When Mercedes introduced the first A-class back in 1997 it delivered one of the most technically innovative and ground-breaking designs on decades. The upright body shape and sandwich floor design created a roomy compartment with exceptional safety features.
When it replaced the A-class in 2012 Mercedes stepped back from its innovative (and controversial) design to release the W176 A-class, a standard family hatchback that lacks any of the features that made its predecessor unique.
In designing something conformist Mercedes is clearly seeking to see a better return on its investment than the original, which managed two million sales in its fifteen year lifespan.
Externally the A180 is drab - and that's not just down to the gunmetal colour of the car I drove. It's a design which lacks any kind of flair, doesn't draw the eye in nor reward visual appraisal. In a class filled with interesting designs and topped by the eye-poppingly gorgeous Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the A-class is a poor effort.
Inside things aren't much better. A dark, claustrophobic interior is lifted by reasonable quality materials, but the total failure to integrate the entertainment system's display unit dominates the internal visuals. To say it's laughably bad would be understating the case. It looks like something a teenager might have bolted onto their Max-Power'ed Citroen Saxo.
The equipment levels aren't bad though, given the price of this entry level model you shouldn't be expecting anything less. The seats are comfortable - much more so than looks suggest - and a comfortable driving position is easily found.
Once you start driving any illusion of this being a premium vehicle falls apart. The engine is as sonorous as a shaken bag of nails, wheezing and whining through its rev range without ever demonstrating a power band or a sweet spot. Throttle response is slow enough to be measurable and the gearbox stumbles through each gear change. At least it rides reasonably well.
In short this is the sort of car designed to remove any of the joy of driving from the driving experience. Avoid at all costs.