Mercedes CLA 220 CDI

Our first test on UK roads of the Mercedes CLA, a curvy four-door coupe based on the A-Class

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

The CLA is a well designed, desirable car that will attract younger buyers, but looks aren’t everything. There’s a big boot, but the back seats are cramped. Plus, even with the ‘Comfort’ suspension on our Sport model the ride is too firm, while refinement could be better. We suspect the new Audi A3 Saloon will be a more complete package.

If the sleek new A-Class hatchback is too ordinary for you, Merc has created yet another niche to satisfy your demands. The Mercedes CLA uses identical underpinning to the A-Class, but slips on a curvy new four-door coupe body. Now the CLA has arrived in the UK. So is it a case of style over substance?

There’s no denying that it’s a striking car. Its combination of short overhangs, sharp creases and gently sloping roofline look great from nearly every angle. We particularly like the aggressive front bumper and neat spoiler.

Two trim levels are available in the UK. Top-spec AMG Sport models come with five-spoke AMG alloys, a silver pin grille and slightly deeper bodywork, but even entry-level Sport models, as driven here, have plenty of visual impact.

It’s telling that Mercedes has chosen two sport-orientated trim levels for the CLA, because it’s immediately obvious that Mercedes’ traditional focus on comfort has been ditched for the CLA in favour of a much sportier setup.

Mercedes says its Sport models come with ‘Comfort’ suspension, but we dread to think how firm the AMG Sport’s ‘Sport’ suspension is. Even small ripples or imperfections in the road surface are translated into head-jerking jolts, while the CLA crashes and bangs over speed bumps.

It’s a shame, because Mercedes could have prioritised comfort on the standard model, broadening its appeal, and reserved a much firmer set-up for the CLA 45 AMG version due this autumn. On a positive note, the brittle ride translates into sporty handling. The steering is well-weighted and the CLA is happy charging into corners, staying flat and flying out the other side.

We drove the CLA 220 CDI, the only diesel model available, which has good in-gear acceleration. This is especially true in sport mode, where the throttle response and gearshifts from the dual-clutch gearbox sharpen up their act.

Refinement is an issue, though, with a fair bit of clatter from the engine under heavy throttle loads. It’s a similar story at high speeds, where road and wind noise is acceptable for a car of this size, but no match for the new crop of VW Group products, like the SEAT Leon and VW Golf.

Fortunately, the CLA makes up for it in other areas, especially the interior, which is as stylish as the outside. Sports seats, chrome highlights and chunky vents create a real sense of occasion. The low seating position, with plenty of adjustment, is spot on, too. Passengers in the back don’t have it quite as good, though – a six-footer will have a hard time squeezing in behind a tall driver, which is disappointing for a car that’s longer than a C-Class.

Boot capacity is 471 litres, which is 130 litres bigger than an A-Class’s. That's some consolation, but we’d happily trade a few litres for some extra kneeroom for rear seat passengers.

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