Mercedes CLA review
The Mercedes CLA is essentially a smaller version of the CLS, with stylish looks and a decent boot
With the new A-Class and now this, the four-door CLA, Mercedes is desperately trying to appeal to a younger buyer. On the face of things, the CLA should help them do this. The stunning looks, powerful engines, reasonable running costs and desirable three-pointed star badge should make it an appealing proposition for those who might previously have opted for a BMW or Audi. It also comes with an abundance of safety kit as standard, as well as the manufacturer's latest connectivity features, which allows owners to link apps like Facebook direct from their iPhone onto the large central infotainment screen. Despite all its efforts, though, the biggest issue for Mercedes is that the front-wheel drive CLA is more composed and relaxing to drive, rather than entertaining. But until the BMW 2 Series and Audi A3 Saloon arrive in 2014, it's in a class of its own.
Our choice: CLA 220 CDI
This is by far the CLA's biggest strength. Based largely on the A-Class with other design cues taken from the larger CLS, it has a sleek coupe-like appearance. And from most angles, it is one of the most attractive compact four-door cars on the market. The sweeping side creases and aggressive front end give it a real presence on the road and makes it a genuine head turner. The short overhang at the rear also helps compliment the strong looks. Mercedes claims that the CLA has created its own niche, and it might have a point. To a certain extent buyers could look to something like the Volkswagen Jetta, though it's bland in comparison. Only the upcoming Audi A3 Saloon and BMW 2 Series are genuine contenders to this car. Unfortunately, the quality doesn't continue on the inside. On first, glance things seem up to the standard you would expect from a Mercedes, but look closer and many of the materials and finishes feel poor quality with some scratchy plastics in places. The sloping roofline hampers visibility, too. The thick B and C-pillars cover blind spots, while the rear window is also very small.
As with most things Mercedes bar the AMG side of the brand, the CLA is composed and competent on the road, but not all that exciting. And while the image might appeal to younger customers, the driving experience is unlikely to help convince them. The handling is far from sharp, and there's little to keep you entertained. In fact it's here that it feels more like just another Mercedes, only a little smaller. There's a choice of 'Comfort' and 'Sports' suspension. For the battered roads of Britain, we'd recommend going for the former, as it's comfortable and capable of dealing with everything but the biggest of potholes and damaged roads, while the stiffness of the Sports option can begin to get tedious. The CLA comes with the choice of a 1.6-litre CLA 180 petrol engine, 2.1-litre 220 CDI and the more powerful CLA 250 CGI. The 220 CDI offers plenty of power right through the rev range, but the engine noise is disappointing and there’s an audible clatter. The CLA 250 is much more refined and will go from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds. Unfortunately both of these engines are driven through the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which suffers from delays between changes, particularly when using the steering wheel-mounted manual paddles.
Based on the A-Class, the CLA comes with many of the same safety systems found in the hatchback model. All CLAs get stability control and Collision Prevention Assist, which helps to protect it from collisions starting at speeds of 4mph. Cars also come with Attention Assist, which detects if the driver is tired. There are also a number of additional safety options, including Lane Tracking that warns if the driver is straying out of the lane and Adaptive Highbeam Assist, which will dip the full beam lights when another car approaches. Despite having some past reliability issues, Mercedes seems to have made significant steps to deal with these issues, and recent models have proved to be much more reliable.
In terms of numbers, the CLA is a practical car. The boot will take up to 471 litres of luggage. That's 130 litres more than the A-Class and slightly more than the C-Class. It also comes with split-folding rear seats - something a little unusual for a saloon-come coupe. However, what the numbers don't tell you is that accessing the load area isn't easy. The coupe shape means that the opening of the boot is quite narrow and an awkward shape. There's also a high boot lip, which makes lugging heavier items in to it quite difficult. Then there are the rear seats. Legroom is adequate enough - even taller passengers won't complain too much about this - but they won't be as happy about headroom. The sloping roofline means that even short people in the back can find their head rubbing on roof lining. The small windows in the back also make it feel a little dark and claustrophobic.
The pick of the range for running costs is the CLA 220 CDI, with emissions of 109g/km and fuel economy of 67mpg. This is dependent on trim and specifications, and emissions can rise to 117g/km depending on which car you pick. Opt for the entry-level petrol model and emissions rise to 126g/km, while economy drops to a reasonable 52mpg. Move up in to the more powerful CLA 250 model and emissions increase to 142g/km, while economy drops further to 46mpg. All models come with a fuel-saving stop-start system fitted as standard. Prices will start at around £24,000, which seems reasonable. However, prices will soon start to rise as you tick a few things on the options list - and this could be necessary, as the standard kit on base models proves a little disappointing.