MERCEDES CLA REVIEW
What’s hot: Mercedes quality, but affordable, and a super drive
What’s not: The length of the waiting list might be a killer…
X-FACTOR: Not just an affordable Mercedes Benz, but one with edgy lines and space inside for the modern family
Vehicle style: Compact Sedan
Engine/trans: 115kW/250Nm 1.6 turbo petrol | 7spd twin-clutch auto
Fuel consumption listed: 5.7 l/100km | tested: 7.9 l/100km
Here’s the next salvo in Mercedes Benz’ “compact car offensive”: its CLA 200 sedan.
It gate-crashes the Australian market at just under $50,000. It is spookily quiet on road, beautifully finished inside and drives superbly.
It’s also a tad longer (about a centimetre) than the more conservative C-Class sedan and its swoopy coupe-like lines give it real ‘carpark presence’.
But is the new CLA going to sell? Spend a day in the saddle and you won’t even bother ask.
This, the CLA 200, the “A-Class sedan”, is one very compelling car. With that three-pointed-star on the nose, and a price within reach of ‘ordinary’ buyers, it will sell its buns off.
There’s a bank of orders already on the books. The only question in this market will be the length of the waiting list, and how long it will be before you can get your mitts on one.
The interior look and feel will be familiar to Mercedes A-Class hatch buyers. The interior style, layout, controls and material quality are essentially the same.
Settle in behind the grippy sports wheel and there is no mistaking the feel of a premium interior.
The ‘leather’-stitched dash (it’s not really leather), nicely-shaped ARTICO sports seats and the mix of galvanised metal surfaces and highlights elevates the CLA 200 above the common rung.
There is a very typical Mercedes feel of solidity and of no-nonsense style. We weren't so keen though on the 'sports-kit' stripes running through the seats of our tester (a bit naff, we thought).
Of course, the Mercedes badge on the steering wheel helps adjust the appreciation of your surroundings.
With the doors snugly shut, it’s one of the quietest places you’ll experience on four wheels.
And if you like clarity in your audio, or quiet conversation, the serenity inside adds to the comfort and enjoyment of the drive.
Front seats are nicely shaped, as are those in the rear.
A downside to the flattened coupe profile however is the sense that the top of the screen sits a little too near the forehead of front passengers, and the taper of the roofline compromises rear space.
Long-legged teenage lumps might find the headroom in the back an issue on a longer trip.
But they won’t complain about the comfort of the seats, the quality of the trim, nor the ride.
Neither will they complain about the AUDIO 20 platform, the easily accessed 14.7cm screen display (which, as in the hatch, is ‘hung’ awkwardly on the dash), or the quality of the sound system with CD/DVD/MP3 and WMA/ACC compatibility.
Features also include Bluetooth with audio streaming, Becker MAP PILOT navigation, iPod and iPhone integration, Aux-in and USB interface, plus exterior folding mirrors, 18-inch twin-spoke alloys, illuminated door sills, rain-sensing wipers, ‘thermotronic’ climate control and a host more.
Standard safety features include nine airbags, attention assist, radar-based braking system (for preventing low-speed shunts), adaptive brake hold, blind-spot assist and active park assist among the usual dynamic safety braking and traction control acronyms.
ON THE ROAD
Yes, it’s just a 1.6 litre turbo ‘four’ under the bonnet. But no, for everyday driving, for overtaking, for running through the hills or hustling out of a corner, it feels not at all underpowered.
The turbo helps matters. Those 1.6 litres manage a reasonable 115kW and 250Nm thanks to the extra huff of the turbo.
The result is that the CLA 200 will pull 100km/h in 8.5 seconds and return 5.7 l/100km into the bargain. Those are not the figures of an engine struggling in the performance of its duties.
Sure, it’s no hot-hatch, but this is a car for the ‘everyday’. And for that it’s powered just right.
Also helping things is the seven-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission (7G-DCT). It is beautifully matched to the characteristics of the engine, and shifts rapidly and seamlessly to keep the right gear underfoot.
It is also ‘settled’; free of hunting and happy to rely on the low-down urge of the turbo rather than chopping through the gears.
And if any further assistance is required you can always knock it down a cog or two with the steering wheel paddles.
The settled nature of the seven-speed DCT gives the CLA 200 the relaxed long legs of a much bigger four or six-cylinder.
This impression is strengthened by the serene quietness of the engine – banished by the sound-deadening isolating the cabin – and the near total absence of wind-noise, even at very high speeds.
The CLA 200, according to Mercedes, is “the world’s most aerodynamic production vehicle”.
With a drag co-efficient of just 0.23Cd – achieved, surely, thanks to the swoopy coupe profile and rounded ‘duck-arse’ rear – it punches the smallest of holes in the air and makes not the tiniest flutter on the highway.
It’s so quiet, in fact, that tyre noise is more noticeable than it would otherwise be. Our test car featured ‘run-flat’ Goodyear tyres. I’d be getting rid of them, I’d reckon, and go for something quieter.
The ride though is as good as you’ll find in car this size. With superb fore-aft balance and well-controlled damping, the CLA is a delight to hustle along a country road.
Even when pushing on, we found it free of jarring and with just the right compliance – slightly firm, but not too firm – to have an alive sporting character. It’s conventional fare down below: McPherson front axle and an independent multilink rear, but it works very well.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The sedan is dead? I think not.
If there was to be a sedan with the appeal, quality and price to bring family drivers back to ‘four doors and a boot’, this is the sedan to do it.
The CLA 200 is a cracking car. There’s not a lot headroom in the back, but ample knee-room, a huge boot and a little ‘four’ under the bonnet with ample zest for relaxed long-distance driving.
Better still, even if you wring its neck, it is never going to kill the family budget at the bowser.
The harder and longer you think about this car, the more sense it makes. Stylish, individual, and beautifully engineered and finished, the CLA is a ‘Mercedes for the people’.
Well, people, that’s our verdict. When word gets out, the only thing that will slow sales of the CLA down will be the wrestle with the waiting list.
(Here’s a tip: get in early.)
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- CLA 200: $49,900
- CLA 250 Sport: $63,400 (due April)
- CLA 45 AMG: $86,900