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 1116d 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.

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First drives

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