Mercedes A-Class hatchback

£20,715 - £30,910

The Mercedes A-Class is a five-door family hatchback designed to take on upmarket rivals including the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3 and Volkswagen Golf. In comparison with its predecessor, it's a conventional yet attractive-looking that's versatile, reasonably well equipped and solidly built.

We say solidly built, but the Audi A3 beats it – just – on that front. However, both inside and out, the A-Class certainly looks smarter and more desirable than the conservative Audi. For example, the interior shares many features (including three rotary air vents in the centre of the dashboard) with other, more expensive models in the Mercedes range.

Given Mercedes’ reputation for building luxury saloons and estates, the concept of a hatchback A-Class may be a little hard to grasp. However, it's certainly a practical car with a more accessible boot than any saloon.

It's not as entertaining to drive as a BMW 1 Series, but it's still involving enough, with bags of grip and body lean that's well contained in corners. The stiffer suspension of AMG versions makes the car uncomfortable on broken surfaces, but some drivers will like its sportier reactions.

The engine line-up is impressive and although it includes petrols, the diesels are most impressive – at least from a fuel economy point of view. The star among them is the A180 CDI ECO, which can return 78.5mpg, but even the standard A180 CDI does 70.6mpg. For this, and its generous equipment, the A180 CDI SE is our pick of the A-Class range.

Meanwhile, the A220 CDI blends excellent fuel economy with strong performance. Of the petrols, the A45 AMG is the most impressive performer. It's the most powerful car of its kind, and to help it get power to the road safely and securely, it has four-wheel drive. It's very expensive, though.

In fact, that's a charge you can level at all A-Class models. On the plus side, even the basic SE has an impressive amount of standard equipment, including front and rear electric windows, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a 5.8-inch colour display, air-conditioning and leather seats.

To this list, the Sport adds cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic wipers and twin exhaust pipes. The Engineered by AMG version looks almost as sporty as the full-blown, range-topping AMG, but it's cheaper to buy and run – although nothing like as quick.