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Star Wars VII is still a couple of years off, but I can already sense a disturbance in the force.

You’re right. This is the new Mercedes A-Class, and it has arrived - as you should know by now - to deliberately upset the force. The force of the BMW 1-Series, Audi A3 and even the Volkswagen Golf. We’re here today to find out what the basic, entry-level non-optioned-to-the-hilt version is all about. The cheapest Benz you can buy, basically.

It looks superb!

It does - just look at those doors. There are elements here, we’re told, that will find themselves on all future Mercs, while inside, the dash references elements of the SL and even the SLS AMG. In fact, the interior designer told TopGear.com that the little 5.8in colour screen that sits over the dash was built so because “people don’t integrate their flat screen TV’s into their walls at home, they hang them on the wall.” That way, the lines aren’t ruined by a big great block of LCD. It works.

I can sense a tenuous Lewis Hamilton reference on my horizon…

Interestingly, a few minutes into conversation with that same interior designer, he revealed how excited the company is to be welcoming Mr Hamilton into ‘the family’ next year. Which got us talking about Mercedes in Formula One. Which got us talking about heritage.

And?

Well, in some quarters, Mercedes still has this ‘old man’s motor’ appeal, but their heritage - in Le Mans and of course in early Formula One - is anything but. It’s sporty. And that’s what the new A-Class is all about; sporty, but a comfortable sporty, because after all, comfort is a Mercedes pillar. Which brings us neatly onto this basic, entry-level, comfort-spec A180. It’s £18,495, features a manual (a manual Mercedes!) hasn’t got any bells and whistles, and is ruddy great. It steers confidently and accurately, grips really well, rides supremely on British tarmac, and still feels like a Benz inside. It’s even got steel wheels for goodness sake!

Steel wheels? Pah!

Though if you are considering this one - which you should - at least spec some decent wheels, like in the car pictured above. The ride doesn’t suffer (we tried one with 18s and it rode fine) and the bigger wheel does the gorgeous exterior greater justice. Honestly, it looks fabulous up close and in the real world. Drives great too. That said, the throw on the manual is a bit long, and the turbo’d, 118bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine can get a bit wheezy. But still.

So let me guess… I need to go home and rethink my life?

Yes. This new A-Class is a lovely thing to steer and sit in and easily trumps the Beemer and Audi on exterior grace and style - even if it lacks the BM’s last nth of handling prowess. But just wait - there’s an AMG version coming too, and that’s got 330bhp and four-wheel-drive…

Vijay Pattni

(note - car pictured above features dual exhausts which didn’t appear on our test A180 BlueEfficiency)

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