The attractive CLA 250 has a track 63mm wider at the front than its predecessor and 55mm at the rear, and has also grown 48mm in length. It adds a sporting purpose to its appearance that is matched by its performance out on the road, particularly when it comes to corners.
The 2-litre in line four offers 224bhp and only pulls the car from 0 to 62mph in 6.3sec – but it feels faster than that sounds. A raucous engine note, particularly in Sport mode, certainly helps, although it is muted enough within the cool cabin to avoid being judged too unruly. The seven-speed DCT transmission ensures progress is silken too, whether you’re in full auto or in manual paddle shift mood. At the top end, acceleration plateaus perhaps a little early, but for drivers who like an unblemished licence there’s plenty to savour and enjoy here within the confines of the national speed limit.
But it’s in the twisty bits where there’s real fun to be had. The lack of noticeable roll courtesy of a stabiliser bar, and a firm ride – MacPherson struts and coil springs on the front, de-coupled multi-link at the rear – on five-spoke 18in wheels give the CLA 250 a sharpness akin to at least nicely warmed hatches, if not far off those of the properly hot variety. The well weighted direct-steer system makes apex-hugging direction changes a pleasure, while the instant response from the petrol 2.0-litre repays smooth inputs. It’s a car with obvious driver appeal.
Inside, the seats are firm and a little narrow for those running their own personal wide-track spec, but are not uncomfortable over distance. The large 10.25in touchscreen offers Merc’s usual Cinemascope user experience, but with enough physical buttons to make it easy to navigate. There is everything you’d expect and hope for in here, at this price: automatic climate control, Keyless-Go starting function, DAB radio, smartphone integration for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, heated front seats and a wealth of safety packages – although not for the first time, Active Lane Assist can be alarmingly aggressive, even on what one would consider moderate motorway lane changes.
The Premium Plus model tested here also included the all singing and dancing MBUX infotainment experience, which includes not only voice but also gesture recognition. Further testing of such systems is required for a definitive judgement, but let’s just say they take some getting used to if you are unfamiliar. And despite promises to the contrary, the ‘Hey Mercedes’ icily detached female voice still interrupts driver-passenger conversations.
Up front, it’s all very A-Class. But it’s in the second row where the compromise of the compact approach is brought home. Leg room is very limited. If this is to be a family car, it will only be so for a short time – because children tend to grow. Any journey, even over short distances, would be uncomfortable for those of adult proportions.