LETS BE honest, the original A-Class was something of an oddball. A premium supermini/MPV combination was something that none of Mercedes rivals ever thought worth imitating.
Even though the A-Class actually sold by the container-load, the compact premium car game has moved on and left Mercedes behind. Cars like BMWs 1 Series and the Audi A3 have forced the A-Class to change its ways altogether.
Thats why the only thing youll find shared between that and the new one is the name. Longer, lower, wider and much more aggressive-looking, the new A-Class is taking the fight to the competition in a surprisingly bold way; probably because Mercedes has a lot of catching up to do if its to win over enough of the market.
At launch there are a trio of petrol engines and three diesels. This is the entry-level 180 CDI diesel, which in basic spec with a manual gearbox dips below the magic 100g/km mark that fleet buyers and company car drivers adore. Its also offered with a seven-speed automatic gearbox and thats the car tested here, complete with road tax liability after the first year.
But the odd thing is that the A 180 CDI manual has a completely different engine to the identically-badged A 180 CDI auto; a 1.5-litre versus a 1.8-litre respectively. Power output is the same with a whisker more torque from the manual 1.5 and with slightly different driving characteristics, but it seems a bizarre if largely inconsequential difference.
This is the 1.8-litre engine anyway, and its enough to stroke the 1,475kg A-Class plus passengers and luggage up to motorway speeds in genteel fashion. Its 108bhp leaves it feeling a little lacking on faster roads but its a fine cruising engine and with a smooth nature does well around town.
Various specification levels are offered, rising from SE to Sport, AMG Sport and 'Engineered by AMG', which features a trick front axle and other chassis improvements. The SEs standard air conditioning, USB input, electric windows and multi-function steering wheel are nice, but in Mercedes tradition a lot of technology is optional.
Existing Mercedes drivers expect it, to allow them to add what they want and leave out what they dont. But what you do get, especially on Sport and AMG Sport cars, is the full sense of quality that all the brands cars have. It feels like a smaller C-Class on the inside with materials that match up in every way.
The test car had wide variations in panel gaps, though; a factor put down to the cars pre-production status and absolutely not, said a spokesman, to be a problem on the production versions.
Anyone who has driven any Mercedes of the last three years or so will be instantly at home in the A-Class, bar the odd colour display that sticks out from the dashboard rather than being built-in. The point is that the A-Class feels every inch a Mercedes in the same way that its bigger brothers all do. It certainly doesnt feel like the cheap option in the range.
Theres massive grip from chunky tyres, balanced handling biasing just a little towards understeer, a good range of colours to choose from which is good news since the A-Class lends itself to reds and blues much more readily than larger Mercs, and comfortable seats for long-distance cruising.
As for niggles, theres noticeable blustery wind noise around the A-pillars and door mirrors, and road noise is a bit too intrusive at speed on UK-style Tarmac. The engine is as quiet as a church mouse from the inside though, unless its really revved hard. Rear visibility is also a bit on the restricted side.
The available spread of engines and trims covers all the key business buyer and early-adopter bases for now. The pick for enthusiasts at the moment is the 208bhp turbocharged petrol A 250 Sport, with fabulous red styling details and seats to die for. It really is an attractive thing. Just note that Sport, as a model designation, sits higher than Sport and AMG Sport as trim designations. Confused yet?
Next year a full-fat A 45 AMG will arrive with four-wheel-drive, about 340bhp and performance to redefine the sector. It wont be cheap, though.
In the mean time theres a lot to like about the new A-Class; especially the looks, which put the relatively bland competition to absolute shame. The top-quality interior is a highlight as well, and the general grown-up feel is very welcome. Its taken Mercedes a while to come up with it, but the A-Class offers everything the company stands for in its most compact package.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Mercedes-Benz A 180 CDI BlueEfficiency 7G-DCT Sport (£23,645 on the road).
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel producing 108bhp and 184lb.ft.
Transmission: 7-speed automatic gearbox driving the front wheels.
Performance: Top speed 118mph, 0-62mph in 10.6 seconds.
Fuel economy: 64.2mpg.
CO2 rating: 114g/km.