New Mercedes CLA 250 AMG Line 2019 review

Should you choose the new Mercedes CLA 250 AMG Line over an A-Class saloon? We drive it in the UK to find out...

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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The new CLA should sit well with buyers looking for a style-focussed alternative to the A-Class. While the retail price is higher than the conventional hatchback for almost no mechanical benefit, the swoopy styling should help to tempt some buyers, especially when PCP finance deals mean that the extra outlay is quite small. However, this CLA 250 isn’t our pick of the range; engine refinement disappoints, and it’s likely to be quite thirsty, too.

Buyers are spoiled for choice when it comes to small premium cars at the moment. Audi makes the A3 in a wide variety of flavours, the VW Golf remains ever-present, and there’s an all-new BMW 1 Series on the way.

But one glance at the Mercedes range suggests that the Stuttgart-based brand could cover the segment on its own. Joining the two new A-Class (hatchback and Saloon) models there is now a pair of CLA variants: a ‘Shooting Brake’ swoopy estate, and the four-door ‘Coupe’ driven here.

Best hatchbacks to buy

On the face of it, it’s hard to work out why Mercedes offers the CLA alongside the A-Class Saloon. With this CLA 250 AMG Line Premium Plus – as pricey as the petrol range gets outside of the full-fat Mercedes-AMG models – costing £36,630, it makes quite a jump from the £34,955 you’ll need to fork out from the A-Class saloon; itself £595 more than the equivalent hatch. So what sets it apart?

As with the previous model, the CLA aims to be the trendiest member of Merc’s small car family. While it shares its wheelbase with the A-Class, it’s longer overall – 4,688mm to the Saloon’s 4,549mm – and very slightly wider, too. As a result, the gentler flow towards a tapered boot lid helps to give off a mini-CLS vibe, and a look that’s more coherent than the Saloon’s somewhat abrupt rump.

The extra length benefits boot space, too: at 460 litres, the CLA is almost on par with the larger C-Class for storage, and is more spacious than the A-Class Saloon (420 litres) and the hatch (370 litres). Obviously, the latter benefits from a much larger opening.

The sleek shape does bring with it other compromises, though. Step into the back seats – an act which comes with an extra sense of occasion thanks to the stylish frameless doors – and the 36mm drop in headspace will make taller people feel a little cramped. It’s compounded by the fact that foot room is tight under the front seats, so buyers looking to carry adults regularly would probably do better with the Audi A3 Saloon.

Up front, however, the story is much more positive. Sharing its dash design with the A-Class, the CLA manages to make the Audi, and any other rival for that matter, look old-hat. Mercedes’s latest MBUX infotainment system places two digital displays in a continuous sweep across the top of the dash. Other features, like the turbine-style air vents and climate toggle switches, look and feel great, too.

In the AMG Line, the MBUX system uses a 10-inch touchscreen beside digital dials shown on a seven-inch display. Spend £1,395 on the Premium pack, and this switches to a 10-inch screen, offering customisable trip, navigation and media functions that are controlled through the touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel. Other Premium extras include augmented reality navigation, which can impose digital instructions onto the nav screen in real time; plus an upgraded sound system, ambient lighting and keyless go.

Above that sits the AMG Line Premium Plus. This costs a further £1,495 and comes with a panoramic glass roof, electric seats, traffic sign recognition and LED intelligent lighting.

Out on the road, the CLA feels much the same to drive as the conventional A-Class models. The CLA has a wider track, and the extra metal out back means that it weighs 35kg more, but neither changes are significant enough to transform the experience. The CLA turns into corners with more enthusiasm than an A3, and remains flatter as the weight loads up. The outgoing BMW 1 Series, thanks to its rear-driven chassis, feels slightly better balanced, though.

The BMW is more comfortable, too. A 1 Series equipped with optional adaptive dampers is able to round off little bumps which the CLA jiggles over. However, at motorway speeds, the CLA manages to settle, and the slippery body shape generates barely a whisper of wind noise. 

That’s not something that can be said of the engine. Whether it’s the diesel-like clatter at idle or the harsh, thrashy sound it makes towards the red line, the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine seems rather out of place in a Mercedes. And while performance is strong – a 6.3-second 0-62mph time is well within hot hatch territory – it’s hampered by a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox which is slow to kick down and surges on upshifts. In our experience, the CLA 180 petrol or CLA 220 d diesel are smarter all-rounders.

The CLA 250 will do up to 41.5mpg according to the latest WLTP testing procedure. While a figure close to that should be achievable on a motorway run, it’ll struggle to achieve 30mpg in urban driving. That’s despite the best efforts of the stop-start system, which cuts in at every opportunity and fires up the engine again almost instantly. The low CO2 emissions are very competitive for the performance on offer, however; the Audi A3 40 TFSI (190), which gives up over 30bhp to the Merc, emits the same.

While there’s a decent step change in retail price between the CLA and the A-Class, should you choose to take out a finance deal, there’s really not much of a difference. Put down a £5,000 deposit on a PCP agreement, and you’ll be paying around £504 per month for a CLA 250 over three years. That’s only £21 per month more than an A 250 hatch – or £16 more than the Saloon – on matching terms. 

Chief reviewer

Alex joined Auto Express as staff writer in early 2018, helping out with news, drives, features, and the occasional sports report. His current role of Chief reviewer sees him head up our road test team, which gives readers the full lowdown on our comparison tests.

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