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A class above?
Mercedes’ new CLA cuts quite a dash. Sharing the same platform as the new A Class hatchback and using four cylinder power trains and front wheel drive, Mercedes hopes this stylish and sleek compact saloon will widen the German firm’s customer base. In the words of Dr Joachim Schmidt, Executive Vice President Mercedes-Benz Cars, Sales and Marketing. “We aim to reach new target groups with the CLA – including those who never intended driving a Mercedes.”
The CLA certainly looks the part with its sleek four-door avant-garde coupé looks inspired by the bigger and much more expensive Mercedes CLS. Key exterior design features include the swept back roof line and curved rear window, muscular rear wheel arch linings and arrow style arrangement of the rear lights.
In the cabin:
Step inside the CLA and you’re greeted by the familiar air of prestige found in all Mercs: there’s ample application of glossy piano black finishes and carbon fiber and aluminum effect trim. Our test car has with the optional Exclusive Package, so there’s Alcantara lined black roof lining and stitched leather material adorning the dashboard and door panels. The dashboard is identical to the A-Class, which means the same high mounted infotainment screen and switchgear heavy centre console, with physical on-dash buttons for stereo and Bluetooth telephone operation, which are clear and simple to use. It does take a while to acclimatize to the idiosyncrasies of the COMAND satnav and infotainment system, which can be a bit fiddly to navigate: a touch-screen would prove more intuitive. Our test car had the optional Harmon Kardon audio installed – which although pricy at £680, does reward with a far more musical, richer and dynamic sound, courtesy of the 11 high-performance speakers and additional amplifiers.
It’s easy to make yourself comfortable up front in the CLA thanks to a good driving position, grippy leather three spoke wheel and supportive and liberally adjustable sports seats, featuring integrated head rests. Rear accommodation however is a different story. Although legroom is adequate, headroom is at a serious premium – even people well under six foot will find cause to grumble. At 471 litres the boot is decently sized, although the access aperture isn’t as wide as on the boxier C-Class.
The low coupe roofline does make for a rather dark cabin, although it can be brightened by the optional large panoramic tilt and slide sunroof. Given the car’s low-slung looks, rear visibility is perfectly acceptable, further aided by the rear camera, although this is a £300 option. Parking sensors are an extra cost item, too. Chunky C-pillars and high-backed front seats do hamper over-the-shoulder vision, so probably a good idea to fork out £770 for the Lane-Tracking Package – consisting of Blind Spot Assist and Lane-Keeping Assist. As with all Mercedes cars, along with ABS and Electronic Stability Control, additional electronic safety systems also come as standard. Attention Assist monitors steering behavior and can help alert to long journey fatigue. Collision Prevention Assist gives the driver a visual and acoustic warning if the set safety distance from a vehicle ahead or stationary obstacle reduces.
All in all, CLA’s interior looks and feels well made, but a few squeaks and rattles did make themselves heard during our time with the car. Unfortunately it appears that smaller Mercedes’ interiors still don’t quite possess the Über solid build of the firm’s premier league range.
On the road:
Currently CLA is available with two petrol engines ranging in power from 122 hp to 211 hp and two diesel units offering 136 hp and 170 hp.
With only 122 hp to play with from its 4-cylinder 1.6 litre petrol motor, the CLA 180 Sport still musters a respectable 0-62 mph time of 9.3 seconds and a 130 mph top speed, no doubt assisted by the car’s low 1,395kg kerb weight. Admittedly you do have to work the engine fairly hard to extract the oomph, not that this is a chore, thanks to a positive six-speed manual gearbox and satisfyingly throaty exhaust note and turbo whistle.
Upon firing up the CLA 220 CDI 2.2 litre diesel motor sounds a bit gruff, but settles down once under way. The seven speed auto gearbox proves quick-witted enough, if not changing ratios in the lightening quick fashion of dual clutch offerings from Audi and BMW. Performance is certainly strong, with a 143 mph top speed and the 62mph sprint being dispatched in 8.2 seconds. Power delivery is decently progressive only suffering small amounts of delay until the turbo comes on boost. Unfortunately refinement levels aren’t as good as in the C180 Sport, so despite being quicker, the 220 CDI is arguably less enjoyable to drive than its petrol counterpart.
The front wheel drive CLA chassis isn’t as rewarding to drive as the rear driven C-Class either, although it still possesses reasonably good dynamics, changing direction quickly and cornering with minimal body roll, with a helm meaty enough to inspire ‘press-on’ confidence. Despite riding on sports suspension the ride is pretty comfortable, with only big road scars intruding into the cabin, although chunky tyres do throw up a fair amount of road roar.
Both CLA derivatives return very respectable economy figures: the diesel 220 CDI takes the honours with a high 62.8 mpg and low 117g/km CO2 output. Not that the petrol model has anything to be ashamed of with figures of 50.4 mpg and 130g/km of CO2. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Mercedes’ curvy new four-door is the most aerodynamic car in its class, boasting a drag coefficient of 0.22Cd. Assisting the naturally sleek saloon in returning these headline figures are a front grille that closes at speed, aerodynamically tuned mirrors, in addition to fins integrated into the rear light clusters and ventilated wheel arch linings.
Although arguably possessing greater aesthetic quality than dynamic ability – with prices starting at £24,355 – the CLA combines junior CLS looks, with an A-Class price tag. This will be enough to sway many buyers in the direction of Mercedes’ baby saloon.
Mercedes CLA 180 Sport
OTR Price: £24,355.00
Car as tested with options: £31,595
Max Power: 122hp @ 5000 rpm
Max Torque: 200 Nm at 1,250 – 4,000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Acceleration: 0-62mph: 9.3 seconds
Max speed: 130 mph
MPG (combined): 50.4
CO2 emissions: (g/km) 130
Insurance group: 24
CLA 220 CDI Sport
OTR Price: £29,355.00
Car as tested with options: £40,845
Max Power: 170hp @ 3,400 – 4,000rpm
Max Torque: 170 Nm at 3,400 – 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 7G-DCT seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Acceleration: 0-62mph: 8.2 seconds
Max speed: 143 mph
MPG (combined): 62.8
CO2 emissions: (g/km) 117
Insurance group: 28