Mercedes A250 Engineered by AMG, priced from £28,800 (A Class range starts at £18,970)
MERCEDES has treated its ailing A Class to a complete rebirth. Gone is the slightly awkward, upright stance and with it also goes the interesting 'sandwich' floor that characterised this newcomer's predecessor.
It's wider, longer, more aggressive and entirely more dynamic than the outgoing A Class. But all in a good way. Visually at least, it's a big improvement.
Mercedes has managed to pack attributes of its bigger and more prestigious cars into its bottom-of-the range car. But it's bottom-of-the range in Mercedes terms, so it's still really rather sophisticated.
In fact, unlike the old A Class, it's presenting itself as a rival for the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A3. So it had better be pretty good, basically.
Straight away it's more attractive than the BMW. And it's more interesting than an Audi, too, but that won't be enough to tempt all buyers in this sector.
Inside, anyone currently driving a top-of-the range Mercedes will feel either familiar, or cheated. The A Class borrows heavily from its bigger stablemates, following on Merc's current theme of carrying over a lot of controls, switches and electrical gubbins from other models and it all adds up to a high-quality feel.
The dashboard is dominated by a central screen that sits proud of the surface - it looks like an iPad has been stuck on and it was first seen in the B Class. At first, I was a bit unsure of this, but it has grown on me and it's in a sensible place to be viewed at a glance.
I spent a week driving the A Class's range-topper, the sporty A250 Engineered by AMG. As you'd expect from a Merc that's had the AMG treatment its primary objective is to be sporty and its neat red touches, which carry on inside, big wheels and a gorgeous grill design are some of the most obvious additions.
Less obvious is the way the whole car has been sharpened up. Its exhaust note is pleasant and not as boomy as I first feared and it has a glorious propensity to let off pops and bangs on over-run.
It also has firmer suspension which, in this range-topper, will be a bit too much for some drivers, but it does do a great job of keeping the handling neat and tidy.
If anything though, the A Class is at its best lower down the range. Despite all the bling and AMG trickery, the Engineered by AMG, and its lesser variant, the AMG sport, feel like an uncomfortable package in what is actually a very sensible car that does such a good job of competing with its older rivals.
Further down the range there's a good choice of petrol or diesel engines and it's the punchy diesels that make the most sense and seem to suit the car better.
The A Class looks bigger than it actually is. But that's not to say you're short on space. There's ample room for five adults, a generous boot and plenty of storage options.
It's obvious what Mercedes is trying to do with their new A Class. They want to lure a younger generation away from the trendy Audis, Volkswagens and Volvos of the world and, while it's not going to be an easy ride for them, I think this car might be just what they need to pull it off.