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
Launched in 2013, the Mercedes CLA is part of the Mercedes strategy to attract younger buyers and with its head turning looks, powerful diesel and petrol engines and the desirable three-pointed-star on the nose, it's certainly an appealing proposition for those who may have previously opted for a BMW 1 Series or an Audi A3 Saloon.
The Mercedes CLA is available with two petrol engines, a 1.6-litre (pictured) or 2.0-litre, with the latter being tweaked to power the flagship CLA 45 AMG with 350bhp. Diesel buyers can choose between a 1.8-litre CDI, or the 2.1-litre unit which sadly, is starting to show it's age due to its gruff nature.
In addition to the super quick CLA 45 AMG (one is currently on our long-term fleet), the entry-level Sport and mid-range AMG Sport form the CLA line-up, with AMG Sport models getting an aggressive looking body kit.
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 it's suspension is too firm. It's bumpy and really compromised so, overall, it lacks the cruising ability of larger models in the Mercedes line-up
Our choice: CLA 220 CDI
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 this the nose of the A-Class and it wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest it looks like a scaled down CLS - especially in light of the reveal of the latest incarnation of the big Mercedes cruiser.
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. Frameless windows are also a nice coupe touch.
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 the cabin, 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.
The Mercedes CLA is a sweet-handling front-wheel-drive sports saloon, so the boys and girls from Stuttgart have bucked 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 turning and taut body control, and the Mercedes feels sportier and sharper than its main rival - the Audi A3 saloon.
As with every positive, there is a downside to this sharp handling.
The ride quality in the CLA is poor, and the way it thumps over broken surfaces as well as its broken suspension becomes tiring - a shame, given the cabin is well insulated from wind and road noise.
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.
However, standard safety kit on the saloon includes nine airbags and Isofix child seat mountings. Plus, when the car senses an impact, the active bonnet rises 65mm to protect pedestrians. All of this safety tech led to a five-star rating from crash test experts Euro NCAP.
Get behind the driving seat 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 space dotted around the centre of the Mercedes CLA - the electric parking brake frees up space, and there are plenty of storage cubby holes on the centre consoles.
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. 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.
Mercedes also provides 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.
The Mercedes CLA can be chosen with either a petrol or diesel engine under the hood. Our pick of the bunch - for running costs, at least - is the CLA 220 CDI which is powered by a 2.1-litre unit. When specced with the Sport trim level, it returns 67.8 mpg, while the AMG Sport version manages 67.3. Both variants return 111g/km of CO2.
The 1.8-litre Mercedes CLA 200 CDI emits 117g/km of CO2 and 64.2mpg on the Sport and AMG sport models which are mated to the six-speed gearbox, while the the automatic versions of both models achieve 62.8mpg with 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 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, and the 250 AMG Sport has 205bhp and returns 42.8mpg with 154g/km of CO2. The CLA 45, however, gets a huge 350bhp, but all this power comes at a price - it emits 165g/km of CO2 and manages 39.8mpg.
The price of the Mercedes CLA starts 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.