► First drive of Merc CLA
► Deliveries start summer 2019
► Priced from £30,550
The Mercedes CLA is now in the UK, in all its slightly confusing glory, having arrived at much the same time as the related but far from interchangeable A-Class saloon.
Compared to the A-Class, the CLA is longer and wider, but also lower. The bigger difference, though, is in how it’s kitted out: the CLA doesn’t do entry-level.
The CLA is available in Coupe and Shooting Brake forms, both with a wide selection of petrol engines and one diesel.
How much is it?
In the UK, your cheapest CLA is the 180 AMG Line, for £30,630. The 180 shares its engine with the 200 – they’re both 1.3-litre fours, but in a different state of tune: 134bhp/148lb ft for the 180, or 161bhp/184lb ft for the 200. The 220 Coupe is available with front- or all-wheel drive (but the 220 Shooting Brake is front-drive only). Like the CLA 250 it uses a 2.0-litre engine, making 188bhp/221lb ft in the 220 or 221bhp/258lb ft in the 250.
The UK’s sole diesel is the CLA 220d, which offers 188bhp and 295lb ft.
A manual will follow, but for now all have is a seven-speed automatic gearbox.
And then there are the AMG models, the CLA 35 and 45 S, both with all-wheel drive; the 45 has an eight-speed auto. The 35 makes 302bhp and 295lb ft, but the 45 S is off the charts at 416bhp and 369lb ft.
What about the interior kit?
There are three trim levels, all posh (and the 35 and 45 get extra equipment, as well as much higher prices). AMG Line features the generally splendid MBUX interface, including voice activation, 10.25-inch touchscreen, smartphone integration and DAB radio. There are also heated front seats, leather upholstery, LED headlights and a lot of electronic assistance.
With AMG Line Premium you get a bigger instrument display, augmented-reality sat-nav, a dash cam, ambient lighting with a choice of 64 colours, and a rear armrest.
AMG Premium Line Plus adds a panoramic sliding sunroof that brings out the best in the wonderfully designed and executed cabin, plus upgrades to the audio and headlights, and memory seats up front.
You can also plump for a Driving Assistance pack, which costs £1495 and brings an even higher level of electronic assistance, including route-based speed adjustment (if it knows you’re turning left soon, it will discourage any wasteful acceleration, for instance), Active Braking Assist with cross-traffic function (to help you avoid being T-boned), and much more to take you further into the realms of self-driving. Mercedes is very good at this stuff, but some of it feels gimmicky and unnecessary, and even distracting.
Give me some handling and engines knowledge
We've driven everything from the 200 to the CLA250 now. We enjoyed the torquey and economical 187bhp 220d, as well as the sporty and rorty 221bhp 250 (0-62mph in 6.3sec, 156mph, 38.7mpg). The difference in vehicle dynamics between the CLA and its three-box sister model is negligible.
As for the 200? It's an extremely agreeable car rather than a dynamic sensation. It’s a premium car much more than it’s a compact car. And passengers love it. It’s not huge back there, but it looks and feels very special for a relatively small car.
In all trimps the available adaptive dampers feel taut and curt even when set in Comfort, the optional 18 and 19in wheels and tyres (one size up compared to the previous CLA) are not exactly cushy either at low speed and over edgy obstacles. Not yet available for testing was the lowered comfort suspension, a contradiction in terms which is claimed to improve ride, handling and roadholding for a small fee.
All engines are vocal when pushed in Sport mode but even then, the so-called dynamic steering - light and quick as it is - could do with more feedback. All models bar the CLA180 and 200 come with the seven-speed DCT which is quick-shifting and well geared for high-speed autobahn driving, but tip-in and tip-out can be a bit jerky when you catch the cogs off-guard. Waiting in the wings are the 306bhp CLA35 AMG and the 400bhp-plus CLA45 AMG hotshoe complete with drift mode and eight-speed DCT.
That’s a familiar interior…
Despite the sleek looks, the butch stance and the best-in-class drag coefficient of 0.23, it is the interior of the new A-class coupé that makes all the difference. The MBUX interface benefits from regular over-the-air updates, the choice of assistance systems almost matches the S-class, the driver environment looks and feels expensive. Comfortable, luxurious, very well equipped and stylish well beyond the call of duty, it makes even the Audi A3 and VW Golf seem a little dowdy and plain.
Extra money buys satnav with augmented reality which activates a front camera on the approach to turn-offs, roundabouts and crossroads. If your pockets are deep enough, don´t forget to also specify multibeam LED headlamps, the dual-monitor widescreen display and the premium navigation package.
We were less convinced by the pricey energizing pack plus (2975 Euro) which fuses three different training programmes labelled relaxation, activation and balance with three wellness modes called warmth, joy and comfort. Additional stimulation is provided by matching soundtracks, special massage sequences and selective ambient lighting. On top of it all, the so-called energizing coach taps compatible wearables to check on the driver´s well-being. We’ve tested it separately, here.
Much more so than its predecessor, the new CLA wants to be perceived as a clever personal mobility device, not as a high-end but otherwise unambitious point-to-point hopper. Rather than relying exclusively on traditional brand values like comfort and safety, the third-generation A-class goes digital big time to address younger customers who fancy a laptop on wheels complete with fast connectivity and all the let-me-do-this-for-you mod cons.
Mercedes CLA: verdict
The four-door coupé delivers these goodies in style but at a price, it can be kitted out to satisfy luxury-seekers or the AMG fraternity, it takes voice control to a new level and throws in a feelgood cabin for good measure. True, the rear seats are still all but useless, the packaging prioritises form over function, and the actual driving experience doesn´t make an enthusiast´s heart beat any faster. But in this segment, there is no nicer car to be in, and no cooler four-door coupé to be seen in.
Specs below are for CLA 250