There's a wide choice of engines available in the A-Class range but there's a big difference between the smaller units and more powerful ones - so choice is important. The entry-level unit is a 1.5-litre with 95bhp but it's as lacklustre as the figures suggest with a 0-62mph time of 12.6 seconds and has to be revved hard in order to get decent pace - it's best avoided unless you only intend on pottering around town.
The A170 is slightly better with 116bhp and a little more pulling power, but the only petrol that really impresses is the A200 model - a 2.0-litre engine with 136bhp. There is also a turbocharged version of this model (which seems at odds with the A-Class image) which is pretty frantic. With 193bhp you'd expect it to be fairly rapid, but a 0-62mph time of 8.0 seconds is hardly spectacular.
The diesels make far more sense - in fact all three models use the same 2.0-litre diesel engine but with different outputs. The A160 CDI only boasts 82bhp and struggles at higher speeds so you're better off with the A180 CDI with 109bhp - it manages 0-62mph in 10.8 seconds but has decent in-gear pulling power. The top diesel is the A200 CDI with 140bhp and a 0-62mph time of 9.5 seconds.
Most models are offered with a five-speed manual, while the A180 and A200 diesels and 2.0 litre turbo petrol units get a six-speed gearbox. An automatic CVT gearbox is also available as an option.
Around town and in tight spaces, the A-Class is ideal with light steering and a raised driving position giving good visibility. However on more demanding roads the overly-assisted steering feels very artificial and there's precious little feel through the steering wheel. It resists roll in corners fairly well, but never feels particularly agile or engaging.
It's smooth on motorways where the suspension deals with uneven roads fairly well, but on bumpy roads such as country lanes it's crashy and unforgiving. Compared to alternatives like the BMW 1-Series it lacks composure.
If you're used to larger Mercedes saloons, the A-Class may come as a surprise. It's far from premium - either in feel or appearance - and lacks the luxurious feel you expect from the German make. Build quality is good, but it's robust rather than inviting. The high seating position means visibility is good, but the driving position is poor with no reach adjustment on the steering wheel - almost unbelievable in a car with a price tag of at least £14,000.
On the plus side the dials are clear and easy to read while the stereo and ventilation controls are straightforward to use.
Thanks to its tall shape, the A-Class feels spacious with excellent head and legroom. However the edge is taken off comfort by the poor ride which fidgets over uneven surfaces and struggles to iron out potholes. There's also considerable wind noise at speed and many of the engines sound intrusive. The smaller petrols have to be revved hard - and don't sound very pleasant as a result - while the diesels are just plain noisy.
Rear space is decent, although the three door model feels claustrophobic in the back, while the seats are comfortable if a little firm.