Displaying a bold new look and an unprecedented level of design sophistication, the all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class made an impressive debut in Geneva and will go on sale in Europe this fall. With head-turning style previewed in the striking Concept A-CLASS show car that Mercedes unveiled in New York last spring, this compact-sized front-drive hatch appears ready to set new operational benchmarks for the entire segment. Unlike its boxy Gen I and Gen II predecessors, the new A-Class also will be the first small Mercedes-badged vehicle to make its way to America, a journey now scheduled to begin sometime in late 2013 or early 2014.

Significantly longer, lower and wider than the boxy, upright car it replaces, the Gen III Mercedes-Benz A-Class has forsaken the original "sandwich platform" configuration in favor of  a far more sophisticated yet less costly Mercedes Front-wheel-drive Architecture (MFA) design. In addition to having a lower center of gravity for improved dynamics, the recast rear suspension in the new A-Class now allows for the fitment of M-B's 4MATIC all-wheel drive at some point in the future.

Possessing arguably the most dynamic appearance of any player in its segment, the crisply tailored yet ultraclean bodywork of the new A-Class earns it a stellar 0.26 coefficient of drag. Inside, the spacious cabin blends high-quality trim elements with strong functional fundamentals to create a user-friendly environment for both the driver and passengers.

Euro buyers will be able to order the A-Class in three different ranges: Urban, Style and AMG Sport, each with its own distinctive character and trappings. In keeping with its Mercedes pedigree, all will come with a long list of standard features, including a segment-exclusive radar-based COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST system that works with the Brake Assist to help lower the risk of rear-end collisions. It functions by offering visual and acoustic warnings to alert possibly distracted drivers about identified obstacles, and prepares Brake Assist for the most precise braking response possible. Other A-Class standards include Attention Assist, Hill Start Assist and Brake Hold Function. In addition, the car will offer an impressive range of premium optional features headed by PRE-SAFE, Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Active Parking Assist and a backup camera.

The new Mercedes-Benz A-Class will launch with a selection of clean, efficient 1.6-liter to 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline and diesel engines, all fitted with M-B's ECO start/stop function and pairable with either a new six-speed manual transmission or a 7G-DCT dual-clutch automatic. King of the A-Class hill will be the A250 AMG Sport, which complements its 209-horse gas engine with an AMG-tuned suspension, body and trim bits and an 18-inch wheel/tire package.

It will be interesting to see how the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class fares when it does finally go on sale here. Selling a premium small car in an extremely price-sensitive category has never been easy, but this bold newcomer appears more than ready to take on the challenge.

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