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In-depth reviews

Mercedes CLA review - Engines, performance and drive

The Mercedes CLA uses a wider track than the A-Class, but the differences to the car’s handling are marginal

On paper, the Mercedes CLA and the slightly frumpier A-Class Saloon draw certain parallels. However, under the skin, Merc’s engineers have made a few changes; the CLA’s track width has been stretched by 63mm at the front and 55mm at the back – in an effort to make it the sharper of the two to drive.

While the differences to most motorists will be marginal, the tweaks help the CLA stay flatter while cornering and make it the more engaging of the two to drive. This also helps make the CLA an accomplished motorway car; pick the diesel engine and you’ll have a car that challenges a C-Class for its grown-up feel, fuel economy and cruising prowess.

No matter which model you choose, the CLA responds keenly to your inputs, with very little body roll. Every UK car comes with a seven or eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, but every version we tried proved responsive enough not to need the steering wheel-mounted paddles. It’s good to know they’re there if you want them, however.

We’d recommend the entry-level CLA 180 rather than the more powerful CLA 200 if you’re after a petrol car. The two share their 1.3-litre turbocharged engine, and while both can feel strained under hard acceleration, the 180 is punchy enough. The CLA 250 is expensive but smooth and powerful, giving the four-door coupe a surprising turn of pace. AMG models (both 35 and more powerful 45-badged versions) are also available.

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The diesel models will suit higher mileage drivers. Using the firm’s newer 2.0-litre diesel unit, these are much smoother than oil-burning Mercs of old. The diesel CLAs aren’t as quiet as the petrol models on the move, but customers covering big distances will be grateful for their dramatically superior fuel economy. There’s only one version (CLA 220 d) available at the moment, but with plenty of torque, it feels as quick and capable as the top-end petrol cars.

The standard CLA is only available in one trim line with various permutations: AMG Line, complete with sporty styling and large 18 or 19-inch wheels. Our test car rode on optional adaptive dampers that are reserved for sporty AMG 35 and 45 models in the UK, and while it rode very nicely, we've not yet tried a car on standard steel springs. Make sure you take one for a test drive before taking the plunge.

Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

There are a load of petrol engines to choose from, but only one diesel CLA and no plug-in hybrid at the moment. The CLA 180 uses a 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine producing 134bhp; it’ll do 0-62mph in nine seconds, while the 161bhp CLA 200 trims this to 8.2 seconds. The differences are marginal, so we wouldn’t bother with the more powerful engine. Both feel a little strained under hard acceleration, but take things easy and they impressively quiet and refined.

Step up to the CLA 220, which uses a 187bhp 2.0-litre engine, and the 0-62mph time tumbles to seven seconds flat. This unit is also available with 4MATIC all-wheel drive, but adding that extra traction doesn’t affect performance. The CLA 250 is faster still (0-62 in 6.3 seconds), while the AMG 35 and AMG 45 S versions both complete the benchmark sprint in less than five seconds (4.9 and 4.0 seconds respectively). Each and every one of these more powerful petrol cars feel quick and composed on the road.

If diesel is your fuel of choice, the only model available is the CLA 220 d. It’ll do 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds and hit 152mph flat out. With loads of torque (400Nm) it makes light work of brisk overtakes, without feeling rattly like old Merc diesels.

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