Since the original Baby Benz A-Class was launched in 1998 Mercedes-Benz have introduced numerous new models with successive improvements in technology and performance.
The idea of the A-class was to give greater flexibility to a hatchback and it has been a huge success. The rear seats fold flat and can be removed which makes these cars roomier than most hatches.
Although updated versions are around there is a good second hand market for the older A140s which became one of the best known cars in Europe for a while on the back of an aggressive marketing campaign. In the late nineties they were a particular success in Germany, Italy and Japan. The marketing was all about a unique concept car but also a true Mercedes Benz class. It was successfully sold as a niche product in a saturated market because many people were still prepared to pay a little more for what was perceived to be special Mercedes quality.
Some feel the smaller engine makes drivers work hard on the road but the A140 is generally regarded as fine for handling in both city and motorway traffic. It could be a problem uphill with a full load.
The original A-Class was a ground-breaking package. After seven years in production Mercedes had broken the one million sales barrier with over 88,000 sold in the UK alone.
A-Class is regarded as one of the safest small cars around. However there was an initial safety scare involving a now notorious incident in which one of the earliest models was rolled during a test drive. During an emergency lane change manoeuvre known as the Elk test a Scandanavian writer it toppled over while braking and steering sharply.
After this A-class models were improved rapidly in the handling and safety department, including significant chassis innovation and a new axle that ensured better wheel location and roll support through bends. A healthy four-star Euro NCAP rating was administered to the upgraded A-class entry level 140 in 1999. Later models received five star Euro NCAP ratings. With electronic stability control, ABS, traction control, and twin front and side airbags this car and its occupants are now regarded as very safe by the European standards body.
Backseat passengers sit higher than usual and this helps with safety if the A-class is hit from the side but, as some reviewers have pointed out, this can also mean backseat passengers feel cramped.
Security is regarded as very good for a small car with an immobilizer and central locking as standard.
The main feature with the A class is that spacious interior combined with compact size. It occupies less road space than most superminis even though it offers cabin space to rival family cars. A description that more than a few reviewers have likened to the Tardis the famous Dr Who space ship, from the BBC television series, that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
A bbc.co.uk road test had this to say about the handling: Together with the more than adequate engine - 0-60mph in 10 seconds - it is hard to describe the cars round-town performance without using the word nippy. On motor ways, the car is smooth and quiet. The engine can cope with 100mph quite happily - in fact, nothing really strains it too badly, though it is rather lacking in torque at low revs. The only worrying feature at speed is that, being very light and quite high-sided, the baby Merci is more than averagely susceptible to cross-winds.
The favourable sales and the excellent safety tests suggest a very reliable car. However, there are still some concerns expressed by some of our reviewers about the A classs ability to grip the road. Also it should be noted that several reviewers mention a recurring problem with petrol leakage as well as other varied mechanical faults.