WITH Mercedes-Benz intent on producing smaller premium vehicles, the arrival of the new AClass 200 marks an important step for the German manufacturer.

So it’s good news that the classy new model seems up to expectations in just about every department and should prove a strong player in its crowded sector against such established rivals as BMW’s 1-series and Audi’s A3.

Mercedes has done a massive amount of work replacing the high-roofed A-class with a longer and sleeker hatch with bonnet and side creases and an attractive set of bi-colour alloy wheels that all help to make the A-class look good enough to quickly turn heads in the high street. The car simply bristles with technology and an extensive, and expensive, options list normally associated with larger executive transport.

You cannot fail to be generally impressed with the quality of the vehicle which should prove an attractive purchase to those who want prestige, a stunning design, practicality and economy.

Residual values should also be high when the time comes to trade in the vehicle.

However, the downside is the relatively high purchase price which goes from £18,970 for the A180 to £28,800 for the A250, engineered by AMG Sport.

The A-class gets a new line of petrol and diesel motors and numerous different trim levels which should cater for most customer needs. Underneath there is a new chassis and an expensive suspension set up that does wonders for the car’s good handling characteristics.

There is a manual gearbox and also a smooth-acting seven-speed automatic transmission with a direct select gear shift lever together with steering wheel gear shift paddles. The speed sensitive power steering is light, accurate and very communicative The Blue Efficiency Sport model with automatic transmission and a 1.6-litre petrol motor is a splendid choice for present-day needs with a pleasing combination of performance and economy. The motor is smooth and flexible which suits the car’s sporty character.

The engine shows little fuss in covering the 0-62mph sprint in an impressive 8.3 seconds and racing on to a top speed of 139mph.

The figures show that the car’s economy measures, which include a first-rate ECO stop/start system, are not blunting the performance in any way.

The combined everyday fuel return is 50.4mpg.

On the road, the A-class feels solid and opulent. It’s a quiet and enjoyable drive with little road and wind noises and the driver and passengers have the satisfaction that it is tops for safety and security.

You immediately notice that the suspension is firm, even on the comfort setting, and it lets you know when there are road imperfections.

But it remains supple and comfortable and ensures the car does not waver from its chosen line.

The trade off for the firmness is the good handling and the driver quickly gains confidence to send the car hard into corners and take advantage of its well balanced and chuckable nature. On the motorway it rides well, being quiet and composed and offering a rapid delivery of power for overtaking or lane-changing manoeuvres.

The automatic transmission shift is via an arm off the steering column and works well and, of course, has the benefit of saving cabin space.

Because of its sleeker design, the new model may not be quite as practical as the previous car but it is fair to say that it is roomy and will accommodate the average family and their luggage.

While the front space is plentiful with lots of handy compartments for oddments, there is also decent room in the rear and seating tall adults is no problem.

The boot is fairly large and wellshaped and among the biggest in its class.

The interior, especially with optional leather upholstery, is a class act in itself and offers the elegance of bigger and more expensive Mercedes.

It is well laid out, though the controls are numerous and take a while to become well acquainted with.

The standard communications and in-car entertainment is impressive, though the optional and advanced on-line system with media interface is comprehensive and normally associated with more expensive vehicles.

Generally, the high-tech dash itself looks impressive with its wavy surfaces and blends in beautifully with other trim detailing.

Mercedes-Benz lettering lights up on the door sills on entry and there are other embellishments that add to the prestige of the vehicle and the joy of owning it.

Mercedes-Benz A200 Blue Efficiency Sport 1.6-litre automatic.

Price: £24,240.

Top speed: 139mph.

0-62mph: 8.3 seconds.

Fuel: 50.4mpg (combined figure).

CO2 emissions (g/km): 133.

Verdict: Stylish, sporty, efficient motor, practical, well equipped, roomy, low running costs but pricey.