GENEVA – The all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class compact will be the world’s first car to feature Apple’s app du jour, Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface, better known as SIRI.

Unveiled here at the auto show, the A-Class – one of five planned models based on Mercedes’ New Generation Compact Car platform – bridges the gap between connectivity and motoring safety, says Dieter Zetsche, head of the tri-star brand and CEO of its parent Daimler.

Integration technology for the A-Class promises, “you can be ‘always on’ and ‘on the road,’” he tells journalists.

Zetsche adds the car “provides what your iPhone can’t: a big screen and a safe way to operate it with your car’s controller.”

The claim is timely, given recent attention aimed at distracted driving. The U.S. Department of Transportation last month announced a 3-phase campaign to reduce accidents by mitigating in-car distractions.

The initiative’s third phase targets voice-activated technology that controls functions such as navigation and audio.

Currently available only in Apple’s iPhone, SIRI represents the most advanced trend in voice recognition, because it leverages artificial intelligence. This enables delivery of responses that consider context, ranging from geographic location to an established pattern of personal preferences.

In addition, Mercedes will offer a branded app in conjunction with “Drive Kit Plus,” which will enable “seamless integration” between car and iPhone.

“You can simply stream your content directly from your smartphone to the car’s head unit, be it your music, your contacts or your Facebook news,” Zetsche says.

The A-Class, set to arrive in European showrooms in September and planned for the U.S. in

2014, joins the B-Class, launched last year, on the auto maker’s new small-car platform. “There will be five altogether,” Zetsche says, promising the coming models will be “three very different ones.”

Mercedes has acknowledged one is a coupe and another is a utility vehicle. The auto maker is mum on No.5.

The new A-Class showcases a pair of new 4-cyl. gasoline engines featuring Mercedes’ Camtronic technology, which also makes its debut here. Camtronic strategically adjusts

intake-valve lift to restrict the fuel-air mixture to improve fuel economy.

Available in displacements of 1.6L and 2.0L, both engines are turbocharged and feature direct injection. A-Class buyers can choose from three horsepower ratings: 115, 156 and 211.

The A-Class also can be equipped with diesel engines generating outputs of 109 hp, 136 hp and 170 hp.

In addition, all engines feature start/stop technology and can be mated to either a new 6-speed manual gearbox or a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Also making its world debut here is the new SL 63 AMG roadster. For the first time in the model’s storied history, its V-8 engine is available in two power ratings: 537 hp and 564 hp.

But both achieve peak fuel-economy ratings of 23.7 mpg (9.9 L/100 km), which likely will allow the car to escape the onerous U.S.-market gas-guzzler tax.

Says Joachim Schmidt, executive vice president-sales and marketing: “(The) SL versions are actually two cars rolled into one: a breathtaking sports roadster and a luxurious coupe.”

In addition, Mercedes pulls the sheet off:

  • A diesel-powered E-Class model and a gasoline-powered C-Class, due in European dealerships this month, that carry the brand’s fuel-thrifty BlueEfficiency badge for low carbon-dioxide emissions.
  • Two C-Class “sport” coupes – one gas, one diesel – engineered by AMG.
  • A pair of diesel-hybrids, the E-300 BlueTec Hybrid and S-300 BlueTec Hybrid; the latter is touted as “the world’s most fuel-efficient fullsize car” with its rating of 56 mpg (4.2 L/100 km).

However, Zetsche suggests the A-Class represents a key part of Mercedes’ market strategy. “The ‘A’ now stands for ‘attack,’” he says.

emayne@wardsauto.com