Overall rating: 4/5
Mercedes-Benz has dropped the innovative twin-floor, space efficient concept for its A-Class and courted convention with its new five-door hatchback. A good thing too, giving Mercedes a genuine, credible player in the growing premium compact class rather than a space oddity with limited appeal.
In the Metal:
From awkward if clever people mover to lithe, compact hatchback in one generation, the new A-Class is a huge change in direction from Mercedes-Benz. A fine looking one too, the A-Class' lines refreshingly similar to those of the show car that wowed Shanghai in 2011. Lots of smart detailing and crisp lines create a visually interesting shape, which looks even better when you add some AMG styling. Even in its lowliest entry-level guise on the smallest wheels it's significantly more interesting than Audi's same-old A3 or BMW's rather uncomfortable looking 1 Series. Round one to Mercedes, then.
That's true inside too, as the A-Class features the most convincing interior to feature in a Mercedes-Benz in a long time. Lots of fine texturing, a simple, uncluttered layout and surprising space front and rear should all worry the competition - and please the many more people who will be buying it.
For all its clever space efficiency the old A-Class was never a car known for its driving prowess. That's different here, the new A-Class feeling like an entirely different proposition on the road. Thanks to the significantly lower driving position you're immediately more connected with the road, and while that might lessen all-round visibility - and access a touch - it pays off with a drive that's no longer forgettable. Refinement is high, adding to the depth of quality, even if wind noise did seem to vary on the many cars on the test drive. The A 200 CDI's engine is only heard when it's in its upper rev reaches, and even then it's never intrusive. Mated here to Mercedes-Benz's smooth-shifting double-clutch, seven-speed automatic for the greatest economy and emissions it's a rounded package.
The engine produces plenty of urge, its torque delivery coming at low revs, which allows for adequate, if not outstanding, everyday performance. The 170hp 220 CDI model is the choice if you want your diesel A-Class with hot hatch levels of performance, and the A 180 CDI if you're looking to eke out maximum economy. There are petrol options, though the A 250 with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and 211hp doesn't feel quite as exciting as it perhaps should.
Three suspension options will be offered: Comfort, Sport and AMG. For all the A-Class' new-found agility - it managing bends with a keenness and agility that'll be completely alien to existing A-Class buyers - the standard Comfort set up will suit Irish roads the best. In its firmer guises what little you gain in precision you lose in compliance, the A's new dynamism pushing it right up with its class rivals. The steering is direct, though light on information, and grip levels high. It's all a bit of a revelation for a car wearing the A-Class badge.
What you get for your Money:
As the new A-Class doesn't hit Ireland until December prices and detailed specifications have yet to be released. Ciaran Allen, sales manager in Ireland, said that the plan will be to introduce it at a competitive price "that takes due account of the economic climate in Ireland at this time."
The A-Class' coefficient of drag figure is just 0.27, which is claimed to be the slipperiest shape in its segment. That drops to 0.26 in the BlueEfficiency Edition model (though we don't know if that will be offered here as yet). Irish buyers will be offered a sub-100g/km A-Class in A 180 CDI guise, delivering 98g/km and 74.3mpg on the official combined cycle. It is expected that changes to the tax system here in coming years will benefit buyers of this model.
A huge shift in strategy to tap into a vastly swelling marketplace might mean a more conventional Mercedes-Benz A-Class, but that'll translate to greater sales. On looks alone it's a convincing package, but add excellent economy, a decent driving experience and an interior that's among the very best on offer from Mercedes-Benz and we reckon the company's smallest car promises to be its biggest hitting model.