RECENT history shows that Mercedes has, despite its roots in premium motoring, also spent considerable time and money concentrating on the compact family car market.
The German firms efforts with its A-Class have done much to broaden its appeal and give buyers a first step on the premium car ladder.
Its not been plain sailing, though. The A-Class, and more recently the similarly-styled B-Class, have been given a tough time by more established and sometimes more affordable opposition.
Rather than quit, Mercedes has decided to increase the perception gap between its two compact hatchbacks. The result is a streamlined and sporty-looking A-Class and a more conservatively styled B-Class.
The A-Class is the extrovert cousin Volkswagens straight-laced Golf never had. Both are five-seaters and offer a wealth of creature comfort and technology options, but for all the Golfs successes Mercedes hopes the three-pointed stars pull is stronger.
Its hoped that the appeal is twofold; downsizers will be attracted to the perceived added luxury to make the shift from a larger car easier to swallow, while those on the way up the social ladder will likely see the A-Class as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
By and large both camps should be more than satisfied with the A-Class. Its sleek profile implies an engaging driving experience, which is possible so long as the right engine and gearbox combination is selected.
If youre not a keen driver then the suits at Mercedes hope youll like the long and tempting list of cost options. No corner has been cut in offering options that, in many cases, wouldnt be out of place in an E-Class.
From clever safety kit to high-end multimedia entertainment theres plenty of choice, and you never feel like youve compromised the ownership experience just because youre running a small car.
For all the powerful engine options and AMG-inspired handling and styling choices available, the true test of the A-Classs appeal is its ability to also impress at the low cost end of the scale. And theres nothing like the lead-in petrol model on small wheels to test this theory.
In A180 guise the A-Class offers an affordable by Mercedes standards route to ownership. Plus, for the considerable number of buyers who would struggle to justify diesel power, the cars 1.6-litre turbo petrol motor delivers a perfectly acceptable 120 horsepower in a quiet and refined manner and theres a claimed 51.4mpg figure to consider too.
Theres no plush leather steering wheel to grip, but the A-Class cabin fundamentals remain: ergonomic controls, comfortable driving position, accommodating cabin.
The driving experience is as youd expect from a modestly powerful car of this size. The petrol motor is a willing unit but you do need to keep it in the right gear to maximise its performance.
Fortunately thats no hardship thanks to the slick manual gearshift. Plus, the cars detailed trip computer spits out a raft of data to help you maintain a light throttle to minimize fuel consumption. The fast-acting engine stop-start feature is the final piece of the eco-puzzle, although you can turn it off if it proves too enthusiastic when youre parking, for example.
Youd never pick this version of the A-Class for high mileage duties and a diesel option will always be a safer bet for company car drivers, but this petrol A180 offers low mileage private buyers an affordable and attractive entry into the A-Class world.
With a few carefully selected options, the A180 delivers an appealing taste of Mercedes ownership for a modest price. The cars supple ride and generally fuss-free approach to motoring is refreshing in the company of glitzy AMG-badged and firm-riding alternatives, proving that less can sometimes be more.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Mercedes A180 BlueEfficiency, from £18,945 on the road.
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol unit developing 120bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 126mph, 0-62mph 9.2 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 129g/km.