IS THE MERCEDES-BENZ CLA A SEDAN OR A COUPE? Yes, there are four doors - but there’s also a 'snugged down' roof, frameless windows and the extended tail lights that signify a Mercedes-Benz coupe.
It’s the search for something different that gives us cars that blur styling boundaries like the Mercedes-Benz CLA 250. Coupe or sedan, it has a styling appeal all of its own.
It is otherwise mainstream beneath the skin and shares its mechanical package with the Mercedes-Benz A Class.
And, also typically 'Benz', it doesn’t go without the kinds of premium touches that discerning buyers demand of the three-pointed star.
Vehicle Style: Prestige medium sedan
Price: $67,600 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 160kW/350Nm 2.0 litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 7sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.9 l/100km | Tested: 10.2 l/100km
With a four model range, the CLA leans to economy with its base model engines, but has a more sporting slant to the CLA 250, with more power and a more sporting style.
The CLA brings the convenience of four doors under that raked roofline, but for those seeking more practicality a five-door Shooting Brake (wagon) is also available.
More mature than a hot hatch, but with all-wheel-drive grip and youthful styling, the updated (for 2017) CLA sets to attract a new breed of younger buyer to Mercedes-Benz. It is not without its flaws, but there is a whole lot of appeal here.
- Standard Equipment: ‘Red Cut’ Leather seat trim, heated, electrically adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, sports steering wheel, red seat belts, Keyless Go proximity key, panoramic sunroof, LED headlights with adaptive highbeam assist, automatic lights and wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, six-speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 470 litres
Just as the CLA shares it mechanical package with the A-Class, so too the interior owes much of its basic fit-out to the hatch version.
That’s not to sell the CLA short, but given its price premium you’d expect at least a few different touches. Instead the dash, instrument cluster, seats, and centre console are all carbon-copied from the more practical hatch.
The four-door coupe styling of the CLA does present a more intimate cabin, though up front it’s still easy to get in and out of and comfortable if not overly spacious.
There are points scored for the under-seat storage the CLA includes, and the sporting touches of red seatbealts, single piece backrests, and Red Cut leather (that's black leather with red edges) enhancing the dynamic feel
Rear seats are rather like what you’d find in a normal coupe - the legroom can be tight, particularly if sitting behind a tall passenger, and it’s easy to find the roofline with your head when entering and exiting the vehicle.
But, to chastise the CLA for that would be wrong - it is a coupe after all, at least according to Mercedes - and not having to climb over the front seat to get to the rear (no matter how snug) is still a wonderful thing for your dignity.
The boot also manages to surprise. Though the opening is a little narrow, the large space inside makes up for it, and thanks to the absence of a spare tyre, or space saver, there’s a handy extra storage space under boot floor for securing smaller items.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 160kW/370Nm 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, 4Matic all wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link independent rear, AMG-tuned sports suspension
- Brakes: Four-wheel vented disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, 11.0m turning circle
As part of the 2017 update for the CLA 250, power gets a tiny bump from 155kW to 160kW, while torque stays unchanged at 350Nm.
With only such a minor upgrade, we question why Mercedes has been so conservative when the phenomenal AMG CLA 45, using the same basic engine architecture, pounds out a ridiculous 280kW from the same 2.0 litres.
Though the gap between the two may be considerable, once you slip behind the wheel of the CLA 250 you won't be left wanting or dissatisfied.
It treads the fine line between being conservative and comfortable enough to manage the work-day commute, but show it an open road and some willing abandon, and the CLA 250 comes alive.
Its grip is phenomenal. Underneath is the Mercedes-Benz 4Matic all-wheel-drive system; front biased until it detects slip, but able to split torque 50:50 between front and rear axles as the situation demands.
And the AMG hot shop has also given the CLA 250 a once over (which explains the Sport badges on the front flanks) tweaking the suspension and steering, and giving the four-door coupe the appropriate alert handling and on-road feel to match its 'road runner' sports style.
For anyone who has owned a performance German vehicle before, the firmly buttoned-down feel of the CLA 250’s ride should be familiar - and yet, not. No longer just firm, the adaptive suspension under the CLA irons-out nasty bumps and hollows without upsetting balance and without transferring 'shock' into the cabin.
If you enjoy a sports feel and 'thread the needle' handling, but don't want the teeth rattled, the CLA 250 is just right.
The sole transmission available is a seven-speed dual clutch automatic, which although quick and smooth in most operating conditions, lacks the lightning-fast gear changes of Volkswagen or Audi dual-clutch transmissions.
To speed up shift reactions, selecting Sport mode on the Dynamic Select drive-mode controller not only reconfigures the shift map for more enjoyable spirited driving, but pares down the time taken between gears.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.16 out of 37 possible points When tested in 2013.
Safety Features: Nine airbags (dual front, front side, rear side, curtain, and driver’s knee), forward collision warning with autonomous braking (bundled under the Pre-Safe banner), blind spot assist, fatigue monitoring, pedestrian protection active bonnet, cruise control with speed limiter, front pretensioning seatbelts with load limiters.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Service intervals are set at 12 months or 25,000km (whichever occurs first) with Mercedes-Benz offering two types of fixed price service plans over periods from two years/50,000km up to five years/125,000km which can be pre-paid or financed with a new vehicle purchase. Full details, terms, and pricing are available from your local Mercedes-Benz dealer.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The CLA is the only four-door coupe of its size in the segment - technically it falls into the same class as the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and Audi A5 Sportback, but both are larger and more expensive.
Instead the CLA makes an interesting alternative to two-door coupes; things like the engaging BMW 2 Series, and the stylistically cutting-edge Audi TT.
It also runs up against the small, but still premium and accommodating Audi A3 sedan range, and might even lure some cross-shoppers into comparing it with higher-specced variants of the BMW 1 Series
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
In an unmistakably Mercedes-Benz way, the CLA combines the spirit of a coupe with the usefulness of a sedan in a package sized just right for young urban couples.
Starting with the sparkling diamond-point grille, over the long bonnet and lowered roof line, and into the tapered tail, the CLA wants to be noticed for its striking silhouette rather than all-encompassing practicality.
And that’s a good thing. No it won’t suit everybody, and for those who need more space, or more urge, there are alternatives.
We enjoy this car for all its differences, and greatly enjoy the way it drives.
If styling and a premium feel are important to you, and if you enjoy something in reserve for spirited driving, the CLA 250 is the ideal niche-filler.
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