The all-new A-Class goes on sale in the UK on 19 February but A becomes B because Mercedes promise this A-Class is Bigger, Better with Better value. Seven years ago the first A-Class was introduced and readers might remember there were issues about its handling characteristics. So much so that the manufacturer recalled all the cars and added an electronic handling system to them. Since that time all has gone very well for the car with 88,000 now on UK roads out of the 1.1 million sold worldwide. Mercedes expect to sell 15,000 new A-Class models in the UK this year.

I have never been quite sure on what type of car the five-door A-Class is. Is it a high roof hatchback or is it a compact MPV or even a van with windows when all but the driver's seat is removed? In fact it is all those things.

Mercedes officially describe it as a one-box body with higher seating positions, a large and variable interior, compact exterior dimensions and a safety concept with the sandwich twin deck floor with the main drive line components of engine and transmission sitting below the second floor.

The new A-Class retains all those core features and a three-door model is added. There are over 200 patented design features in the new A-Class claim Mercedes. The new model is 232mm longer and 45mm wider than the A-Class it replaces and 62mm longer than the replaced A-Class LWB variant.

The A-Class A150 Classic 3-Door starts the range off at £13,655 and the starter price for the 5-Door Classic is £14,255. When the original A-Class 5-Door Classic was launched in 1998 it cost £14,275 with a lesser specification. So spec for spec the new models are cheaper say Mercedes.

There is no getting away from it the all new A-Class does in most cases offer pretty good value for money for a premium product. However like BMW, Audi and others watch out for the prices of the multitude of options on offer. They can add thousand to the final on the road ticket price. One of the cars I tried on the pre-launch test drive started off at around £17,500 but with the options added in came out nearer £21,000.

Standard prices top out at £19,395 for the A200 CDI 3-Door and £19,995 for the 5-Door variant. The Classic SE specification package costs an extra £300, the Elegance SE £1,800 and the Avantgarde SE £1,995 and then there are still more accessories to ponder over.

Every new A-Class sold through an authorised dealer in the UK comes with a 36 month unlimited mileage warranty and unrivalled 30-year anti-corrosion cover and warranty.

Also fancy a break in Germany? Customers buying the new A-Class can choose to go to the factory at Rastatt for no extra cost. Flights there, overnight accommodation and return travel are all included in the standard delivery charge. Now that really is customer care and a reason to buy.

The revised engines offer power increases of up to 38 per cent with torque up as much as 46 per cent and fuel economy is improved by up top 10 per cent and all engines meet the new Euro IV emissions standard.

Initially there are three petrol and three diesel engine options, 1.5, 1.7 and 2.0-litre petrol and a 2.0-litre, 193bhp turbocharged version to come in the autumn. Diesel units are all 2-litre in cubic capacity but with three levels of power output, the 160 CDI with 82 bhp, the 180 with 109 bhp and the 200 with 140 bhp.

Main sellers will be A150, petrol 5-Door with 95 bhp and the 180 CDI diesel 5-Door with 109bhp. A new 6-speed manual transmission is added to some models in the range and a very good, lightweight and compact Autotronic continuously variable transmission is an option. This unit was very smooth and nowhere near as noisy as most similar CVT units although it does still sap the power from the engine and I guess the fuel economy will suffer but for urban users it offers great ease of driving qualities. It costs an extra £1,160, which is pretty expensive.

Safety specification features highly throughout the A-Class from its core construction right through to the head and thorax airbag system and active head restraints for front passenger and the driver.

Now the A-Class is no full-blown MPV, it is a high roof hatchback with clever seating. In the main selling five-door models the rear seats flip and fold to leave a flat load-bearing floor, the rear seat cushions are removable and there is a double loading floor in the cargo area. The optional £240 Easy Vario Plus system allows for a removable front passenger seat and removable rear seat backs so in fact for business users who want a family vehicle at weekends the A-Class can be a van with windows five days a week and a five seater at weekends, evenings or holidays. Maximum load capacity of the five-door models is 1995 litres. With the rear seats in use, legroom is very good, competitive with much larger cars. The three-door version have a Easy Vario option which does not allow for the removable front seat but in all other respects does the same job -price £120.

For performance the A-Class is a well put together, classy, versatile and safe vehicle. As for the driving dynamics it sets no new standards in its sector. Both diesel and petrol engines are fine but not outstanding, the new 6-speed transmission is sweet and precise to use, the CVT is worth considering for a quiet smooth ride. The quality of ride and handling whilst improved over the outgoing model is still too lively, the suspension does not cope well with undulating or poor road surfaces and having a high command seating position there is bodyroll. The new A-Class is not in the same driving dynamics class of the new Golf or Focus or C-Max but its trump cars is the Mercedes brand vale. Most real buyers of these Hatchbacks come compact MPV's will forgive technical deficiencies just to be seen owning a Mercedes and it is a high quality package.

Families, older couples will not be disappointed with the five-door offering and young and trendy drivers, probably female, will be more than happy to zoom around in a petrol three-door version with the clout the Mercedes badge offers.

MILESTONES. Mercedes A150 5-Door. Price £14,225, as tested £17,500. Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder, 8-valve, 95bhp, 140Nm. 5-speed transmission. Top speed 109mph, 0-62mph 12.6seconds. Fuel economy 45.6mpg, CO2 148 g/km. How good? The brand value, use of interior space, excellent quality and specification. How bad? Some models and options are pricey; all models have limitations in their handling capabilities on country and poor roads.

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