The Mercedes-Benz A-Class has thrown off its conservative image with a dramatic makeover – and the results are stunning, says car reviewer Tim Barnes-Clay.
Quality cars are identifiable straight away.
Even if a premium vehicle had its badges taped over, all you'd need to do is sit in it: instantly you'd sense the difference between an average and a top-class motor.
Take the latest Mercedes-Benz A-Class – inside, it's positively palatial.
New A-Class Merc beats expectations
The German brand is famous for its refinement, but the A-Class is almost the runt of the litter – and therefore you might expect a more undeveloped set-up inside and out.
But that's not the case at all.
It may well have been the argument when the old model first appeared on our roads. It was upright, careful and dull, and certainly not a car you'd list as captivating.
Nonetheless, it sold because it was affordable - for a Merc - and practical for parents desperate to roll up outside the school gates in a Benz.
2013 A-Class 'radically overhauled'
Then the A-Class was completely re-thought for 2013.
It rolled off the production line a totally different car, not just one that had undergone plastic surgery. It was poles apart from the old version.
The entry-level Mercedes is now truly enthralling and a machine you want because of its alluring aesthetics.
In some ways it's lost its no-nonsense practicality because the boot, although conveniently rectangular, is nothing to shout about space-wise.
But brush that aside and take a test drive because the new model will seduce you - especially if you go for the A 200 CDI AMG Sport.
This is a real driver's car and includes a dynamic handling package with sports suspension, perforated disc brakes and cruise control.
An athletic body
As well as this, the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class has athletic body-styling, 18-inch alloy wheels and a silver grille.
Additionally, in A 200 CDI guise, it comes with a gutsy turbo diesel powerhouse.
It also has a flat-bottomed leather steering wheel, red stitching, sports seats, rain sensors, ambient lighting and a stereo system boy-racers would be proud of.
On the move, the A 200's oil burner gets you to a respectable speed quickly, if not sensationally.
Road holding, however, is phenomenal. Steering is well-weighted and precise, and the six-speed gearbox is slick, quick, and easy on your left hand.
Safety is a priority
At the same time, the A-Class reinforces the idea that safety is the priority for Mercedes-Benz.
In addition to having an electronic stability program (ESP), which detects and reduces loss of traction, it has adaptive brakes with hill-start assist.
Standard specification also includes radar-based collision prevention assist, which can reduce the risk of nose-to-tail collisions, or at least minimise their effects.
The safety features on the baby Benz aren't just clever, they are potentially life-saving.
I certainly found the gadgetry helped to alert me when everything on the motorway ground to a halt without warning.
The collision prevention assist gives you visual and acoustic warnings if it senses an accident is likely to happen.
It also primes the function called brake assist to ensure maximum stopping power as soon as your foot touches the brake pedal.
The A-Class has the vim and vigour that's required to punch its weight in a highly competitive market.
It's an all-round performer and just the car that Mercedes-Benz dealers need to tempt new customers into their showrooms.
Mercedes-Benz A-Class: Pros & cons
- Athletic √
- Attractive √
- Great grip √
- Safe √
- Small boot X
Mercedes-Benz A-Class: Fast facts
- Max speed: 130 mph
- 0-62 mph: 9.3 secs
- Combined mpg: 62.8
- Engine: 1796cc 4 cylinder 16 valve turbo diesel
- Max. power (bhp): 136 at 3600-4400 rpm
- Max. torque (lb/ft): 221 at 1600-3000 rpm
- CO2: 121 g/km
- Price: £25,110
Compare car insurance - you could find a great deal in minutes Get a car quote