Mercedes CLA 250 CGI

We drive the turbocharged petrol version of the new Mercedes CLA ahead of its launch this year

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

If our verdict was based on looks alone, the CLA would get five stars. The sleek coupe-like styling makes it one of the best-looking small cars around. But it falls short, because of the frustrating automatic gearbox, concerns about practicality and the fact that the quality of materials doesn’t quite match the price tag.

The new CLA promises to blend style and sportiness in an effort to attract younger buyers to Mercedes, but the CLA 220 CDI diesel we drove earlier in the week wasn’t perfect. Will this turbocharged petrol CLA 250 be a better fit?

It certainly has the pace to match the CLA’s looks. This 208bhp 2.0-litre car, on sale later in the year, promises 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds. The engine is smooth, with a decent amount of punch right through the rev range, but the seven-speed auto lets it down. There’s a disappointing delay between shifts, especially using the paddles in manual mode.

Catch a glimpse of the CLA’s styling, and its flaws are easy to forgive, though. It has an aggressive presence on the road, with a sloping roofline and flowing curves.

Inside, the car is recognisable from the A-Class on which it’s based, with the large, centrally mounted infotainment screen and stylish air vents. The trouble is that while some of the materials feel fine in an A-Class, they’re perhaps not suitable for this more expensive model, which is expected to cost about £29,000.

Our CLA featured the Comfort suspension, and had a relaxing and compliant ride that should suit our potholed roads better than the optional Sports set-up. In typical Mercedes style, the handling is more composed and relaxing than it is entertaining.

This car is something of a practicality paradox. It offers 130 litres more boot space than the A-Class, at 471 litres, but the coupé shape means the opening is awkward, and the lip is quite high, too. Passengers in the rear will also find headroom tight.

So while the CLA looks good, and should succeed in boosting Mercedes’ appeal to a different group of customers, it’s far from perfect. And when the Audi A3 saloon arrives early next year, it could find itself struggling to keep up.

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