Superminis are typically affordable, family-oriented affairs created by European manufacturers to cater to use in towns and cities across the UK. They tend to favour functionality over luxury and won't set your pulse racing as they pootle past.
The approved used Mercedes-Benz A Class, which was introduced in 1998, strikes a slightly different note to its supermini rivals. It is practical and family-friendly, yes; but it is also a good looking car with a premium badge that helps to up its street cred quite a few notches.
Before the A Class first hit UK forecourts, it was actually heavily revised by Mercedes-Benz after Scandinavian testing revealed it to be lacking in safety. Alterations to the suspension and improved tyres helped to address issues, as well as leading to a price increase at the time.
In 2001 the range received an aesthetic revision, although the underpinnings remained largely the same. You could choose between two petrol engines and a 1.7 litre diesel powerplant, with a chunkier 1.9 litre diesel arriving in 1999.
The second generation used Mercedes A-Class for sale was launched in 2004 and went on sale to UK buyers in 2005. Three door versions were made available to sit alongside the original five door layout and Mercedes-Benz attempted to make the car a little more interesting to drive to make up for the safety-conscious yet dull handling of its predecessor.
2008 saw the used A Class receive another mid-cycle facelift, as well as representing the year in which the range took a more eco-friendly turn. Two modest petrol engines and refined diesel options helped to bring better fuel economy to the table, while also reducing emissions.
The full third generation of the Mercedes A Class for sale hit motor shows in 2012 and indicates that the range will no longer be competing with superminis, but will instead target the likes of the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3. As such we'll have to say farewell to the origins of the A Class, but its legacy will live on in used models.
Bang for your buck
Mercedes-Benz rightly chose to give the A Class plenty of equipment to help justify its high price tag when new. Even the first generation models have everything from power steering and full electrics to tinted glass and a powerful audio system.
The second generation Mercedes A Class is longer and wider, with a more youthful design to attract younger buyers. The designers went to great lengths to make the interior and dash as tactile and pleasing as possible this time around, so you'll definitely feel pampered on the inside.
Attention was also paid to things like the seating, which folds and flips to give you plenty of luggage room in the rear. Meanwhile the large cabin on all models, along with the unique sandwich floor design which puts all of the mechanicals beneath you, helps to accommodate as many passengers and accoutrements as possible.
What you'll pay
Because the approved used Mercedes A Class has been around for a decade and a half you can find plenty of bargain basement examples, as long as you're willing to deal with high mileages and inevitable interior wear and tear. Less than £1000 will net you a 1998 original these days, but the discerning buyer is better off looking for a second generation model in the £5000 to £9000 range.
What to check
Don't opt for a second hand Mercedes A Class which lacks a full service history with a certified Mercedes dealer if you are buying a newer model, because this could impact on the warranty and might be a problem for any owner.
This is less imperative with older cars, but you'll want to see evidence that it has been well cared for during its time.
While the Mercedes A Class remains a mechanically sound model, it may have suffered from some aesthetic damage. You need to check up on this, because repairs both inside and out can be costly.
Parts are relatively inexpensive, with £55 charged for a pair of brake pads at the front. If the exhaust conks out then replacing it will cost £175 for the necessary kit, although this doesn't include the catalytic converter.
How it drives
The dull handling of the first generation used Mercedes A Class was improved the second time around, but in general the urban and motorway performance of this range is impeccable.