class F‑C ELL models were driven by BP, Conrad, Lufthansa, Michelin and the National Environment Agency (NEA).
The A‑Class F‑CELL was the world's first small-production passenger car with a fuel cell drive and was tested by customers. The entire fuel cell system could be accommodated in the sandwich floor of the long-wheelbase A‑Class. Two compressed hydrogen gas tanks (350 bar) ensured a range of 150 kilometres, the hydrogen consumption corresponding to a diesel oil equivalent of 4.2 litres per 100 kilometres. The electric engine had an output of 65 kW (88 hp) and allowed acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in 16 seconds. The top speed was 140 km/h. The forerunners to the A‑Class F‑C ELL were the NECAR 3 (1997) to NECAR 5 (2000) research vehicles which were also based on model series 168.
In spring 2004 three years after the introduction of the facelifted variant and the long-wheelbase version, the newly developed second-generation A‑Class (model series 169) was launched. Almost 1.1 million vehicles in model series 168 had been produced in Rastatt by May 2004, 882,661 in the standard version and 204,212 with a long wheelbase. In addition, at the Brazilian Juiz de Fora plant, which had been producing the A 160 since 1998 and the A 190 since 2000, a further 63,448 vehicles had rolled off the production line by September 2005.