The Mercedes-Benz A-Class was for so long the oddity at the base of the range; a car that never seemed to communicate all that Mercedes did best in a small car.
That has changed with the latest A-Class, which seems a stunning return to form from the Stuttgart company.
Although there was a fairly racy 190PS A200 Turbo model, not to mention the twin-engined A38 AMG specials presented to David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen, the old A-Class was never any great shakes to drive.
The latest car is cut from very different cloth. The petrol engines range between 1.6 and 2.0 litre capacities and generate between 115PS in the A 180 and 156PS in the A 200 through to 211PS in the A 250.
Common to all is the combination of direct injection and exhaust gas turbocharging, a more advanced combustion process and an efficient lean-burn system. The diesel engines also feature sophisticated injection technology and turbocharging. The A 180 CDI offers an output of 109PS and a maximum torque of up to 250 Nm, while the A 200 CDI has a maximum output of 136PS and torque that rises to 300 Nm. The A 220 CDI has a displacement of 2.2 litres, an output of 170PS and torque of 350 Nm, delivering exceptional performance in the A-Class.
The engines can be combined either with the new six-speed manual transmission or, as an option, with the 7G-DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Underpinning the baby Benz is the suspension system found beneath the B-class, featuring MacPherson struts up front and a four-link design at the back. The quicker model such as the A250 and A220 CDI also run on a specially tuned front suspension that get 180inch alloy wheels with the optional AMG sport styling package. The steering is an electro-mechanical system, tuned to offer improved feel and response when cornering.
The A-Class has abandoned the ‘one-box’ shape of its predecessor for a more conventional two-box hatchback design, but it’s packed with interesting styling features. The eye is immediately drawn to the upsweeping feature lines on the car’s flanks which gives shape and tension to the profile. Even the entry-level models have a stance and attitude that looks sporting, and the upper specification cars look purposeful. There’s a decent amount of space inside although the focus has clearly been on improving perceived quality and offering a sportier feel.
Prices sit in the £19,000 to £25,000 bracket and there is a choice of four main trim levels – standard, SE, Sport and Ë”AMG Sport – with wider availability of the more potent engines as you progress up the ownership ladder. Whichever A-Class variant you choose - 1.6 or 2.0-litre petrol or the 1.8-litre diesel - all models come the basic equipment features youd expect.
There’s real substance here and a focus that’s rare in such a huge project. The A-Class seems to have all of Mercedes’s current brand values sublimated into an economically packaged and wholly desirable hatchback. Today’s Mercedes has its swagger back and no car better typifies that than the A-Class. Who’d have thought it?