First Drive: Mercedes-Benz CLA
What is it?
First it was the A-Class and now it's the CLA – Mercedes-Benz wants to ditch its overtly mature image so the German firm is creating youthful cars full of charisma. Mercedes wants you to think of the CLA as a smaller CLS or a baby 'four-door coupe', but in reality it's a booted version of the five-door A-Class hatchback. It's largely based on the A-Class too and shares its engines and gearboxes.
What's under the bonnet?
Beneath the exciting exterior the engine choice is all rather ordinary – two diesels and three petrols. The range kicks off with a 136bhp 1.8-litre diesel and followed by a 170bhp 2.2-litre diesel, badged CLA 200 CDI and CLA 220 CDI respectively. Petrol models range from a 1.6-litre turbocharged unit with 122bhp and called CLA 180, and a 211bhp 2.0-litre in the CLA 250 which comes with four-wheel-drive. The range is topped off with the fire-breathing CLA 45 AMG with a 360bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol motor.
What's the spec like?
Very simple, really. Excluding the 45 AMG, CLAs come in two flavours – Sport and AMG Sport. The simple range, which is more than happily endowed with sporty features, reflects Mercedes' positioning of this car. Entry-level Sport models start at £24,755 and come with 18-inch alloys wheels, Active Park Assist, Bluetooth, cruise control and speed limiter. AMG Sport – which starts at £26,975 – adds tasty 18-inch AMG alloys, black exterior trim, brake callipers with 'Mercedes-Benz' lettering, privacy glass and sports suspension. And the price premium for all of that extra style and less practicality compared to the A-Class? £3,000.
There's only one like-for-like rival – Audi's A3 Saloon. It's a far more level-headed choice as it does without all of the 'four-door coupe' positioning. While the Audi has been designed primarily with the Chinese market in mind, the A3 Saloon is proving to be a bit of a hit in the UK and more than rivals the CLA in terms of badge snobbery. At a push, you could cite the new BMW 2 Series as a competitor, but that car's two-door set-up makes the CLA the more practical offering.
What's it like to drive?
Our test car was a CLA 180 AMG Sport and it was a difficult thing to like for the most part. With its standard sport suspension and 18-inch wheels, the car was uncomfortable to be behind the wheel of thanks to a crashy and jittery ride. Meanwhile a cramped pedal box grew tiring pretty quickly. But they were the only real gripes – the CLA benefits from direct and accurate steering, a punchy engine, smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and head-turning looks.
The AOL Cars verdict
If you're one of those people who thinks Mercedes-Benz is filling in the gaps between its models all-too readily, the CLA will disappoint as it presents an unconvincing argument as a credible step-up from the A-Class hatchback. Having said that, when you strip back the negative feelings associated with the idea of creating a segment that didn't really need creating, the CLA is a likeable thing. It's a good-looking car that, when specced right, is a nice car to drive and is enjoyable to own.
Model: Mercedes-Benz CLA 180 AMG Sport Auto
Price: £28,425 (list), £33,215 (as tested)
Engine: 1.6-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Power: 122bhp, 200Nm
Max speed: 129mph
0-60mph: 9.0 seconds
MPG: 51.4 mpg (combined)
Emissions: 129g/km CO2