A-Class scores on several counts. It’s an intelligent compromise between city car and people-carrier, it’s undoubtedly practical, reliable and stylish and it’s got the Stuttgart star on the grille. Pumped-up small hatches might not be to everyone’s taste, but they’re certainly the flavour of the moment. Daewoo’s Matiz does a similar sort of job at half the price, but A-Class is the small family car of choice from Chelsea to Cornwall, combining prestige with practicality and reliability. The stretch models from mid-2001 are roomier but still usefully compact.
Mercedes’ A-Class may not feel as radical as it did when the original version was launched back in 1998, but it’s settled into being a classy small family car.
The cleverness has not deserted the A-Class, however, and it packs in as much cabin space as most cars in its sector despite being shorter and easier to park. The tall roof helps with head space, while the flat floor and broad width provide plenty of luggage space in the generous boot.
There’s a wide range of engines to choose from and there’s also the option of an automatic gearbox with every engine. Trim levels are generous with their equipment.
In general, the A-Class is quiet and hushed at all speeds, but the ride and handling fall some way short of the best in this class due to the firmness of the suspension. We’re also not fans of the very light steering feel.
Overall, the A-class is ver good. It drives and feels just like a much bigger Mercedes, and that brings me on to the only significant drawback. It’s also priced like a much bigger Mercedes.
The base model is actually a few hundred pounds less than the base model of the outgoing version, despite a bigger engine and a longer list of standard equipment. But the car they sent me, an A200 CDI, costs a simply massive £19,995.
This is probably why the car works so well. Because it’s not a diversion for Mercedes at all. It’s exactly what Mercedes has been doing for 100 years, only a tiny bit smaller.