The CLA 250’s handling delivers on Mercedes’ dynamic selling pitch up to a point – more convincingly, just, than its performance does, at least. The car isn’t blessed with a particularly adhesive outright grip level but uses what it’s got fairly well.
The suspension resists pitch and lateral body roll effectively, the chassis changes direction with a keenness that’s just above the ordinary, and it grips with decent balance on a middling throttle, although you can easily disrupt that grip by trying to deploy too much torque too soon through the driven front axle.
Mercedes offers only one wheel size and one passive damper specification on the car, with bigger rims and adaptive shocks being reserved for AMG versions and with Mercedes’ UK distributor choosing to offer only ‘cooking’ versions of the car in AMG Line trim. This means that although the car’s driving mode selector allows you to adjust power steering weight and powertrain calibration to suit your preference, there’s no potential to tailor the way the CLA handles, or to rebalance ride comfort and body control either on the move or in the showroom.
Unfortunately for Mercedes, this is a car that could really do with a set of good, well-tuned adaptive dampers in order to work well at pace on more challenging surfaces of the sort that British B-roads so often supply. Stuttgart’s decision to switch to firmed-up settings costs the CLA some basic composure here, making its vertical body control seem reactive and excitable. Body control can seem brittle and lacking in fluency, too, at motorway speeds.
The car is at its most natural-feeling in its default Comfort mode of operation. Sport mode adds a little too much steering weight for our tastes without quite bringing enough feel in to make the trade worthwhile.
COMFORT AND ISOLATION
At a basic level – in respect of what’s afforded by its seats and the orientation of its controls – the CLA is a pretty comfortable car and its wind insulation is competitive, too. However, its ride comfort and isolation are notably short even of that of the better examples of the current A-Class that we’ve tested, which means that it trails its better direct rivals in those respects by some distance.
Much as the car’s engine is more noisy and strained than you would like when it’s working at high revs, so does its suspension seem oddly conductive over rough bitumen. It’s also restive and given to rebound over uneven roads, and more clunky over bigger, sharper edges than is becoming for a premium saloon – even if it does happen to be one with a pseudo-sporting brief.