Mercedes A250 CGI AMG Sport

The new Mercedes A-Class looks the part, but does it deliver on the road?

Look past its sleek styling and bold interior, and the A-Class falls short of the high class standards. The hi-tech infotainment system is brilliant and there’s a decent haul of kit, but the Mercedes trails in every other area. We suspect the diesel will be a better bet.

It’s not often that a car maker will radically overhaul one of its staple models, but that’s exactly what Mercedes has done with the A-Class.

Gone are the tall, boxy lines of the last generation in favour of a sleek, low-slung look that gives it similar proportions to the BMW 1 Series. The detailing resembles that found on the larger B-Class and SL roadster. Merc’s familiar three-pointed star and two-bar grille is flanked by distinctive headlights, which feature LED strips on higher-spec versions.

Small windows and sharp creases in the doors add a sporty touch to the profile, while from the rear the A-Class looks wide and squat, with a short overhang. Our AMG Sport version adds lowered suspension, a bodykit and 18-inch alloy wheels for an even racier look. Overall, the A-Class has the design edge over the fussy 1 Series and plain Audi A3.

Inside, the dash takes plenty of design cues from the B-Class, and looks more stylish than either of its rivals here. The round air vents are smart, while the controls for the climate and entertainment systems are simple to use. There’s a fixed iPad-style display on the centre console, and although it’s not a touchscreen, it’s clearer than the pop-up screen in the A3. If you own an iPhone 4, you can download an app that connects it to Merc’s optional Drive Kit Plus. This lets you control music, catch up on social networks and much more. Again, the AMG Sport gets racy touches like red stitching on the steering wheel and carbon fibre-look dash trim.

However, some of the plastics used aren’t as good as those in the A3, and our car already had some rattles.

Suede-finished electric sports seats make it easy to get comfortable at the wheel, and there’s plenty of room up front, but the small windows and thick B-pillars mean visibility over the shoulder and out the back is poor.

Another area where the new A-Class falls down is in the back. If the driver is tall, there’s limited room for the passenger behind. While it’s no better or worse than its rivals, the small windows, black rooflining and arcing window frames make it feel closed in. The boot is also a letdown. While the floor and load lip are the lowest here, it’s more than 90 litres smaller than its predecessor’s, at 341 litres, and is also beaten by both rivals for space, whether the seats are up or down.

Access is compromised by the narrow boot opening, too. You can’t get to the seat folding levers from behind because the parcel shelf gets in the way, and the boot isn’t as well finished as the Audi’s, either.

Under the bonnet, the A250 comes with a 208bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. That’s 8bhp down on the 125i, but it makes up for this with a torque figure of 350Nm, which is 40Nm up on the BMW. However, our car’s performance potential was blunted by an unresponsive throttle pedal, while the standard-fit seven-speed auto box wasn’t as quick to react as the S tronic auto in the Audi.

At the test track, the A250 was slightly quicker than the less powerful A3 from 0-60mph in the wet, but in-gear it was the fastest of our trio, being the only one to break the six-second barrier from 30-70mph.

As its name suggests, the A250 AMG Sport is a more focused model, yet on the road it’s disappointing. The A-Class turns in sharply, but there’s not as much bite as you’ll find in the BMW and Audi. And despite boasting a 15mm lower ride height than the standard car, as well as adaptive dampers, the Mercedes doesn’t feel as composed as its rivals. It also suffers from a poor ride, as it thuds and bounces over bumpy roads.

Look at the figures, and the new A-Class is disappointing. It’s thirstier and has higher emissions than the BMW, and it’s the most costly company car choice. In terms of kit, extras such as sat-nav and rear parking sensors aren’t as expensive as they are in its rivals. But has it done enough to shake up the order in the premium hatchback sector?

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