Baby Mercedes gets A for refinement

Iain Dooley, PA senior motoring writer, checks out Mercedes-Benz's premium A-Class supermini.

Engines – In true Mercedes style there's no shortage of engines – petrol and diesel – for the A-Class. Low-mileage drivers won't be disappointed by the performance of the former, while the latter option offers a good balance of economy and refinement.

Exterior – A significant change over the first-generation car, this A-Class boasts a more refined and rounded profile. Its high-rise stance makes it attractive to those seeking an multi-purpose vehicle-like driving position, yet the car remains unmistakably a Mercedes.

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Interior – The car's lofty driving position is the modest obvious feature here, along with an airy cabin boasting plenty of space for a growing family – folding the rear seats liberates some extra room. Overall build quality is high, although there's a lot of black plastic present. This fits with its family-friendly role and should ensure a welcome level of durability.

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Driving – The A-Class might not be a match for the Ford's Focus but it's a competent and refined machine. The raised driving position and willing engine range make life easy when behind the wheel. On the move cabin refinement is high and the car's supple suspension copes well with poorly surfaced urban roads.

Ownership – A compact car in real terms, the A-Class shouldn't be a problem to drive and park in the cut-and-thrust world of city driving. It's a spacious and versatile car, with the latter attribute resulting in a flexible loadspace for when you don't need the second row of seats. Strong performance from the engine line-up completes the picture.

What to look for – With many cars pressed into service as urban taxis, always check for evidence of parking dents and kerbed wheels. With plenty of choice out there don't settle for anything less than perfect to avoid picking up the bill for something hidden later on. Speaking of which, make sure everything's up to date and only choose a car with a full history. A visual inspection of the interior is also crucial, as is a test drive for all the obvious reasons.

Model history – 2005, Mercedes launches its new A-Class compact hatchback. Available in both three and five-door form, this bigger and more refined version offered families an easy route into the Mercedes stable of cars. A large selection of petrol and diesel engines were offered along with an optional auto gearbox. Standard equipment levels were modest, but the options list was predictably long and tempting.

Reasons to buy – Solid and dependable performance, practical and versatile cabin, driving position, brand image.

Reasons to beware – Cheaper and better-equipped alternatives, not for keen drivers, modest standard kit levels.

Pick of the range – A170 Avantgarde five-door.

What to pay – 2005 05 �4,850; 2006 06 �5,750; 2006 56 �6,125; 2007 07 �6,875; 2007 57 �7,225; 2008 08 �8,175; 2008 58 �8,725; 2009 09 �9,575; 2010 59 �10,600. Figures relate to showroom prices for cars in A1 condition.

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