This classy Merc provides a bit of posh at a time of little dosh
This car heralds major change. Some, but I'm not sure all, is for the better. That is the risk you take with such substantial change. And, believe me, this is substantial.
The danger with change, as I know myself, is that no matter what you do, someone will see it, or part of it, as the wrong thing to do at the wrong time.
Give Mercedes its due, the company has really gone for it and to hell with the begrudgers. It has taken what was a tall, awkward-looking, innovative, brave, challenging and one-time controversial A-Class and made it something entirely different.
It is now a low-slung dynamic-looking hatchback. One you pick out immediately in the car park because the logo is so prominently displayed.
It is just as well, because you want people to know this is not one of those fancy mainstream hatches. You are paying good money for this Merc.
Extraordinary, really, to think how all the posh car makers are now making small motors: BMW with its 1-series, Audi with its A3/A1 ranges and Lexus with its excellent CT200h car.
With this, Mercedes is seriously in the game. One part of me is delighted; another still sort of hankers for the old one because it was a brilliant piece of one-off engineering and packaging.
The new model is all about lowering the age profile of those who get into a Merc these days. You see most people tend to be that bit more mature (notice how sensitive I am not to say 'older') by the time they can afford a Merc. One of the larger saloons, especially.
So what better way to get younger folk into your brand as early as possible than to pitch a dynamic hatchback at them with a price in or around the €30,000 mark? The message is: get yourself into a Merc for the price of a large family car.
What do you get?
Well, the cabin is certainly the stuff of upmarket motoring with its keynote Mercedes layout, nice quality materials and a most attractive dash. I think most people, young or mature, would like the setting. I have to say, though, that getting into it meant bending a bit lower than I'd have liked ideally (more so at the rear).
The contrast with the old A-Class couldn't be more pronounced; with the latter you almost 'stepped up' a bit. There was fair rear-seat room with this too. Cabin and boot space were tested to capacity, when we ferried two most welcome friends from the airport together with a considerable amount of luggage.
Now here's a thing. It behaved exceptionally well when it was laden to the gills. I much preferred its performance under those circumstances than I did for the majority of the test drive when I felt the suspension was too unforgiving, too harsh; maybe younger drivers would say it was on the sporty side of sporty.
Mine had a 1.8-litre diesel and a seven-speed automatic transmission that worked extremely well together.
But the suspension was so tautly sprung that the character of the car was affected by its inability to show a little suppleness and forgiveness on corners and over ordinary roads.
I'm all for dynamic driving and gaining a sense of immediacy and directness from a car of this nature, as you probably know, but I think this A-Class would appeal far more with a little more 'give'.
The design also made for poor visibility over my right shoulder because the pillar and the acute angle of the rear-side window narrowed perspective.
Oh dear, I hear you say: Cunningham is giving this a panning. Not really. I just think this is a great car to look at and sit in. I admire the sort of safety equipment and alerts built into it. I really do. I also enjoyed the way the package worked on one level.
Indeed, I would say the concept of what has been done deserves the highest praise. I can see people who would never, ever have considered a small Merc now having a serious look at this. Why wouldn't they? It's smart to look at, classy to sit in and priced to get them interested in the thought of a little posh at a time of little dosh.
Yes, it heralds much change but you know what? A little more would transform it.