The new Mercedes-Benz A-class is a competent hatch and a refreshing break from the norm
Standing out from the crowd: The latest Mercedes-Benz A-class The Mercedes-Benz A-class is a low-slung hatchback with sharp styling and modern features. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG

The Mercedes-Benz A-class started life as a tall micro-multipurpose vehicle because being a hatch would have been so predictable. The car packed a lot of room, but not a lot of vroom.

By its third iteration, it had evolved into a regular hatchback - but in a hurried way and not just because you still see the "tall boy" symbol on its recirculation button.

But now, the transformation is complete and with flourish. The latest A-class is a low-slung hatchback with sharp styling and modern features. And it is more than capable of stealing customers from the Volkswagen Golf or even the Golf GTI.

Compared with the previous model, the new car is appreciably longer and slightly wider and sits a wee bit lower. Together with a stretched-out wheelbase, it has a much sleeker profile, accentuated by clean styling.

It is also visibly sportier than before, with larger wheel arches and bigger wheels.

Inside, the car's youthful theme continues. A sweeping tablet-style display incorporates both driving gauges and infotainment controls - an industry first.

The bold move works well, with high-definition graphics which are uber-cool to look at and, yet, very functional.

A mini touch pad on the centre console next to the gear lever lets you scroll and click with little effort. Working the navigation, for instance, is a cinch, compared with those in many recent Mercs. The system is intuitive, predictive and not at all jumpy.

The car gets a single-zone climate control, with vents shaped like jet turbines, adding to the interior cool quotient. Although once, it failed to deliver cool temperatures.

The interior is furnished with a wonderful mix of chic and luxe, and finished with a quality surpassing what you see in the C-class.

The way it drives further underscores the car's youthfulness. Although powered by a modest 1.3-litre engine, the A200 AMG Line test-car has a decent output of 163hp and 250Nm. Roughly 20kg lighter than its predecessor, it scores an 8sec century sprint and a peak velocity of 225kmh.

While not exactly blistering on paper, the performance is adequately entertaining on the road. It has a hair-trigger throttle which, at the slightest provocation, summons up the engine's full stable of horses.

The response is far from linear, yet provides lots of laughs. With revs shooting past 3,000rpm in the blink of an eye, and the exhaust making like ten thousand angry hornets trapped in a biscuit tin, the car attacks the tarmac with zest.

Whatever the car lacks in stopwatch credentials, it makes up for with buckets of enthusiasm.

Supported by a sturdy steering and a sound chassis, progress feels swift and safe. The paddles help you get in gear for cornering, which the car executes with as much acumen as its shorter-wheelbased predecessor.

Ride quality is also better, which is a good thing. There is nothing which spoils the fun like a poorly sorted suspension. The front seats are sporty yet comfy.

It has a fairly decent fuel economy of 8.5 litres/100km, even if that is nowhere near the stated 5.6 litres.

The car scores high on visual appeal, cockpit interface and driveability. At the same time, it comes across as decidedly coarse and unapologetically vocal - but that is part of its charm.

Brashness, after all, is an excusable trait of youth. In this case, it also sets the A-class apart from the sea of bland and increasingly homogeneous cars.