Mercedes A Class First Drive

It's been fun punting the new Mercedes A Class across mountain roads in Slovenia this week - and 'fun to drive' is a major part of the brief for this sleek new Golf rival from the Three Pointed Star. Where the old A Class was tall and a bit 'people-movery', the new one is all modern style and sporty low stance. Premium small cars will become increasingly popular over the next few years and Merc's latest entrant to the category is an appealing one.

When it goes on sale in Australia next March, expect the base A180 petrol to start at $36,000. Above that will be two A200s - a petrol and a diesel - and an A250 Sport for about $50,000, complete with a two-litre turbocharged four developing 155kW plus an 11kW overboost at full throttle. All Aussie cars will be fitted with Merc's 7-speed dual-clutch auto transmission and plenty of standard equipment. If a VW Golf has the same kit, then the price of the A Class will match it.

One of the car's best features is its dash and interior. The cockpit is beautifully designed, and dominated in the upper-spec models by a bolted-on screen which links with an iPhone to give internet search functionality, along with neat audio organisation and a myriad other funtions. Merc seems to be about five years ahead of the competition in this area.

I spent most time in an A250 with sport suspension. This German-registered car wasn't precisely matched to an Aussie spec, but it gave me a good idea. The basics are right on first impressions - strong little engine, fast-acting gearbox, slick, perfectly-weighted electric steering and plenty of balance and body control. It's blighted by a bit too much wind noise and a lack of boot space, but there isn't much else to fault, assuming you like the looks.

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