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How much? £25,500
On sale in the UK: June 2013
Engine: 2143cc 16v 4-cyl turbodiesel, 168bhp @ 3400-4000rpm, 258lb ft @ 1400-3400rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch, front-wheel drive
Performance: 8.2sec 0-62mph, 143mph, 62.7mpg, 117g/km CO2
How heavy / made of? 1450kg/steel
How big (length/width/height in mm)? 4630/1777/1436mm
Need to know

CAR's rating

Rated 4 out of 54

Handling

Rated 4 out of 54

Performance

Rated 4 out of 54

Usability

Rated 4 out of 54

Feelgood factor

Rated 4 out of 54

Readers' rating

Rated 3.5 out of 53.5

Mercedes CLA220 CDI (2013) CAR review

By Ben Barry

First Drives

06 March 2013 17:00

This is the Mercedes CLA, a new niche model from Stuttgart that aims to offer the style of the CLS 'four-door coupe' at a price that slots in below the C-class. You’ll pay from £23k for the entry-level CLA180 petrol, £27-28k for the 250 petrol, or £25-26k for the 220 CDI diesel – around £2.5k less than the equivalent C-class models.

UK sales start in June, exact prices are yet to be confirmed, and we’ve come to the press launch in Marseille to drive the new Mercedes CLA.

A swoopier C-class? Shouldn’t Mercedes be charging more for the CLA?

Well, here’s the clever bit: the CLA sits on the A-class hatchback platform, not the C-class’s. That means, yes, it’s a front-wheel drive Mercedes saloon with transversely mounted engines limited to four-cylinders. You will, however, have the option of four-wheel drive, which will also be the default setting for the upcoming 355bhp CLA 45 AMG model.

The wheelbase remains exactly the same as the A-class, but the shocks and springs are specially calibrated for the CLA, and there’s an entirely new rear suspension subframe.

Won’t the CLA eat into C-class sales?

Possibly, but Mercedes is confident it won’t, saying that the two cars are aimed at different customers, that there’s less room in the back of the CLA, that six-cylinder engines are unavailable and that – interesting, this – the front-driver is more dynamic than its rear-wheel drive big brother.

Key markets are saloon-loving USA and China, and Mercedes predicts far bigger volumes than the 35,000 CLS units they shifted in 2012. Coupled with efficient four-cylinder engines, that promises big benefits for Merc's fleet-average C02 emissions.

Go on then, the road-test bit…

We’re driving the CLA220 CDI diesel, which produces 168bhp and 258lb ft, emits 117g/km CO2 and takes you 63 miles on a gallon of fuel. Taken as a whole, the interior looks fresh and special and modern, but you’ll notice the cost-saving measures up-close: the flimsy-feeling air-con controls, the hard plastics that lurk below the fake leather on the dash, and the plain black plastic buttons that replace higher-spec models’ flashes of silver.

The boot is big – just five litres short of a C-class at 470 litres – but the rear seats are pretty cramped: sitting behind 6’1” me, my knees are pushed up against the front seats, while the sloped roof forces me into a slouch. I wouldn’t want to be here for long.

At typical cruising speeds, the steering feels sterile and remote, the gearchanges smooth and the engine whisks you along on a easy wave of boost – though it is surprisingly noisy at idle and when stretched. We’ve got the comfort-spec suspension (a sport set-up is also available) and the body control feels quite loose, while there’s also a reasonable amount of patter. It’s always difficult to properly judge a car’s suspension on smoother foreign roads, but we’d expect that patter to be far more pronounced in the UK. If we had to make the call now, we’d vote comfort-spec suspension rather than the much firmer sport.

How does the CLA cope in the twisties?

It’s actually quite accomplished. All models get Direct Steer variable-ratio steering racks, which means the steering feels normal on fairly straight roads, but it’s much quicker to respond on tighter twists and turns. Dive into a hairpin, for instance, and you won’t need to move your hands from the quarter-to-three position – it lends a real sense of agility to the CLA.

The chassis is impressive too, especially when you consider our slightly rolly comfort set-up: it bites keenly into tighter corners and ducks and dives along faster sections with a real feeling of agility. Yes, it’s easy to tell that the front tyres are doing the work, but there’s no sense of torque steer on these admittedly smooth roads and traction-control intervention is pretty restrained.

Sadly, what the steering and chassis adds, the dual-clutch gearbox takes away – it’s too dopey in auto mode, and it still lags behind when you’re in manual. VW’s dual-clutcher is far superior.

Verdict

The CLA might not be perfect, but it’s hard not to conclude that its market positioning is a bit of a masterstroke from Mercedes: it looks distinctive and special (if strangely proportioned from some angles), slots into a market niche somewhere above the VW Jetta and below the BMW 3-series, and generally drives well.

The gearbox is a letdown, you’ll need more space in the back if you regularly carry passengers and we wish the diesel powerplant was more refined, but the CLA will doubtless hold wide appeal for the younger audience that Mercedes craves.

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Average rating: Rated 3.5 out of 53.5 (24 votes)

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Markboni

Markboni says

RE: Mercedes CLA220 CDI (2013) CAR review

I think the CLA is a great looking car. The coupe profile, the gills in the rear bumper, the concave rear window, the SLS inspired interior and the aggressive nose. Awesome. The only thing the AMG version will lack is a V8 bark and possibly driver involvement, though i'll reserve judgement on that till i drive one.

It's the car Mercedes needs to attract more youg drivers to the brand. I'm a fan of Mercedes, having had a SL55 AMG and an ML63, and i'm pretty certain that the CLA45AMG will be one hell of a car. For people looking for a CLS style at A class prices, this is amazing value. My only thought is that Mercedes may have shot themselves in the foot by offering this premium style 4 door coupe on the A Class before they try it with the rear drive C Class platform. The larger more premium CLS + CLS Shooting brake is obviously built on the E Class platform, so trying a swoopy C Class first might have been more tactical and financially beneficial. More pics of the CLA AMG asap please CAR...

22 March 2013 09:43

 

OldDog

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OldDog says

RE: Mercedes CLA220 CDI (2013) CAR review

Stunning car for the money, according to my local Merc man it will be "well kitted" and will eventually get an A45 AMG option, I'm not sure how accurate those statements are but if his other premise is true and it comes in at around €28k "well kitted" here it will be a winner.

15 March 2013 08:49

 

Brand0

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Brand0 says

RE: Mercedes CLA220 CDI (2013) CAR review

I am by no means a Mercedes fan (as many of you will know!), but I don't understand some of the critism.  This car represents a stepping stone for new Merc customers into the world of Merc ownership.  It is therefore correct IMO to offer a 'immature' or 'diet' Merc which will give it's drivers full access to the experience but a glimpse at what is available further up the range - if you like, Merc ownership will 'mature' with the journey up the range where better perceived quality is available (and more important to the customer has he/she also matures).

 

I think it is well positioned and will be a sucess as Mercedes has delivered where it matters for that particular market. Young customer do not care about the quality of interior plastics or lack of 'classy' exterior chrome trim.

11 March 2013 10:31

 

antonyr

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antonyr says

RE: Mercedes CLA220 CDI (2013) CAR review

This looks very Nissan/Lexus to me.

09 March 2013 12:44

 

Fadyady

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Fadyady says

RE: Mercedes CLA220 CDI (2013) CAR review

For me its a dilemma between the CLA and A-Class. Considering latter's lower price and the former's iffy rear, I might in the end settle for the hatchback. But I know for sure there's nothing on the road today that looks quite like CLA.

08 March 2013 20:37

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