Mercedes A Class 250 BlueEFFICIENCY engineered by AMG pictures and hands-on

There is very little that would have persuaded us to buy the old A-Class. It might not have been a bad car, but it wasn't the sort of vehicle we could get excited about. We've encountered it in Europe in hire-car form, and the basic model didn't exactly ooze the things that make you want to own a Merc. For a start, the boot lid felt like a sheet of A4 paper and it looked like a miniature people carrier.

But the new A-Class, that's something altogether different. We've driven it, and written about it before, but this model, the 250 engineered by AMG, is a slightly different beast. Not actually an AMG car in the strictest sense, but with a body kit and some optional extras it certainly has a level above a standard A-Class. It starts at £28,000 but with the extras fitted to our test car, can go up to the low £40,000s. That's a hell of a lot of wedge for what could be called Mercedes entry-level car.

One of the best things about the new A-Class is the design. Gone is that mini-minivan look, and in is a car that looks like it's designed to compete with the Audi A3 and VW Golf. Indeed, an A3 Sportback will cost about the same when specced to a similar standard with Audi's 1.8 TFSi engine. While you might not want every extra going, there are sure to be some that will be worth considering.

But aesthetically, this is a car that we just loved looking at, inside and out. The red stitching on black leather, with red seatbelts just looks fantastic. On the outside, the headlights have a subtle red ring within, and there's another under the front grille which matches the whole thing up. We honestly think this car is better looking that both the A3 and Golf and pretty much any car of this size and class.

One weirdness is the satnav screen. Don't get us wrong, it's great and works really well, we just don't see why it's positioned where it is, sprouting from the dash. It's not offensive, it just feels like an afterthought. Even so, the location is good and looking at directions on it is a pleasure.

Like many Mercs these days, the car we drove is an automatic car. It's Mercedes's 7-speed box, and it's really rather good. There are three modes: auto, manual and sport. We found the normal auto mode fine for driving about in town, and the sports mode is aggressive, to say the least, but it makes for an enjoyable drive, and the car is incredibly rapid. Indeed, it almost felt like there was too much power here, and the car was struggling to stay on the road. But, what that is really is classic Mercedes. The new A-Class is as safe as anything else on the market, but the firm manages to make you feel like it's more risky than cars like the Audi A3, which feels more planted and lacks the excitement and fun you feel in the Merc.

It's a subtle difference between this car and its competition, but when it comes to petrolheads choosing cars, this has the distinct advantage of making you think you're a great driver taming a beast, when in fact, it's been tamed already by incredibly clever Mercedes engineers. It's ego massaging, and we loved it.