What is it?
The rebuilding of Mercedes-Benz’s small car ranks began with the latest B-class MPV, gaining momentum with the new A-class hatchback. Now it is moving into top gear with this, the CLA – a car that many expect to revive the compact saloon car market, and with it Mercedes’ ability to attract a younger generation of buyers.
Appearing like a scaled-down CLS, it brings a welcome dose of style to a class long renowned for prosaic looks.
The front is mostly shared with the latest A-class, upon which the CLA is largely based. It’s at the rear where the new saloon differs from its hatchback sibling, with a heavily curved roofline, curvaceous pillars, angled rear screen, sloping bootlid and longer overhang. The CLA also uses frameless doors in a bid to give it coupé-like appeal.
It’s not just good looking but also aerodynamically efficient. Mercedes claims a Cd of 0.23 for regular models.
The CLA is 40mm longer, 7mm wider and 43mm lower than the C-class – itself set to grow appreciably when the new version appears next year. It’s not the end of Mercedes’ efforts to rebuild its small car ranks, though. An even more radical-looking CLA Shooting Brake is due to reach the UK in just over a year’s time.
What's it like?
Climb inside and you discover an interior that shares its entire layout, including the dashboard, switchgear and trims, with the A-class. Good aspects include the driving position, supportive front seats, legible instruments, the feel of the leather-bound steering wheel, the easily read high-mounted infotainment monitor and overall quality of the materials.
Where the CLA falls down is in its failure to provide adequate rearward vision. A combination of factors – such as wide pillars, a high waistline, tall front seatbacks and a shallow rear screen – contrives to rob visibility to the sides and back. It’s bad enough to consider the optional Tracking Package, which brings blindspot and lane-keeping functions, as a must-have item.
Despite being marginally longer than the C-class saloon, the CLA lacks genuine rear seat space, and entry to the rear is made tricky by the heavy tumblehome effect to the shallow side glass. However, it has a generous-sized boot with a 470-litre capacity – 11 litres more than the C-class’s.
In the UK, two turbocharged four-cylinder engines will initially be offered in the CLA. The base CLA 180 gets a 1.6-litre petrol unit developed in partnership with Renault that produces a less than sparkling 120bhp. It is joined by a 2.1-litre diesel that develops 168bhp in the CLA 220 CDI driven here. We’ll also get a 2.0-litre petrol engine with 208bhp in the CLA 250 later this year.
Most engines come with the choice of a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, but the CLA 220 CDI is auto only. It is an efficient unit, with a column-mounted stalk taking the place of a traditional gear selector and wheel-mounted shift paddles that make cog swapping a painless if somewhat uninspiring affair.