A little bit of luxury in a hatchback-sized package: that’s the promise the Mercedes-Benz A-Class has dangled, cherry-like, in front of Europe’s compact premium car buyers since its introduction more than two decades ago.

It became a quite different sort of luxury package, in recent years, from how it was to begin with, the identity of the original 1997 ‘baby Benz’ having been built on greater space efficiency than anyone would risk with a car in the modern, ultraconservative, posh hatchback segment in 2018. These days, among fleet-conscious premium five-doors, conformity rules.

Now entering its fourth full model generation, Mercedes’ smallest passenger car has just had its luxury credentials supercharged. As we’ve reported in first drives and in a group test with the A180d diesel, the car has larger dimensions, a new model platform and fresh engines. It's also fitted with a host of new technology intended to make it safer, more advanced, more convenient and more desirable than any of its rivals.

Having originally been sold as something of a packaging marvel, the A-Class’s identity has swung almost 180deg to become one of the largest cars in its segment. Where once Mercedes offered an innovative, if slightly pugnacious, quirky, high-rised mould-breaker, now it brings us a sleek, rich, advanced but unashamedly full-sized hatchback ready to win success according to the rulebook.

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So can this car flourish where its predecessors have floundered and at last present a fully formed, multi-faceted, truly dynamically sophisticated challenge to the best C-segment hatchbacks on the road, the likes of the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3?

After the A180d dispatched the BMW 116d but narrowly failed to beat the A3 Sportback 1.6 TDI in a group test, it’s the turn of the mid-range A200 Sport turbo petrol version to show if Mercedes can scale the heights of one of Europe’s most important and lucrative market segments.

Price £27,500 Power 161bhp Torque 184lb ft 0-60mph 8.7sec 30-70mph in fourth 9.5sec Fuel economy 38.8mpg CO2 emissions 123g/km 70-0mph 50.2m

The Mercedes-Benz A-Class range at a glance

When it made its debut the A-Class had a single bodystyle and fairly trim selection of engines, but has since bloomed with saloon, four-door coupé and shooting brake estate versions. The hatchback now has no fewer than four mainstream petrol and three diesel variants, with two AMG-fettled versions on top.

The green pump-fuelled line-up begins with the 1.3-litre A180 and A200, which can be had with either a six-speed manual or 7-speed DCT automatic. The A220 and A250 use 2.0-litre engines and can only be had with the automatic gearbox, with the former also available with 4Matic all-wheel drive. Only two of the diesel engines, meanwhile, are Mercedes' own - the 1.5-litre A180d uses a Renault-Nissan unit.

The hotter end of the spectrum is currently championed by the all-paw, 302bhp AMG A35, but Affalterbach's ultimate version of the A Class' 2.0-litre four-pot can only be found in the upcoming AMG A45.

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