Mercedes CLA (2013-2019) review
The Mercedes CLA is a sharp looking four-door variant of the A-Class, and rivals the Audi A3 Saloon
With its swooping lines, the CLA is part of the model revamp at Mercedes that's designed to attract younger buyers. It’s certainly a sharp looking saloon, and is an intriguing alternative to premium hatchbacks such as the BMW 1 Series or Audi A3. And beneath its head-turning skin, buyers have a range of powerful engines to choose from. The three-pointed star badge on the nose is a big draw, too.
Despite being attractive to look at, generously equipped and good to drive, the CLA suffers from a rather uncomfortable ride – its suspension is too simply firm for poorly maintained British roads. The car is much better suited to smooth tarmac, and overall it lacks the cruising ability of larger models in the Mercedes line-up, especially if you go for one of the noisy diesels.
There aren't many small four-door saloons on sale in the UK, but the Mercedes CLA is one of them. These models tend to fall into two categories, budget or premium, and the CLA falls very much into the latter category.
The CLA's main rival is the Audi A3 Saloon. While that car is merely an A3 with a boot, the CLA-Class has a very different look to the Mercedes A-Class hatchback on which it's based. Rather than graft a boot onto the A-Class, Mercedes has given the CLA a look inspired by the larger CLS four-door coupe. And just like that larger car, and to help expand Merc's niche-filling ambitions even further, it's also available as a five-door CLA Shooting Brake estate.
Car group tests
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Used car tests
The CLA uses the same platform as the A-Class hatchback, so it comes with either front or four-wheel drive, depending on which model you go for, and it's the only saloon in the Mercedes range that doesn't feature rear-wheel drive. So far, the CLA recipe has proven a success: in its first year in 2013, Mercedes sold 100,000 examples worldwide, making it one of the company’s more successful models. In addition, the car has brought a new generation of younger customers to the brand, which is exactly where Mercedes pitches this model.
The CLA comes with three turbo petrol engines and two diesels. The CLA 180 has a 122bhp 1.6-litre turbo four, while the CLA 250 AMG gets a 218bhp 2.0-litre turbo four. At the top of the range, the AMG 45 uses the same engine, but it packs a healthy 351bhp. The CLA180 and CLA250 AMG both come with a six-speed manual as standard, or can be upgraded to Merc's excellent seven-speed DCT twin-clutch auto at extra cost. The CLA 250 AMG with DCT auto can also be had with 4MATIC four-wheel drive, while the AMG 45 gets the auto box and 4WD as standard.
The diesel range comprises the CLA 200 d and CLA 220 d. Both use Merc's tried-and-tested, albeit rather noise 2.1-litre diesel, with the CLA200d coming with 136bhp, and the CLA220d making 177bhp. The smaller engine comes with a six-speed manual or optional seven-speed DCT auto, while the CLA 220d has the seven-speed auto as standard. It too can be had with 4MATIC four-wheel drive.
As the CLA-Class is marketed as an upmarket saloon, it's only offered in Sport or AMG Line trims, while the CLA 250 AMG is now classed as a separate model - unlike the A-Class, there's no CLA SE version available. As well as these higher-spec trims, Mercedes offers limited edition versions with special trim packages and extra kit.
Go for an AMG Line model or the CLA 250 AMG and you get a sporty bodykit, and if you opt to delete the bootlid badges from the CLA, you can make a basic diesel look like the top-spec AMG 45. Whichever model you choose, the CLA is well equipped. There’s a long list of standard safety kit, and connectivity features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.
Apart from the A3 Saloon, there aren't many other rivals for the CLA. Top-spec versions of the VW Jetta are still pretty cheap and old in comparison, while the VW CC is considerably larger, but priced at a similar level. The other alternatives are hatchbacks, such as the BMW 1 Series, Lexus CT, Volvo V40 or Mercedes A-Class itself, or the new breed of crossover, such as the Audi Q2, if you want something that's not a hatch.
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe Mercedes CLA is a sharp looking four-door variant of the A-Class, and rivals the Audi A3 Saloon
- 2Engines, performance and driveDiesels are efficient but gruff, while the smoother petrol engines serve up performance ranging from lively to sensational
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsThe CLA promises decent fuel economy in everyday use, and should hold on to its value reasonably well
- 4Interior, design and technologyInside, the Mercedes CLA delivers a premium feel, although the quality isn’t quite up to Audi levels
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe swooping looks impact on the CLA’s practicality, with limited rear headroom and only a moderately sized boot
- 6Reliability and SafetyMercedes continues to slide down our Driver Power satisfaction survey’s makers’ chart, although the CLA scores on safety kit