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The latest addition to Mercedes-Benz’s entry-level A-Class line-up is a contemporary compact saloon – a car that harks back to the German car maker’s much-admired 190, the model that sired today’s C-Class saloon back in the early 1990s.

The A-Class saloon is good 130mm longer than its new, fourth-generation A-Class hatchback sibling, with which it shares it wheelbase, by way of an extended rear overhang and notchback style rear end. It has been conceived primarily for the US and Chinese markets - the latter of which is set to receive an even longer version of the new four-door.

Set to complement the CLA, which is planned to become a more sporting proposition when the second-generation model arrives next year, it is quite a convincing thing in the metal, with a distinctive front end that links it visually with the more familiar A-Class hatchback, favourable three-box proportions and a smart rear end with distinctively styled tail-lamps.

It’s quite versatile, too, thanks to sensibly shaped door apertures offering good access to the rear. Accommodation in the back seats isn't exactly plentiful, but there’s enough room for two adults to sit comfortably when the front seats are set to accommodate similar-sized occupants.

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At 420 litres, the boot offers 45 litres more space than that of the A-Class hatch, and it has a relatively low load lip to ease the loading of heavy items. For even greater load capacity, the rear seats split and fold in a 40/20/40 configuration.

What changes has Mercedes made for the A-Class saloon?

We sampled the standard-wheelbase version, which will initially be produced in Mexico and is planned to go on sale in the UK in early 2019 with the choice of two front-wheel-drive models: the £27,875 A180d Sport and the £28,095 A200 Sport. Neither of those was available to drive at the launch, but the US-spec, four-wheel-drive A220 4Matic proves the new saloon is a worthy rival to the likes of the Audi A3 saloon, although at this stage it is not planned for sale in the UK.

Its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, with 188bhp and 221lb ft of torque, delivers spirited performance, pulling cleanly and keenly, with a linear power delivery, although the exhaust note is somewhat undistinguished in the upper reaches of the rev range.

The optional seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox – an in-house built unit that is an alternative to the standard six-speed manual – is not always smooth around town, where it is sometimes a bit clunky on downshifts in automatic mode. However, it works well out on the open road, where upshifts are quite crisp and relatively fast under load.

With a four-wheel drive system doling out drive to each wheel, the A220 4Matic serves up plenty of grip and, in combination with direct and communicative steering, pleasingly agile driving traits.

While lesser front-wheel-drive models are set to use torsion beam rear suspension, the A220 4Matic adopts a more sophisticated multi-link arrangement. In combination with MacPherson strut front suspension, it endows the A-Class saloon with a well-balanced and fluid feel out on the open road.

Potential buyers should steer clear of optioning UK-spec versions of the new model, both of which come with sports suspension as standard, with the optional 19in wheels worn by our test car, though. Together, the ride is harsh and excessively noisy on less than smooth surfaces.

Happily, though, the A-Class saloon does possess other strengths. Its interior, perhaps its biggest drawcard, is very classy, with two 7.0in digital screens for the instruments and infotainment system as standard, excellent front seats and high-grade materials throughout. It’s a pleasing place in which to travel, whether for short journeys across town or for hours on end out on the open road.

As with the A-Class hatchback, the saloon comes with Mercedes’ new MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) infotainment system. It brings touchscreen control together with an expensive looking multi-function steering wheel featuring small touchpads and a larger touchpad on the centre console.

Does the A-Class appeal as a saloon?

If you like the idea of a four-door but are put off by the restricted versatility of the soon-to-be-replaced Mercedes-Benz CLA, the A-Class saloon could be for you.

As with the latest A-Class hatchback, it is a car many are likely to consider on the strength of its outstanding interior alone.

The A220 4Matic model driven here is lively and agile, if not quite as comfortable as you might expect of a car wearing the three-pointed star. However, with smaller wheels and tyres, we’d expect it to be smoother riding and generally more pleasing, both around town and at higher speeds over longer distances.

It will be a while before we get to drive the front-wheel-drive models planned for sale in the UK, but for now it seems the Audi A3 saloon finally has some premium brand competition.

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