If your eyes have immediately flitted to this text, rather than drinking in CAR’s gallery of the Mercedes CLA 220 CDI, a cynic might claim this isn’t the car for you.
Based on the current A-class hatch, wearing a mini-me CLS body with frameless doors and the angriest-looking snout of any current Merc, the CLA is a machine many will lust after simply for the way it looks. Its key rival, the Audi A3 saloon, can’t hope to compete for car park theatre.
But we’re interested in more than the CLA’s modelling profile. Namely: have the A-class’s brittle ride quality and unpolished engine manners been foisted upon into its booted brother? And does this top-spec diesel version, the CLA 220 CDI, have the guts to match the styling?
Is the Mercedes CLA 220 CDI fast?
It’s the quickest oil-burning CLA, by a whole second over the 0-62mph run, and by 6mph flat out. Right, that’s the bragging rights wrapped up then – not with what we’d call quiet satisfaction. The 2.2-litre four-banger is just that, chuntering away when asked to deliver the 168bhp goods.
In fact, the CLA is a victim of its own success in other areas. This is the world’s most aerodynamic production car, so cruising is uncannily silent in the cabin. The resultant absence of wind noise means there’s nothing to disguise the raucous cacophony of grunting from under the bonnet once you extend that polished aluminium pedal.
At least there’s enough power to exploit the fine chassis, which we’ll return to shortly.
Is the CLA’s gearbox still rubbish?
Much as having a seven-speed, dual-clutch, paddleshift gearbox is fabulous for top trumps, the A-class and CLA-class twins have been dealt a duff hand by the transmission department.
The CLA220 has 37lb ft over a wider rev band at its disposal than the CLA 200 CDI, but the gearbox still finds itself caught unawares right at the point you need it most – the opportunistic overtake, and motorway sliproad charge.
As we first discovered in CAR’s A-class long-termer, switching to manual mode isn’t a solution. Though the twin-clutcher’s changes are fast, they occur a fraction of a second after you’d expect.
Never mind, I’ll save some change and have a manual instead
Not on this CLA you won’t. The CLA 220 CDI gets the auto ’box as standard. At £31,975 for the AMG Sport model (note the pin-pricked front grille, xenon lights and AMG bodykit), this is the priciest diesel-powered CLA by exactly £1400.
Are you sitting down? Good, because as tested, our heavily specced press car cost £41,144 – only £1120 less than Mercedes asks for the AMG-tuned CLA 45 firecracker! Be careful with that options list…
What do I tell people who laugh at the CLA for being front-wheel drive?
To grow up. Or, better yet, hand them the keys and set the sat-nav for a tight country lane. This is a nimble, fun little car and, thanks to a new rear suspension assembly, its ride quality is far better resolved than a sports-suspension equipped A-class, despite the same wheelbase. No mean feat, given this AMG Sport CLA rides 20mm lower across the front axle, and 15mm lower at the rear, than a vanilla CLA.
What about the handling?
One caveat before we plough on – though the CLA pictured here is nigh-on identical to CAR’s demonstrator, (garish colour and all) our test model has swapped those natty glossy black 18in rims for piffling 16 inchers, wrapped in chunky winter tyres.
While that’s a boon for ride quality, it could’ve ruined the fleet-footed handling. Happily, the squidgy rubber didn’t. The baby Benz remains grippy and chuckable, thanks to the steering which quickens up the steering as you apply more lock. This lets you keep your hands clamped to the perfectly contoured, red-stitched helm at quarter-to-three on all but the tightest of roads.
It’s that accurate steering teamed with compact, handy dimensions that make the CLA a much more exciting steer than the cooking version of the outgoing, rear-drive C-class. You even get a decent amount of steering feel for an electric system, and some rear-end play-factor if the sharp steering catches the pert tail napping.
Children are fine in the back but anyone over 5’10” will be left with a neck more cricked than the CLA’s physique. The boot is the same size as a current C-class (470 litres), but you have to dodge a hefty uppercut from the ridiculously oversprung bootlid every time you’d like to access it. Mercedes claims 62.8mpg, but our car averaged a somewhat juicy 41.5mpg.
Visibility is poor (quelle surprise), the front seats badly lack under-thigh support, and the outdated plastic parking brake handle next to the drivers knee jars in the cool, modern cabin. It’s as out of kilter as James Bond being issued with a Filofax.
Even if you’re not sold on the CLA’s push-me/pull-you squashed banana looks, there’s much to enjoy about this stylish miniature saloon. It’s more practical than you might imagine, deathly quiet at fast a cruise, and a hoot to hoon.
The unpolished drivetrain is an issue in a class than includes the supremely competent Audi A3 saloon, but it isn’t enough to stop CAR liking the rakish, engaging CLA 220 CDI an awful lot.