The CLA is the kind of car that can send you to unfathomable depths of confusion if you think too hard about what it is and where it fits into the market.

It’s a 4.6m-long saloon that shares its platform with a duo of smaller, cheaper hatchbacks (the A and B-Class) but which is priced like a BMW 3 Series and looks more than anything like a shrunken homage to a £50,000 four-door coupé.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
The rear-end styling is supposed to be muscular, but we're not so sure

But forget all that for now. The most important question to address is simply “Do I like it?”, because this is Mercedes’ attempt to drop a super-desirable fashion car into the heart of the notoriously straight-laced business market.

As such, the CLA has the same relationship to an Audi A4 that a Fiat 500 has to a Ford Fiesta, or that a Range Rover Evoque has to a BMW X3. Here, Stuttgart is banking on what the industry calls ‘emotional’ appeal, rather than rational appeal, and enough of it to compensate for one or two evident shortcomings, which we’ll come to.

So, if you’re not considerably more taken with the way this car looks than you are with your average £30k executive four-door, the firm has missed the mark.

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Wait to see one in the raw before you make up your mind, though, because you might be impressed. The CLA is, without a doubt, distinctively curvy and different – but it produced a mixed reaction from our test jury.

Everyone praised Mercedes’ intention to produce something beautiful in a class of fairly slavish uniformity; not everyone credited the finished execution with particular elegance. In the metal, the CLA’s slightly droopy rear end and oversized features came in for particular criticism. The 2016 facelift saw the inclusion of a diamond-cut grille, a reshaped front bumper, while the rear end was restyled to give the car a more purposeful stance and svelte-look.

All versions, excluding the headline CLA 250 petrol and CLA 45 AMG, are front-wheel drive only, sending power through six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearboxes.

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