ROAD TEST: Mercedes A-Class

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Steve Sharpe discovers big changes for little hatchback

It’s standard in the motor vehicle industry to keep on top of the game and all models undergo regular revisions and facelifts.

But this new version of Mercedes’ A-Class is different in the way that it’s essentially a new car.

Designers had a blank canvas to work with after Mercedes decided to move away from the previous A-Class’s mini-MPV appearance and take on a more orthodox small family hatchback look.

The A-Class first appeared in 1997 and made a few waves with its upright, lofty look with a short body.

It had a chequered reception – some liked its look, especially the innovative “sandwich” impact system which meant that if there was a front impact, the contents of the bonnet would be pushed under floor, rather than into the cabin.

Others felt it looked clumsy and wasn’t sporty enough. It didn’t help when, during an infamous elk avoiding section of tests in Scandinavia, the upright, short A-Class turned over, forcing Mercedes to recall the model to make modifications.

A second generation model stuck to the same format but this third generation A-Class, which first appeared last year, has a completely new look – long, low and much more sporty.

And those who were fond of the original mini MPV look can look to the B-Class, which is now closer to the original A- Class look.

Now the Merc is more in line with the big-selling small hatchbacks from Audi, VW, BMW and Volvo.

It is a great-looking car, right from the big, bold Mercedes badge on the front grille right thought to the stubby rear section.

It’s long, low and compact.

Slip inside the cabin and there is the unmistakable mark of Mercedes quality.

The dashboard is uncluttered and straightforward, with ultra-stylish touches like the circular air vents in the centre console and the big satnav screen perched in the centre is controlled by a rotary dial between the seats.

The overall effect is cool and stylish – the colour scheme revolves around black and the black interior roof adds to the effect.

There should be enough space for most inside – there’s plenty of legroom and headroom in the front and back and while the boot isn’t huge it’s big enough for most occasions, and the loading lip is easy to manoeuvre things over.

There are a number of versions in the range, including 1.6 and 2litre petrol versions and 1.5 and 1.8 diesel engines.

The 2-litre petrol model I tested was a 1.6 litre BlueEfficiency Sport model, which drives well and returns around 50mpg.

The seven-speed automatic gearbox was a little slow to react at times but when the car was driven hard it slipped up a gear to provide a decent burst of acceleration.

The A-Class is smooth around town and very quiet and even when some road noise and wind noise build up at speeds it’s never intrusive.

There’s some body roll around tight corners but the steering is pretty precise.

My biggest problem with the A-Class was the siting of the automatic gear lever – on the steering column right in the place where the washer controls are on most cars, and the same size and shape as well.

No doubt you get used to it but it does mean that slipping in and out of gears requires some deliberation, not to mention working the wipers and indicators on the same lever.

But overall the Merc delivers as you would expect in terms of comfort and build – easy to handle around town and comfortable on A-roads and motorways.

The range starts at just under £19,000 for the entry level petrol version rising to just under £10,000 more for the AMG Sport version, so that lower down the price range it is pretty much in the same ball park as rivals like the A3 and the Golf.

There’s a good amount of standard equipment throughout the range, with every model getting alloys, Bluetooth and air-conditioning, and a load of safety equipment as standard, but there are a host of extras available.

My test car basic price was £24,440 but with goodies like a top-notch entertainment system and extra safety stuff the price shot up to more than £30,000.

This new A-Class is the second model in what will eventually become a family of compact front-wheel-drive cars, which began with the latest B-Class. The B-Class is focused on family usage while the new A-Class has been redesigned to appeal to a younger, more dynamic buyer.

Sleek-looking, refined and practical with a lovely cabin, this all-new hatchback is a worthy to wear the three-spoked badge on its grille.

Fact file

Mercedes A Class

Engine: 1.6litre petrol

Transmission: seven-speed automatic

0–60mph: 8.3secs

Top speed: 139mph

Economy: 50.4mpg

Price: £24,240