Our full road test of the new Mercedes A-Class reveals that it's deeply flawed in several key areas, so it's more crucial than ever that you get the spec right.
However, trying to decide the sweet spot in the range can be frustratingly complex.
As well as three suspension set-ups and trims, Mercedes offers a wide range of engines and wheel sizes. You can even choose between traditional rubber, energy-efficient low-rolling-resistance tyres and stiff-walled run-flat tyres.
Which engine should you go for?
It's safe to say we're not particularly impressed by the harshness of the stronger diesel engines, and that's before you consider how expensive they are – they're available only with higher trims.
The A180 CDI Blue Efficiency is much more affordable. This 1.5-litre diesel – a reworked Renault engine – comes with a six-speed manual gearbox and is not to be confused with the other A180 CDI Blue Efficiency, which uses a purebred Mercedes 1.8 that's linked to a 7G-DCT twin-clutch semi-auto gearbox.
We're yet to drive this semi-auto, but the manual version is distinctly clattery at low speeds, and you feel a good deal of vibration through the pedals.
There's also a bit of delay in pick up before the turbo chimes in, but once you get it going it's relatively hushed.
It's the numbers that this engine produces that are most impressive, though. It averages 74.3mpg and emits just 98g/km of CO2, so it makes a lot of sense if you're a company car driver.
Private buyers will be better off with one of the petrol engines.
The A180 and A200 are powered by the same 1.6-litre turbocharged unit, which is tuned to produce either 121- or 154bhp. In both cars it's smooth and happy to rev. However, while the 200 packs noticeably more punch, it's not as cultured as its lower-powered sibling.
The six-speed manual box is a much better bet than the optional twin-clutch auto. While the manual gearshift is easily the smoothest that Mercedes has ever produced, the auto's changes are quite punchy.
Even when you take charge of shifts with the steering wheel-mounted paddles, the 'box is quick to revert to auto mode if you're not absolutely on it with your finger action.
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class is available with three petrol engines and four diesels
Which trim should you choose?
The entry-level car comes with Comfort suspension and 15-inch wheels that are fitted with tall-sided, low-rolling-resistance tyres, so it's hardly surprising that it's the most comfortable option.
That said, it's still far from the smoothest-riding small hatchback we've ever driven and its relative shortage of agility means it falls well short of Mercedes' intention of making the A-Class the sportiest car in its class.
Three different suspension set-ups are available, depending on which model you choose
If you want your A-Class to feel agile, you'll need to upgrade to AMG Sport trim, although this makes the ride very firm.
The Engineered by AMG set-up makes the car firmer and sharper still, although this is available only with the expensive A250 petrol engine.
A-Class is available in SE, Sport, AMG Sport and Engineered by AMG trims
As a result – for now at least – our money would go on the A180 petrol car with sports suspension, 17-inch wheels and a manual gearbox.
All Mercedes A-Class models are well equipped; you get Bluetooth, auxiliary and USB input sockets and some form of air-conditioning on every version, while only the entry-level A180 model has steel wheels rather than alloys.
All models come with iPad-like display screen, Bluetooth and air-conditioning
Which options should you choose?
In short, apart from metallic paint, we'd leave the A-Class options list alone, because it's easy to turn this already expensive car into a ridiculously pricey one.
Mercedes-Benz A-Class A180 Blue Efficiency Sport: £21,240
Metallic paint £570
How to haggle for a Mercedes-Benz A-Class
As yet, our mystery shoppers haven't managed to secure a discount on the new A-Class, but the Target Prices on the rest of the Mercedes range suggest that savings will be possible.
The other new small car in the Mercedes range – the B-Class – can be bought for around £900 less than list price, so stick to your guns.
While most online brokers are not yet offering savings, we found Carfile.net is offering around £1200 off the new A-Class.
By Pete Tullin and Tom Webster
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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