Mercedes-Benz is showing off a new, 170 mm longer, extended wheelbase version of its A-class baby at next month's Geneva motor show 2001. It will be launched together with upgraded standard-wheelbase models at dealerships in spring 2001.

Mercedes expects the LWB version to account for around half of A-class sales thanks to an 11 percent boost in interior room. Around 53 percent of the 3.78 metre-long body can be used by its occupants - far more than in conventional cars of similar size - and, even in LWB form, the baby Merc is still shorter than most of its class including the Skoda Fabia and Ford Fiesta.

"With this new product, we can finally also satisfy those potential customers who, whilst always attracted to the styling and concept of the A-Class, needed just a little more space", is how Dr. Joachim Schmidt, head of Mercedes sales and marketing, puts it.

An extra 170mm inserted into the rear doors gives rear-seat passengers exactly that amount of extra legroom and a distance of 945 millimetres between front and rear-seat passengers - around the same as in the company's gargantuan S-class limousine. The LWB A-class is also fractionally taller than the SWB version.

Both variants feature numerous detail improvements introduced for the 2001 model year including more powerful diesel engines, enhanced safety features, classier-looking interior plastics, re-arranged centre consoles and an optional humidity-sensing air conditioner.

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GERMANY: Benz updates its baby