Heading down the motorway in the diesel Merc hatchback, I’m wondering what other car in recent memory has been so deceptive from the inside. The A220 CDI AMG ($45,846)‘s steering is sharp, road noise is kept at bay and the interior makes my early 2000s BMW E46 look like something out of the Stone Age. The interior materials and design — rich carbon fiber trim, the protruding round A/C vents and the well-bolstered and red-stitch over black faux-leather sport seats — are impressive for this price point. Not only does it make the old A Class look downright rickety by comparison, it changes the bar for what an entry-level German car can be. It’s got new S Class DNA, a clear genetic connection to a car that costs four times more. If there’s a way to convey style and a touch of German class without flipping the bird to practicality and fuel efficiency, it’s the A220 CDI.

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The small five-door dispatches French city traffic easily and fits in tight parking spots that would frustrate a sedan. But it also has the added bonus of not looking like an early 2000s ass-heavy Renault Megane II, which you see plenty of on the streets of Paris. In fact, compared to just about 99.9% of the ubiquitous hatches here, the A220 looks like an exotic. Add on the matte grey paint, and it just about buries the looks of anything short of a Porsche 911. The package is tight without the three-box design of a sedan, and the pronounced creases from hood to body move the formerly dumpy A Class five generations forward as far as styling is concerned. It’s a paradigm shift in Mercedes hatchbacks.

If there’s a way to convey style and a touch of German class without flipping the bird to practicality and fuel efficiency, it’s the A220 CDI.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking the A220 CDI is solely for urban trips to get cheese and baguettes. On French motorways at 110 kph, the A220 CDI ate up the miles effortlessly. The 2.1-liter 4-cylinder turbo diesel power isn’t earth-shattering at 168 bhp (about 170 hp in Americanspeak), but the engine is smooth; it’s a bit on the noisy side, but that’s expected for a four-banger. Acceleration to 60 isn’t rocket-sled quick, but around 8 seconds isn’t exactly glacial, either. It’s more than enough power to get you moving with two people and a trunk full of luggage. But what gets you right in the gizzard is the astounding 64 mpg highway. It makes the Toyota Prius seem quite average in the mpg department.

For the longer stretches of roadway, Eco mode proved more than capable. But when things got a bit more twisty, I dropped it into Sport Mode for more aggressive shifting that was well mated to the firm suspension. Body roll was virtually nonexistent, thanks to the 15mm lower sports suspension and the Dynamic Handling package — all of which made me wonder why we can’t get this marvelous mileage eater in America.

The A Class shines in just about every department with plenty of room for four, a stunning exterior, sporty handling and wicked good fuel economy. As if diesel power wasn’t enough justification to buy a compact car, Mercedes-Benz just decided to throw in every other reason to move to Europe and break out the wallet.

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