The A-Class started life exceptionally small and grew significantly even before the end of its first full model lifecycle. Just over 20 years ago, the car had a wheelbase of only 2.4m and an overall length of just 3.6m, which would make it small today even by supermini standards.

We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that this new version – being a hatchback of a totally different and entirely less radical kind – bears little similarity in its dimensions.

Richard Lane

Road tester
Tail-lights aren’t as sharply styled as those on a new CLS or S-Class, but are far more elegant than the old third-generation model’s

However, a few might be disappointed that the A-Class has changed so much that it has become one of the largest five-door hatchbacks of its kind. Among the European class’s chief protagonists, only the Honda Civic, Skoda Octavia and Mazda 3 take up more space at the kerb.

A more conventional design means better proportions, though, and the potential for more visual appeal. If the A-Class’s maturity as a product were to be measured by how much less awkard-looking it has become, generation by generation, few would disagree that it is now a fully mature prospect – and as desirable a hatchback as you’re likely to find.

The A-Class sits on Mercedes’ new MFA2 compact car platform and for the time being comes with a truncated choice of engines and transmissions. Two new downsized four-cylinder engines, jointly developed with Daimler alliance partner Renault, are the entry-level options: a 114bhp 1.5-litre diesel powering the A180d, with CO2 emissions of just under 110g/km; and a 161bhp 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol motor used in the A200, which we’ve elected to test here.

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For now, both come with front-wheel drive and seven-speed dual-clutch gearboxes by Getrag, although manual gearboxes will be available on both before too long.

For those wanting more performance, it’s available, solely for now, from the 221bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol A250, although more powerful diesels are in the pipeline.

As you may already have read, the A-Class is the first Mercedes passenger car to be designed with torsion beam rear suspension. The idea of that may offend some but it probably shouldn’t, given how well the technology is employed more widely in the hatchback class.

If you want fully independent suspension, it comes as standard on A250 models, or as an option on the A200 in range-topping AMG Line trim. Our test car was a mid-spec A200 Sport with the torsion beam axle. Adaptive dampers are also optionally available, although they weren’t fitted to our test car.

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