Mercedes CLA review
With sharp looks, an engaging drive and a varied engine range, the Mercedes CLA is an attractive alternative to the Audi A3 saloon
The Mercedes Benz CLA is a four-door coupe version of the A-Class hatchback. But rather than looking like an A-Class with a boot, it’s more like a shrunken replica of the Mercedes CLS. And just like that model, it’s also offered as a five-door Shooting Brake estate.
It’s part of Mercedes’ strategy to attract younger buyers, and with its head turning looks, powerful engine line-up and the desirable three-pointed-star on the nose, it's certainly an attractive alternative to models such as the BMW 1 Series or Audi A3.
The Mercedes CLA is available with three petrol engines, a 1.6-litre turbo in the CLA 180, a 2.0-litre turbo mated to an auto gearbox and four-wheel drive in the CLA 250 4MATIC, or a 350bhp 2.0-litre turbo in the flagship CLA 45 AMG. Diesel buyers can choose a 2.1-litre diesel with either 134bhp or 175bhp, in the CLA 200 CDI or CLA 220 CDI respectively unfortunately, while the diesels are efficient, they sound pretty gruff compared to rivals.
Trim levels comprise Sport and AMG Sport, while the CLA 45 AMG tops the range. Go for an AMG Sport model, and the aggressive looking body kit is virtually identical to the flagship model’s.
Either way, the Mercedes CLA is well equipped with heaps of safety kit and the latest connectivity features from Mercedes, such as Apple Car Play - this allows owners to link apps and their music library direct from their iPhone onto the large central infotainment screen.
Despite being good to look at, well equipped and good to drive, the main problem with the Mercedes CLA is that its suspension is too firm. It's bumpy and really only suited to smooth tarmac, and overall it lacks the cruising ability of larger models in the Mercedes line-up.
Our choice: CLA 220 CDI Sport
Engines, performance and drive
The Mercedes CLA is a front-wheel-drive sports saloon, which bucks the long-standing Mercedes tradition of creating cars with a front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout.
Out on the road, there's good grip in corners and the steering is progressive and well weighted. Factor in positive turn-in and taut body control, and the Mercedes feels sportier and sharper than its main rival - the Audi A3 Saloon.
However, there is a downside to this sharp handling, and that’s a pretty poor ride quality. The way it thumps over broken surfaces thanks to its stiff suspension settings becomes tiring. This is a shame, given the cabin is well insulated from wind and road noise.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The Mercedes CLA can be had with either petrol or diesel power. Our pick of the bunch - for running costs, at least - is the CLA 220 CDI, which uses a 2.1-litre diesel. When specced with the Sport trim level, it returns a claimed 67.8mpg, while the AMG Sport version manages a marginally poorer 67.3mpg, thanks to the added burden of larger alloy wheels. Both variants return 111g/km of CO2.
The lower powered CLA 200 CDI emits 117g/km of CO2 and has a claimed 64.2mpg in the Sport and AMG Sport guises when mated to the six-speed gearbox, while the automatic versions achieve 62.8mpg and 118g/km of CO2.
There are two petrol engines available on the CLA. The smallest is a 121bhp 1.6 litre, which emits 130g/km of CO2 and a claimed 50.4mpg when combined with the manual six-speed gearbox. When fitted to the automatic gearbox, emissions drop slightly to 125g/km of CO2 with 52.3mpg.
The most powerful engine in the Mercedes CLA line-up is the 2.0-litre which is fitted to the 250 AMG Sport, and the flagship CLA 45 AMG.
Both are fitted with Mercedes' 4MATIC four-wheel-drive system, with the 250 AMG Sport packing 205bhp, fuel economy of 42.8mpg and emissions of 154g/km. The CLA 45, however, gets a huge 350bhp, but all this power comes at a price - it emits 165g/km of CO2 and is claimed to manage only 39.8mpg.
The price of the Mercedes CLA starts at around £24,000, which seems reasonable. However, this will soon start to rise as you add options. And that could be necessary, as basic kit on the entry-level models is a little disappointing.
Interior, design and technology
There's no doubt that the striking looks of the Mercedes CLA are one of its selling points. Take into account the sweeping side creases, tapered rear and the nose of the A-Class, and it wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest it looks like a scaled down CLS - especially since the larger car was recently subject to a CLA-aping facelift.
Whether the styling works as well on the shrunken proportions of the Mercedes CLA is open to debate, but there’s no doubt that it turns more heads than the four-door Audi A3 Saloon. Frameless windows are a nice coupe touch, too. And if imitation is the greatest form of flattery, then the CLA has another CLS-inspired feature, as it’s also available as a Shooting Brake lifestyle estate.
Inside, the dashboard is identical to that found in the Mercedes A-Class, so you get a smart design dominated by SLS-inspired air vents, a tablet-style screen and a smart, textured leather multifunction steering wheel.
Mercedes also offers an Exclusive Package worth around £2,000, which adds upmarket features such as heated seats, leather upholstery with contrast stitching and aluminum trim.
Look closely around the cabin though, and there are a few hard plastics dotted around, so the overall quality of the finish isn't quite up to Audi levels. Still, this isn’t enough to detract from the premium feel of the Mercedes CLA.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Get behind the wheel of the Mercedes CLA, and it's clear that the low-slung driving position has been created to help with the sporty overall atmosphere of the car. Happily, though, anyone should be able to get comfortable as there's plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment.
Up front, there's plenty of storage space dotted around the centre of the Mercedes CLA - the electric parking brake frees up room on the centre console for some decent storage space.
For occupants in the rear, however, things aren't so good. The coupe roofline makes space quite tight, and it's easy for taller passengers to bang their head on the low door frame getting in and out. The Mercedes CLA is, on paper, a five-seater, but the seat in the middle of the rear bench is narrow and the wide transmission tunnel means there's not a great deal of foot space.
Despite the slightly claustrophobic rear quarters of the Mercedes CLA, there is plenty of luggage space. There is a 470-litre boot with load securing rings, as well as a foam puncture repair kit which hides under the boot floor. What's more, Mercedes also provides split-fold rear seats as standard.
If you want more space but don’t want to sacrifice style, then the CLA Shooting Brake should appeal. It’s carries a premium of around £1,000 over the saloon, and increases boot space to 495 litres. Clearly it’s not a full-on load lugger, but the extra space, and arguably more handsome looks, mean it’s worth considering.
There are a lengthy list of options which make the CLA more practical. The storage package which retails around £170, adds parcel nets in the cabin, a 12V socket in the passenger footwell, storage boxes under the front seats and a sunglasses holder in the overhead panel. For a similar the same price, an optional rear armrest and ski hatch can be ordered. Privacy glass hovers around the £230 mark, while run-flat tyres will cost you about £140.
Reliability and Safety
The Mercedes CLA shares its underpinning with the Mercedes A-Class which has been on sale in the UK since the end of 2011, so any teething troubles with shared components should have been ironed out by now.
In our 2014 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, Mercedes finished 9th for manufacturers. While this is a drop of four places from 2013, it still finished ahead of fellow Germans Audi and BMW. Neither the A-Class or the CLA featured in our top 150 cars.
Standard safety kit on the CLA includes nine airbags and Isofix child seat mountings. Plus, when the car senses an impact, the active bonnet rises 65mm to protect pedestrians from the hard components underneath. All of this safety tech led to a five-star rating from crash test experts Euro NCAP, which was awarded in 2013.