This is not a Mercedes A-Class. Rather, it is a Mercedes A-Class, but not as we know it. The smallest Merc has always been a lumpen little oddity, a mini-MPV big on practicality but short on desirability, but the new A approaches the small-posh-car-for-small-posh-families dilemma from an entirely different angle. Problem is, if, like Merc, you’re wedded to a letter-based naming system and you want to denote a car smaller than a B-Class, you’re pretty much stuck with the A-prefix. Damn you, alphabet!
So, if not an A, what is this? Simple: a conventional five-door, front-wheel-drive hatch that’s a square-on rival to Audi’s A3 Sportback, a top-end VW Golf and the (admittedly rear-drive) BMW 1-Series.
The design is… well, let’s just say there’s a lot of it going on. Rising swage lines, extravagant creases, Christmas-tree LED clusters: as you wander round the car with a bemused expression on your face, squinting eyes and tilting neck, you begin to wonder if Merc designers were paid by the line rather than by the day. Overall, though, we think the A-Class works. Make up your own minds, but we will say this: it looks better in the metal than in photos, especially with the optional big wheels, black gloss bits, pointy Sport grille and giganto-sunroof. Merc dealers will be rubbing their hands in glee as potential customers peruse the options list.
At great expense and employing the latest in audionanotechnology, Top Gear has installed a microscopic soundcard in this page, allowing you to experience how it sounds to travel in the A-Class at 70mph on a gritty motorway. To activate it, press your ear to the page – yep, like that… closer… hear it? The distinctive sound of absolutely nothing at all? That is the noise made by the A-Class travelling at speed. Glorious, soothing silence, the sense of being a long way from the outside world.
That’s what this A-Class is all about: big-car refinement in a smallish package. The old A – at least every one I drove – was a grizzly, rattly old thing, but this car feels as solid and impermeable as an S-Class: not bulky, just superbly built and cosseting. The A-Class wafts along like a far bigger, pricier machine, road- and wind noise near imperceptible from within the confines of the reassuringly expensive-feeling cabin.