Mercedes CLC 220 CDI (2008) review

Published:11 June 2008

Mercedes CLC 220 CDI (2008) review
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 2 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 2 out of 5

Previously the C-class Sports Coupe, now the Mercedes-Benz CLC, this is the junior coupe in the three-pointed star’s line-up. Some 1100 modifications underline the change to the bootbadge. But is the CLC really anything more than a pretty new face? If it is, in fact, even that…

Pretty new face? Looks like someone’s beaten the Merc CLC with an ugly tree to me…

Actually, that’s kind of a funny thing. Mercedes has given the CLC its new nametag partly because the C-class it’s based on is no longer on sale. And yet the facelift is apparently attempting to make it look like the new C-class. The transformation is not an especially successful one. Better in the metal – but not by much. Our advice? Try not to view it from behind. This is a scrunched-up abomination compared to the delicate curves and split glass of the original.

Still, claims of improved handling – including Mercedes’ new direct-steer system on Sport models – better quality interiors, and updated engines mean there may be life in the old dog yet. Trouble is, Mercedes failed to bring the most significantly improved engines to the launch. So while we can tell you the CLC 200 Kompressor has 20bhp more, and the CLC 200 CDI now offers 10.8 percent better economy, we don’t actually know how they drive…

Click 'Next' below to read more of our Mercedes CLC first drive

Sod the small stuff. This is a coupe – tell me about the big engines.

Try the CLC 350. A 268bhp 3.5-litre V6 wallowing in 258lb ft of torque means an impressive 6.3 second 0-62mph stat – and it feels every bit that quick. A seven-speed auto gearbox is the only choice in the UK, but this turns out to be a smooth and impressively swift shifting unit in practice. The problem is 28.2mpg and 238g/km CO2.

Sadly, the 2.5-litre V6 in the 201bhp CLC 230 does scarcely any better – 29.7mpg and 225g/km with a six-speed manual ‘box – for its 2.1 second 0-62 deficit. Both make a genuinely wicked noise under power, but you can’t actually hear this from the cabin. So what’s the point?

Hardly anyone actually buys these petrol sixes, either. But drive the CLC 220 CDI – the top-spec diesel – and you’ll want a petrol engine. The 2.2-litre four-cylinder derv burner is dull dull dull, despite its 148bhp and 251lb ft. Refinement borders on excellent, but there’s no panache to the power delivery, no satisfying thump to its turbodiesel torque. Even 47.9mpg and 156g/km CO2 (depending on wheel size…) is uninspiring in this EfficientDynamics era. Give us a 120d any day.

Click 'Next' below to read more of our Mercedes CLC first drive

Oh dear. Does the handling help the CLC at all?

Every CLC we drove was in Sport guise; cue the fanfare for the new direct-steer system. Basically a variable-ratio rack, combined with a speed-sensitive servo, this is intended to give you all the assistance you need at parking velocities, straight-line stability on the autobahn, and improved agility for B-roads and accident avoidance. The real life result is a dead zone at the initial application of lock, and not much feel after that.

If all you want to do is cruise about on motorways, fine – the CLC is more than competent. But start to challenge it, and after an initial moment of going, ooh, there’s a surprising amount of front-end grip here, you’ll find the body control disappointing. The CLC just isn’t tied down well enough to hustle, and limited feedback makes it hard to enjoy. The niggling ride quality doesn’t help.

All right, forget the driving experience. How’s the interior ambience?

Sport CLCs get chequered-back dials (not as bad as it sounds) with red needles, brown leather highlights, and black headlining. Even the regular SE model gets a sportier steering wheel, better seats, climate, alloys, and an essential new extra: parking sensors. Essential because the new tailgate design has done even less for rear visibility than it has for aesthetics.

Generally speaking the fit and finish is pretty good for the money – but is ‘pretty good’ acceptable in a Mercedes? Most of the touch points have been carefully massaged but somehow the interior engineers totally failed to notice the glovebox lid, which seems to be made from recycled plastic bags, or something equally flimsy. Yuk. But, the CLC is spacious enough – more so than a 1-series Coupe or TT – and has a decent boot.

Click 'Next' below to read our verdict on the Mercedes CLC

Verdict

Logic suggests Mercedes has a bit of a problem here. The CLC looks odd, is out-performed, out-handled and out-greened by desirable rivals from Audi and BMW, and while priced to undercut these competitors doesn’t do so by enough to really recoup those earlier loses. And yet…

It’s still going to sell well. The Sports Coupe did, and that wasn’t a great car, either. People see the Mercedes star on the front and jump right in. The CLC does almost exactly enough to satisfy this sort of person. But anyone who really wants to enjoy owning and driving an entry-level premium coupe best seek satisfaction elsewhere.

Specs

Price when new: £22,260
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 2148cc 16v 4-cyl turbodiesel, 148bhp @ 4200rpm, 251lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 9.7sec 0-62mph, 139mph, 47.9mpg, 156g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1530kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4452/1728/1405

Rivals

Photo Gallery

  • Mercedes-Benz CLC 220 CDI Coupe CAR review: rear view photo
  • Mercedes-Benz CLC 220 CDI Coupe CAR review: side view photo
  • Mercedes-Benz CLC 220 CDI Coupe CAR review: front three-quarters photo
  • Mercedes-Benz CLC 220 CDI Coupe CAR review: interior photo
  • Mercedes-Benz CLC 220 CDI Coupe CAR review: rear lights photo
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