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Dashboard, infotainment, sat-nav and passenger space

The CLA’s cabin has all the material and technical razzmatazz of its compact Mercedes contemporaries, so it makes a strong first impression as you settle in to its neon-lit, luxurious-feeling ambience.

Sporty-looking seats with integrated head restraints feature in both rows, and although most testers would have preferred separate, adjustable headrests in principle, none complained about the positioning of those afforded, or the general comfort and support of the seats. The driving position is ergonomically fine and its control layout – while slightly different from the wider saloon norm thanks to a column-mounted gear selector stalk and a fascia-mounted electronic handbrake switch – doesn’t take long to become intuitive.

You’d really need to buy into the form-over-function idea to buy a CLA in preference to an A-Class. I don’t think I’ve sat in a four door car with rear head room as poor as this.

All UK-market CLAs get Mercedes’ 10.3in touchscreen MBUX infotainment and most trim derivatives have a digital instrument screen of the same size joined to it, as part of an apparently seamless sweep of the very latest and most sophisticated display technology you could hope for in a £30,000 car.

The navigation system includes augmented reality video overlays, which help you to pick the right exit at roundabouts, and setting a destination is made particularly easy by the Hey Mercedes voice recognition system, which, based on our testing, accepts the correct destination at the first time of asking and is also particularly good at suggesting destinations from its online points of interest database.

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In some global markets, the voice recognition functionality even extends to answering questions about sport, business, news and general knowledge using online search feeds – so you can ask whether your football team won or your shares appreciated. Sadly, as far as we could tell at least, the UK isn’t one of those markets.

Despite the car’s swooping profile, it’s cleverly packaged enough up front that – even with a panoramic sunroof fitted – our test car made more than sufficient head room for a 6ft 3in driver. However, in the narrowness of its interior and with a driving position that seats you ever so slightly perched and bent-legged at the controls, the CLA doesn’t feel quite as roomy or recumbently configured as is typical of executive saloons in general. Here more than perhaps anywhere else, the car does allow its hatchback-derived roots to show through.

Wider practicality is good in some respects and quite disappointing in others. The second row is one you’d only really consider squeezing two occupants into – and they wouldn’t be likely to be fully grown adults. Space for six-footers is tighter than the class average for heads and legs and the oversized interior door handles are so big that taller occupants can quite easily – and painfully – trap an outboard knee between them and the front seatback while swinging the door closed.

A large boot is the sweetener you get in return for being prepared to suffer that second row. At 460 litres, it’s roomier even than the one you’ll find in the much larger Lexus ES.