Two trim levels are available, Sport and AMG Sport. The basic spec includes alloys, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, Bluetooth, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and upholstery made partly from man-made leather. AMG Sport trim adds xenon headlamps, sportier styling and the sports suspension. That’s even more of a reason to avoid it than the hefty price hike.
The CLA is an important car for Mercedes, both because it’s the company’s first compact four-door saloon in recent years, and because it’s aimed at bringing younger buyers into the Mercedes brand. It certainly has the looks to succeed. Mercedes calls the CLA a four-door coupe, and the low bonnet and swooping roofline support the company’s argument. Even entry-level versions look good, while AMG Sport models are sharper still and the 45 AMG adds a tonne of aggression.
When a car looks as elegant as the CLA, it can be difficult for the interior to live up to the exterior. It’s good to see Mercedes is on form here, then, with carefully chosen, attractive materials and stylish touches dotted around your field of vision. The iPad-like screen for the infotainment system adds a high-tech feel, too, but despite the menu-focused functionality of the systems, the dashboard is still rather cluttered with buttons. Rear visibility isn’t ideal, either, due to a small back window and thick rear pillars.
The CLA180 has a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 122bhp mated to a manual gearbox. It’s not especially fast, with less power than most rivals, but it’s smooth and flexible. The CLA220 CDI has a 2.1-litre diesel engine, and is only available with a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox. It’s not as quiet or as smooth as you’d like, but it feels very punchy with 168bhp.
From the outside, you’d be forgiven for thinking the CLA is a less than practical choice. Actually, it’s not too bad, with enough room for four adults to sit in comfort. Rear legroom is adequate, but that sloping roofline can make headroom tight for taller passengers. And, because the roof tapers down at the sides, passengers will have to mind their heads when getting in. The boot can carry an impressive 470 litres, almost exactly the same as the C-Class saloon, but the narrow opening makes the space hard to get at.
The CLA is based on the same underpinnings as the A-Class and B-Class, cars which seem to be proving reliable since their respective launches. However, Mercedes doesn’t rank very highly in Warranty Direct’s manufacturer standings. The various test cars we drove felt sturdy and well-built.
Ride and handling
There are two suspension setups for the CLA. Even the standard one on Sport models is decidedly firm, crashing uncomfortably over potholes and sunken drain covers at low speeds. On the motorway, the slightest ripple in the surface causes the car to fidget and jostle irritatingly. The firm suspension does mean reasonably tight body control in bends, though, and the handling is generally grippy and secure. The steering has a pleasant meaty weight to it, but although it’s speedy enough when you’ve a bit of lock on, the initial responses could do with being sharper. Meanwhile, the AMG Sport version has a lowered suspension. We haven’t yet experienced it on British roads, but given how firm the standard setup is, we suspect that the sportier version will be too uncomfortable.
The CLA is pricey to buy compared with rivals like the Audi A3 Saloon. However, thanks in part to its slippery shape and high-tech engines, the CLA is economical to run. The 220 CDI manages 62.8mpg and emits 117g/km of CO2, making fill-ups infrequent and keeping the tax bill small. Perhaps just as impressive is the CLA 180 petrol, which returns 50.4mpg and emits 130g/km of CO2.
As well as the expected airbags and crash protection – which helped the car to a maximum five-star rating from Euro NCAP – the CLA is fitted with Collision Prevention Assist, which warns the driver of obstacles in front of the car and can assist with emergency braking. Attention Assist is also fitted to alert the driver when it detects a lack of attention on the road.
With its good looks, impressive quality, smart technology and punchy, efficient engines, the Mercedes CLA is a very desirable car. Just make sure you can live with a firm ride, and that you avoid the AMG Sport version.