Mercedes-Benz has lifted the veil on its eagerly awaited CLA, revealing a strikingly styled entry-level four-door coupé that’s set to the reach the UK in May.

The CLA is little changed visually from the well-received Concept Style Coupé, which was shown as a precursor to the new car early last year.

The CLA was revealed for the first time at a closed-door media reception prior to the Detroit motor show. The new model will enter the Mercedes line-up beneath the C-class at a starting price of about £25,000, or £3000 above corresponding A-class models.

The first public outing for the CLA will be at this week’s Berlin Fashion Week, where it is set to play a prominent role as part of a broad-based marketing campaign that intends to see the CLA projected into a new segment for Mercedes.

Sales and marketing boss Joachim Schmidt said: "This car gives us the chance to draw in a huge number of customers we didn't have access to before, especially in markets where the A-class isn't sold. 

"It will be the foundation if our future growth, appealing to Generation Y buyers and those young at heart. In particular those Generation Y buyers will bring down the average age of our customers, and also most likely, be conquest customers from other brands. That is why CLA is do important to us and represents a cornerstone of our growth ambitions."

Among the CLA’s rivals will be the Volkswagen Jetta, soon-to-be-revealed Audi A3 saloon and a secret BMW 1-series saloon currently undergoing development and due for launch in 2015.

Developed under the internal codename C117, the CLA is the third model to be based on Mercedes’ new modular front-wheel-drive platform. It follows on from the second-generation B-class and third-generation A-class, with which it shares its mechanical package, electric architecture and interior appointments. 

Unlike the more traditionally styled C-class, with its longitudinally mounted engines and rear-wheel drive, the CLA uses a transverse engine and front-drive layout. Selected models will also be offered with optional 4Matic four-wheel drive in the UK, including a yet-to-be-revealed CLA45 AMG range-topper that packs a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with 349bhp.

Inspiration for the new Mercedes saloon can be traced to the larger CLS, with which the CLA shares its heavily sculptured exterior design. Mercedes design boss Gorden Wagener describes the new car as a “design rebel” and suggests that its exterior will influence the look of future models, including the mechanically identical GLA junior off-roader set to be launched later this year. 

At 4630mm in length, 1777mm in width and 1437mm in height, the CLA is 40mm longer, a scant 7mm wider and 43mm lower than the existing C-class. However, the C-class is set to grow dramatically in its next incarnation as part of a significant realignment of the Mercedes line-up brought about by a decision to pursue sales more aggressively in the world’s two largest markets, China and North America.

Mercedes is talking up the aerodynamic properties of its sleek new entry-level saloon. It claims an overall drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.22 for an upcoming CLA180 BlueEfficiency Edition model that will go on sale in some markets from June, although its UK launch has yet to be confirmed. Its 0.22 Cd represents a record for a series-production car. Regular models have a Cd of 0.23.

The initial UK line-up for the CLA is likely to use only the A-class and B-class ranges’ more potent four-cylinder powerplants to reflect its more premium positioning. 

A 120bhp four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine, developed in cooperation with Renault, will power the base C180 model. A turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol powerplant with 208bhp will appear in the initial range-topping CLA250. The sole diesel model at launch will be the CLA220 CDI, powered by a 168bhp 2.1-litre turbodiesel. 

Other engines will follow, including a highly tuned turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder developed by AMG. Said to boast a specific output of over 174bhp per litre, it is set to provide the upcoming four-wheel-drive CLA45 AMG with a BMW-M135i-topping 349bhp.

All engines are mounted transversely and, on initial models, drive the front wheels through either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. A 4matic four-wheel drive option, which uses a Haldex-style multi-plate clutch to apportion power to each wheel, will be offered but not from the start of sales.

The CLA uses the same suspension system and chassis geometry as the A-class, although the rear axle carrier has been tuned to provide what is described as a “unique dynamic character”.

The aluminum-intensive arrangement uses MacPherson struts up front and multi-links at the rear. Two set-ups will be offered: Sport and Comfort. Sport lowers the ride height by 20mm up front and 15mm at the rear for added body control. 

The steering uses electro-mechanical assistance and, in combination with the ESP stability control, is capable of providing counter steer to improve stability in strong side winds and road surfaces that offer differing levels of grip.

Mercedes has provided the CLA with a raft of safety systems and claims that it will achieve a five-star EuroNCAP rating. Standard-fit systems include drowsiness-detecting Attention Assist and radar-based Collision Prevention Assist that helps to boost braking from a speed of 4mph to avoid or reduce the severity of impacts. A full roster of airbags features adaptive deployment for the front ’bags.

Optional safety systems include Distronic Plus, which complements Collision Prevention Assist and is engineered to provide autonomous braking at speeds of up to 124mph. Buyers can also specify the new saloon with Adaptive Highbeam Assist and a so-called Tracking Package that brings blind-spot and lane-keeping assistance.

CLAs bound for the UK will not be available with basic trim. Instead, Mercedes plans to offer the new car here in Sport and AMG Sport trim.