Mercedes Benz has taken a long time to deliver a truly good, mainstream small car - but now it has with the new A-Class.
The original A-Class was a very important car for the German premium carmaker. It was launched at a time when Europe was getting serious about forcing carmakers to reduce their carbon footprint. A-Class featured a revolutionary sandwich floor that allowed the engine and other bits to be installed lower in the car and at slight angles. This had the added benefit of raising the cabin floor to give the occupants a more commanding view of the road. The interior was truly Tardis-like and as big as an E-Class.
Compact and economical, Merc's smallest car should have been a huge hit - until it failed a test that none of us knew much about in 1997. Failing the infamous 'Elk Test' - where a car has to do an avoidance swerve at a modest speed without turning over - was a serious setback for the five-seat car.
After this failure, Mercedes rectified the issue by modifying the suspension and A-Class sold in good numbers - but it never reached the heights it should have. In Ireland the car wasn't cheap either, and also the ride was too firm and jittery for our road network.
The new A-Class is a miles better car: it now looks brilliant and drives and rides with confidence. The five-seat hatchback breaks away front the original, tall, mini MPV A-Class and is now far more conventional.
The latest exterior styling is terrific. The front of the car features a large clamshell bonnet that is very classy and the styling highpoint. The grille is beautifully aggressive and modern. The flanks are conventional and while the rear of the car looks a little pinched, it is smart nonetheless. Overall, the design is cohesive and very handsome.
Inside, the switchgear and trim is the familiar MB grade that has an air of premium quality to it. A manual gearbox is standard.
The driving position of the front-wheel drive car is good but one annoying thing is the poorly positioned parking/handbrake: the driver has to reach forward with their right hand extended to below the dash middle-line to activate an electronic press/pull switch. The electronic brake does not release automatically as it does in most cars when you start to move off - and this is a pain. The rear of the spacious cabin gives passengers decent space and the boot offers average cargo space with the added versatility of the hatchback opening.
On the road, my A180 diesel test car was very economical and quick when provoked. The dash and dials are clear and there is even a good eco-driving gauge that can encourage you to reach maximum fuel-economy. I managed to reach the 100% optimum target by driving like a saint. A fire-breathing AMG version is coming soon but for now just sensible versions are available.
For enthusiastic driving, I would still take a BMW 1 Series before an A-Class for better driving enjoyment on twisty routes. That said, A-Class is a desirable premium machine that ticks a lot of boxes.
Mercedes Benz is trying very hard to attract younger buyers to the brand globally. The famous German brand is now delivering exciting-looking machines like the new 'A' and 'CLA' to attract the under-45s who, almost as a rule, choose Audis and BMWs ahead of Mercs.
The Mercedes Benz A-Class is a very good car that despite its premium price delivers more than the sum of its parts. I liked it a lot.