2013 MERCEDES-BENZ CLA-CLASS REVIEW
What's Hot: Sharp looks, handling with Edition 1 package.
What's Not: Very limited rear headroom, gearbox occasionally stumbles a shift.
X-FACTOR: Benz’s most affordable sedan has plenty of panache, and is great fun to drive too.
Vehicle Style: Small luxury sedan
Price: $49,900 (plus on-roads), $57,154 as-tested.
Engine/trans: 115kW/250Nm 4cyl turbo petrol | 7sp twin-clutch auto.
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.7 l/100km | tested: 8.7 l/100km
Nine grand. That’s an expensive boot.
But we’re not talking about footwear. We’re examining Mercedes-Benz’s CLA 200, and nine thousand dollars is its premium over the mechanically similar A 200 hatch.
Some, for sure, will question the value. After all, the platform is identical to the A 200 and so is the front-end styling - not to mention all interior furniture forward of the B-pillar.
But then again, the CLA is longer, has a sleeker silhouette thanks to its coupe-like roofline and frameless doors, and - natch - has a sizable boot.
It’s still quite a lot of money to pay for a dash of extra style and space.
So what is the CLA? Stylish, it is, but it's certainly more than a fashion accessory. For a start, it’s a cracking car to drive even with the base 1.6 litre engine.
But there are some compromises, so let’s dive in.
Quality: The entirety of the dashboard, centre console and front door-trims are shared with the A-Class. Given the CLA is the cheapest Mercedes-Benz sedan on the market, it doesn't quite match up to the interior quality of the C-Class.
But not by any measure does it feel cheap. In fact, the only quality concerns we had were with the sloppy-feeling air vent gimbals - everything else feels very smart.
Our car’s Edition 1 package takes things up a notch, with a dashboard upholstered in artificial leather, ribbed microfibre seat upholstery and alloy-look dash trim.
Other neat touches are the ambient lights hidden in each headrest, as well as the black headliner and silver seatbelts.
Comfort: The electrically-adjusted seats of the Edition 1 are great. They hug the body and give great upper torso support, but not so tightly that it’s uncomfortable.
It’s spacious for a 'small' sedan. Despite sitting beneath the C-Class in Benz’s hierarchy, the CLA actually occupies a slightly larger footprint.
And, by virtue of its transverse engine layout, it actually has more cabin space.
The result is a good amount of rear legroom, and enough width to take three passengers in the back with a little bit of squeezing.
However, rear headroom is tight. Though this scribe measures in at just 5’8” (a lover, not a fighter), my head was always in contact with the headlining when sitting in the rear.
But, on the plus side, there are rear air-vents as standard and decent under-thigh support for rear passengers. They’ll be comfortable, just as long as they aren’t tall.
Equipment: In standard form, the CLA 200 comes with dusk-sensing bi-xenon headlamps, dual-zone climate control, a simplified Becker navigation unit, blind-spot monitor, cruise control and Bluetooth phone/audio connectivity.
The Edition 1 package adds powered and heated front seats, a lowered AMG-tuned sports suspension, 18-inch wheels, leather/alcantara seat upholstery, leather dash covering and the bodykit from the CLA 45 AMG.
Our car was also optioned with a Harmon Kardon premium stereo and the Comand navigation system, which brings a larger screen and a less aftermarket-looking interface.
Storage: Small car, small boot? Not with the CLA 200. Measuring in at 470 litres, the CLA’s boot is almost 130 litres larger than that of Benz’s own C-Class.
With a 60-40 split rear seat and central ski-port, the CLA is also surprisingly versatile when it comes to carrying cargo.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: With 115kW and 250Nm, the CLA 200’s outputs are modest for a $50k car.
It’s not helped by the engine management system that favours fuel economy over zippiness. Unless the accelerator is given a good prod, the CLA 200 can feel lethargic at times.
But thumb the button to select 'Sport' mode, and the CLA perks up. The throttle is sharper to respond, the engine more eager to rev and the transmission doesn’t instantly reach for the tallest possible gear.
You’ve also got manual control of gear selection via a pair of steering wheel paddles. In Sport mode, when driven hard, the CLA 200’s 1.6 litre feels a lot more responsive.
Refinement: It’s not the quietest Mercedes cabin around thanks to some tyre roar and engine noise intrusion, but it’s certainly a pleasant place to spend some highway hours.
Wind noise is as good as totally absent, and mechanical harshness and vibration, even when accelerating hard, is never an issue.
Ride and Handling: The AMG-tuned suspension that comes with the Edition 1 package is a dynamic delight. It makes the CLA quite a feisty little machine when shown a series of bends.
It corners flatly, the 18-inch Continentals grip the road tightly and the taut suspension feels impressively well-honed. Turn-in is also very sharp, aided by the variable-ratio steering rack.
The trade-off is a more brittle ride on suburban roads, but then again there’s always the standard suspension tune if you crave more comfort.
Braking: No issues here. The Edition 1 package adds cross-drilled front rotors to the CLA 200’s all-disc brake package, and the CLA pulled up smartly every time.
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - this model scored 36.16 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control and stability control are all standard, as is a blind-spot monitor and Mercedes-Benz’s Pre-Safe collision warning system.
Occupants are protected by three-point seatbelts on all seats, as well as nine airbags (front, front side, rear side, full-length curtain, driver’s knee).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years, unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: Service intervals are set for every 25,000km or 12 months, whichever occurs first. Costs can vary, so consult your local Mercedes-Benz dealer before purchase.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
It’s difficult to line the CLA up against a competitor, reason being that there aren’t any right now.
Audi’s A3 sedan range will launch in a month’s time and provide the CLA with a direct rival. Until then, the CLA has the small luxury sedan market all to itself. However once that A3 sedan arrives, the CLA 200 will have quite a fight on its hands:
Audi A3 1.8 TFSI quattro sedan ($47,800) - Over $2k cheaper, yet also boasting an enhanced level of equipment that includes quattro all-wheel drive.
When it arrives in late January, the A3 1.8TFSI sedan will also boast 132kW and 250Nm. Torque is identical, but power is 17kW over that of the CLA 200's turbo 1.6.
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
I opened this review with a question on value. On price alone, because it's so much more expensive - $9k, in fact - it’s hard to recommend the CLA over the equivalent A-Class hatch.
Not only does the A-Class drive, ride and handle the same as the CLA, but it’s got markedly more rear headroom.
But the CLA is less about value than it is about style. If you think that the A-Class lacks some visual clout, or a hatchback isn't for you, then take a look at the CLA.
Lined up against the more expensive (but arguably better driving) C-Class, the CLA wins on rear legroom and boot space, if not head room.
Will the CLA charm its way into your driveway? We hate using this phrase, but “it depends”.
It depends on whether you regularly carry more than one adult passenger. It depends if you prefer the CLA’s swoopy silhouette over the A-Class’s truncated two-box layout.
And considering the CLA 200 costs the same as the A 250 Sport, it also depends on whether you’re willing to sacrifice quite a lot of power for the sake of sedan styling and a bigger boot.
The choice is yours, but, though this is a very appealing car, our money would be heading toward the A 250.