HERE comes the cougar of the premium motoring fraternity.
Yet this hatch is no mutton dressed up as lamb. It boasts genuine youthful enthusiasm for those living the glory days…as well as those wishing they still were.
Mercedes-Benz has traditionally attracted a more mature audience but the new A-Class is a game-changer for the brand.
Buyers can now get into the hatch wearing a three-pointed star for under $40,000 - including on-road costs.
The premium German carmaker is sweetening the deal with servicing capped at $1383 for the first 50,000km.
And even better, the entry-level A-Class offerings don't look like they have come from the bargain bin. They have a strong features list and an external design personality befitting the brand.
There are seven option packs for those who want extra kit - but none cost more than $3000.
It's sure to cause some pencil sharpening at Audi and BMW, with similar sized hatchbacks starting from about 40 grand, before adding on-roads or ticking any of the many option boxes.
Premium finishes live up to the Mercedes-Benz hype. Friends will be impressed with the design and styling, from the turbine-looking air vents through to the sports seats which have man-made leather and fabric trim. The only plastics used are on the centre console, with soft touch materials across the dash.
Our preference would be to opt for the AMG Sport Package ($1990 on A 180 and $1490 with A 200) for the carbon-fibre look trim and sporting finishes. Not that the entry level variant looks too basic, it's just that the AMG parcel is top value for money. All the buttons and dials are within easy reach of the driver, who has a concise view of the gauges and dials aided by a central digital display that can feature various information tidbits, such as your speed or the many trip computer options. Four adults can be housed in the classy cabin, as long as they aren't too big or burly. Three across the back seat would be a stretch.
Leg room can be tight if the front passengers are long-legged.
On the road
Capable and surefooted, the A-Class boasts a wonderful little chassis.
The hero of the range is the A 250 Sport, which is nothing short of outstanding. It boasts amazing traction and performance from a front-wheel drive with strong acceleration and direct steering.
Not there is much wrong with the remainder of the range. We wouldn't be disappointed having any one of the A-Classes in the driveway.
The base A 180 can feel pedestrian in comparison to its siblings, although it's no slouch in acceleration. Mercedes-Benz expects the higher tuned petrol-powered A 200 and the turbo diesel to be the volume sellers.
The oil-burner is probably the best pick with its improved torque figures although it can sound a little agricultural if you push things hard. Both cruise nicely at highway speeds although there can be some tyre rumble on coarse bitumen.
There are three drive modes, economy (for thrifty performance), sport (holds the gears higher into the rev range and sharpens throttle response) and manual (for making use of the paddle shifters).
All models corner wonderfully, and the seven-speed automatic partners well with all powerplants.
What do you get?
The A 180 gets 17-inch five twin spoke alloys, sports seats, reversing camera, six-disc CD stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, 14.7cm colour display, paddle shifters and climate controlled air-con.
A 200s get a different interior trim, silver coloured dials with red needles, leather-wrapped steering wheel, bigger alloys and a twin pipe exhaust system. The A 250 gets AMG tuning and all the go-fast bits, like a body kit, carbon-fibre trim, red seat belts and brilliant flat-bottom steering wheel. The A-Class can also park itself, detect if you are drowsy (and tell you to take a break) as well as warn the driver if a head-on collision is imminent.
All derivatives offer alluring and eloquent styling. The A 250 Sport and the AMG options are the most attention grabbing.
Mercedes-Benz has opened the door to a new breed of buyer. These A Classes are brilliant - and can be made even better with one of the seven option packages which offer great bang for your buck.
Combine the base model with the AMG pack for a little over 40 grand and you get the best of both worlds.
If the budget allows, opt for the 250 Sport, is a cracker.
The three-pointed star is shining on a younger generation.
The writer was Mercedes-Benz's guest in Melbourne.
What matters most
The good stuff: Interior with wow factor, great value with excellent packages, capped servicing for first 50,000km.
What we'd like to see: Improved rear vision which is impeded by front sports seats and high beltline, less tyre noise.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year warranty, extended coverage is available. Servicing is 25,000km or annually.
Model: Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive luxury compact hatch.
Engine: A 180 has a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 90kW @ 5000rpm and 200Nm @ 1250-4000rpm. A 200 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol 115kW @ 5300rpm and 250Nm @ 1250-4000rpm; A 200 CDI 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel 100kW @ 3600-4000rpm and 300Nm 1600-300rpm; A 250 Sport 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol 155kW @ 5500rpm and 350Nm @ 1200-4000rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
Consumption: A 180 5.8 litres/100km (combined average); A 200 6.1L/10km; A 200 CDI 4.6L/100km; A 250 Sport 6.6L/100km.
CO2: A 180 135g/km; A 200 141g/km; A 200 CDI 121 g/km; A 250 Sport 152g/km.
Bottom line: A 180 $35,600; A 200 $40,900; A 200 CDI $40,900; A 250 Sport $49,900.