The CLA Shooting Brake, like its four-door sibling, offers comfort, lowered comfort and lowered sport suspension tunes, fitted as standard to entry-level, mid-level and top-level Engineered by AMG trim levels respectively.
And given that we found the lowered comfort tune skittish and uncompliant when we sampled it on the CLA saloon, it’s heartening to find a more balanced dynamic compromise here on the range’s baseline comfort setting.
While it still has its shortcomings, the CLA’s ride is much more supple, and its handing more natural, thus configured.
The damping is fairly gentle, just as it should be for a bias towards refinement, and allows its wheels plenty of vertical travel when absorbing bigger lumps and bumps in the road without disturbing the body too much. Body roll is distantly present in the handling mix but doesn’t prevent the car from steering crisply and cornering with poise.
Those standard 18in rims feel a size too big for the car at times, causing the suspension to thump over sharper edges and making for notable road roar over coarser surfaces. But they also grant a nicely judged lateral grip level, which is sweetly balanced between the axles.
Mercedes fits its variable-ratio Direct Steer steering set-up to the CLA as standard. It is a passive system that becomes more direct off-centre. We’ve found it a mixed blessing in stiffer-sprung, bigger-tyred applications, but in the entry-level Shooting Brake’s case it didn’t feel so woolly or drowning in power assistance as it has elsewhere, instead allowing weight to build helpfully with lateral load and communicating grip levels well.
The upshot of all of this confirms what we’ve long suspected about Mercedes’ new-generation compact cars: that they’re at their rounded best and most enjoyable on the road in unadulterated specification, and that they are lowered, stiffened and endowed with larger-diameter wheel rims at considerable cost.
Hard driving only serves to confirm the impression the CLA Shooting Brake gives at lower speeds: that it doesn’t need firmer or shorter suspension springs, or bigger wheels and tyres, to retain its dynamic poise.
Carrying big speeds into corners leads you to find the limit of the car’s lateral grip levels before it runs out of body control — although even here, the car retains decent cornering balance. It turns in keenly, rolling just enough to transfer its mass helpfully to its outside rear wheel and arcing in a balanced fashion from apex to exit rather than running wide.