The CLA’s wheelbase is identical to that of the current A-Class but, this time around, there’s little chance that you’d guess as much.
With a lower, more elongated roofline than the last CLA had and a rear overhang stretching beyond a metre in length, the car has adopted a much more elegant and clearly distinguished silhouette than that of its hatchback sibling compared with its predecessor – which, by comparison, looked more like an A-Class hatchback that’d had a Bunsen burner held torturously to its hindquarters. As several testers agreed, it succeeds where the last car failed by looking like the downsized CLS ‘coupoon’ you’d hope it might be.
The car uses most of the same suspension hardware as higher-end versions of the A-Class, specifically MacPherson struts at the front axle and a multi-link set-up at the rear, but the tuning and some of the more minor hardware specification are different. Axle tracks of significantly greater width than those of the A-Class would have obliged Mercedes to retune the springs, dampers and anti-roll bars in any case, but the opportunity has been taken to do exactly that, to fit a stiffer front antiroll bar than the A-Class uses, as well as noise- and vibration-countering hydraulic suspension bushes to the front axle. With a lower roofline and lower centre of gravity in play as well as that wider chassis footprint, the CLA, Mercedes claims, is a notably more dynamic-handling prospect than the A-Class.
The engine specification of our test car should certainly put it in a position to impress a keen driver. With four four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines offered in the line-up as of now and one four-cylinder diesel joining the range later this year, the meekest model is the 134bhp, 148lb ft 1.3-litre CLA 180 and the stoutest is the 221bhp, 258lb ft 2.0-litre CLA 250, which is the variant we’ve elected to test here.
A CLA 35 lower-rung AMG performance version with 302bhp will also be available this year, with an even beefier, 416bhp CLA 45 S coming soon afterwards. Those two AMG versions both come with four-wheel drive, as does the midrange CLA 220 petrol. Otherwise, all CLAs are front drive only.