Combining hot-hatch excitement with all the practicality and refinement you’d expect from a Mercedes, the latest A Class is a true all-rounder.  

For years, the A Class has represented something of an ugly duckling in the Mercedes range. Although it employed an ingenious engine layout that improved interior space and handling, it just didn’t seem to fit. Small but with a high roof line, it was far from sporty and lacked the classy sweeping lines of thoroughbreds like the CLA.

The new, updated A Class changes all that. We’ve got the A250 AMG 4MATIC for the week, and although it’s one step down from the merciless, range-topping A45 AMG, it’s a totally different beast to what has come before. Rather than odd but practical like its predecessor, the new Mercedes is conventionally good-looking, and seems to finally offer a response to other high-end hatches like the Audi A1 and the BMW 1 series.

Painted in gorgeous Northern Lights Violet, our A250 looks like a handful - mainly due to its AMG bodykit. Looking like a full-fat Mercedes from the front, the head on view is all grill and badge, with Bi-xenon LED lights and a racy bumper that’s aggressive but not overly so.

Although compact on the road, the A-class still has space for swooping lines - so it seems to be moving even when it’s at a standstill. Sitting on 18 inch alloy wheels and kitted out with tinted windows,  the Mercedes’ exterior somehow strikes a blend between outrageous hatch and executive saloon - and it’s the same story at the rear. A wide bumper complete with polished chrome double exhausts and dual bumper vents ups the ante, while a chrome 4MATIC badge hints at the performance on tap.

the Mercedes’ exterior somehow strikes a blend between outrageous hatch and executive saloon

Inside, Mercedes takes things further, and it soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary hatchback. The model we’ve been given costs a cool £35,655 - and that price tag makes a lot of sense when you're sitting in it. Opening the door reveals polished door seals etched with a glowing Mercedes-Benz logo. The attention to detail in the cabin is ridiculous.

Bucket seats covered in faux leather are stitched with bright orange thread, and the motorsport theme spreads to the dash. Covered in a pleasant carbon-fibre effect finish, the the cabin is clean and understated, while silver clocks and chrome pedals beg us to put the car to the test. As you’d expect, the A Class also boasts a powerful sound system. Good for blasting out Freddie Gibbs or Jack U, it’s just at home playing BBC 5 Live - and gives clear but weighty sound whatever you’re playing.

The A250’s mean looks would be nothing without a solid powerplant to back it up - and our car has it. Underneath the bonnet, a 2 litre, turbocharged power unit delivers 211hp, propelling the hatchback from standing to 0 in just over 6 seconds - but in day to day driving you’d hardly know. With the energy saving ECO mode enabled, it's difficult to sense the car’s potential. Almost sluggish in urban areas, the A Class’ 7 speed gearbox keeps the excitement low, and the fuel consumption even lower.

On the motorway, the Mercedes is just as refined. Road noise isn’t distracting, and it’s practically non existent with the music up. Apart from suggesting a dodgy U-turn every so often, the Sat-nav is also comes onto its own on long journeys, and Mercedes has made it easy to control with a rotary dial. Our car also comes equipped with “Distronic”. By using sensors at the front of the car, the system automatically keeps a constant distance to the car in front - like a more intelligent version cruise control. Although unnerving at first, it’s a great example of some of the innovative kit Mercedes has crammed into the hatchback.

But with 211 horsepower in tap, the A250 AMG 4MATIC is at its best when driven hard. Taking the car off ECO mode throws out the spongy feel of acceleration and replaces it with a sense of urgency. Now the the 0-60 time of 6.3 seconds makes sense. The gearbox does its part too and keeps you in lower gears - but the option of paddles is hard to resist. Located behind the steering wheel like an F1 car, the paddles turn the A250 semi-automatic, and make the driving experience even more connected. On B roads and country lanes, the car’s 4MATIC system comes into its own. An all wheel drive system to increase traction on slippery surfaces, it diverts power to all four wheels - giving us confidence in the trickiest conditions. Predictable steering and rapid acceleration ask you to go faster, and when combined with the paddle shift gearbox, the A Class really puts you in control of its performance.

The best thing about the A Class? Its versatility. A compact, safe run-around when you need it to be, flicking a few switches reveals the Merc's AMG DNA. With so much in such a small package, the A class isn't a poor man's Mercedes, it’s small but perfectly formed.