The original Mercedes A-Class may have followed the Audi A3 into the 1990s premium hatchback niche, but it bucked that car’s thoroughly orthodox Volkswagen Group trend.

With its snub-nosed, upright profile, impact-friendly ‘sandwich’ platform and front-wheel drive packaging, it was an ingenious, if slightly avant-garde stone cast into the segment’s then untested pond.

Despite high praise and well over 1.5 million sales, not all the ripples that returned to shore were welcome. There were failed elk tests and various criticisms. It was too upright, too ungainly and not sporty enough for buyers’ sharpening taste buds. The A-Class ended up high on expense and short on desirability.

So, for its third generation some 15 years after the original launched, the latest A-Class has renounced the recipe. This A-Class's idea of practicality has been squashed low and long and rendered lip-smackingly svelte.

The suspicion is that rather than considering how best to package its solution to the world’s oldest transport problem, Mercedes has instead pressed its ear firmly to current market conditions. But has it implemented the right solution?

Top 5 Premium hatches

  • BMW i3
    Two versions of the BMW i3 are on sale: a pure electric model or a range-extender variant

    BMW i3

    1
  • Audi A3 Sportback
    All Audi A3s feature multi-link rear suspension, denied to some other MQB-based VW Group cars

    Audi A3 Sportback

    2
  • Volvo V40
    The new Volvo V40 is the Swedish firm's sleek and sporty-looking answer to the VW Golf, A3 Sportback and BMW 1-series

    Volvo V40

    3
  • The second generation 'more grown-up' Mini Clubman

    Mini Clubman

    4
  • BMW 1 Series
    BMW 1 Series gets nip-and-tuck treatment for 2015

    BMW 1 Series

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Lotus Elise Cup 250
    First Drive
    29 April 2016
    The fastest, most track-focused and most expensive Elise ever made. It's simple, raw and immersive
  • Porsche 911 Targa 4S
    First Drive
    27 April 2016
    Slick looks, open-top fun and 911 handling sound brilliant, but the Targa has historically trailed the Coupé. How does the new model fare on UK roads?
  • Jaguar F-Pace 2.0d
    First Drive
    26 April 2016
    Jaguar's debut SUV wowed us abroad, but does it still impress as much here on the UK's roads?
  • Car review
    26 April 2016
    Electric saloon is ramped up beyond ‘insane’ for yet more effect
  • Car review
    26 April 2016
    Is this a genuine supercar slayer for top-rank sports car money?