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
  • 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 BMW 1-series has sold more than two million units globally since it was launched in 2004

    BMW 1-series

    4
  • The Giulietta competes in the biggest segment in Europe - rivals include the VW Golf and Ford Focus

    Alfa Romeo Giulietta

    5

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