Seeing double: why Merc's CLA and A-Class saloon don't make sense together

Published: 22 January 2019

► Mercedes CLA vs A-Class saloon
► Why do both exist simultaneously?
► Blurred class lines are confusing us

And lo, he did get more confused as time passed. You may have already read this rant/unimportant commentary/incorrect viewpoint [delete where appropriate according to your personal viewpoint] on the differences (or lack thereof) between the new Mercedes CLA and the already-revealed A-Class saloon.

My question still stands: didn’t we already see Mercedes take the covers off a stretched, swooping A-Class in the middle of 2018? That one, clunkily-named the A-Class Saloon (or Sedan in other markets) has four doors, a sleek look and the same engine range as the A-Class hatch.

That was already confusing to start with; why didn’t they call it the CLA? Mercedes told us, at the time of the Saloon’s reveal, that they were still working on a CLA coupe, which would be something different. A ‘coupe’.

CLA vs A-Class saloon rear quarter

Obviously, to my mind, a coupe is an even swoopier model but strictly a two-door affair. That I can get behind. I’m a big fan of how the A-Class handles and its techy interior, so plonking a BMW 2-series-rivalling two-door coupe body shell on it would really appeal. Heck, that could even pave the way for an A-Class convertible to fill the shoes of the ancient SLC – a car that’s too busy knocking on death’s door to find a home one someone’s driveway.

So, when Mercedes pulled the covers off the new CLA at the 2019 CES show, the bafflement continued. It still has four doors. It still has the A-Class face. It still has the same interior, engines and platform. The differences between at and the Saloon are millimetric by design; the only real styling tweaks between CLA and saloon is that the former has a slightly lower roofline than the Saloon and rear lights that have been lifted straight off an Infiniti Q60. Which isn’t a compliment.

The boot is larger in the CLA by 50 litres (470 compared to the Saloon’s 420 litres), but Mercedes made a big song and dance about the Saloon being more slippery in terms of aerodynamics: a 0.22cd figure is claimed compared to the CLA’s 0.23cd. Despite the CLA being the slightly cleaner-looking, sleeker-shaped car. Go figure.

So, which is the impostor? The CLA or the Saloon? Or am I getting ahead of myself and this is a hugely shrewd move by Stuttgart to provide two incredibly similar cars to two slightly different audiences? 

CLA vs A-Class saloon front

‘Ah, well, they’ll presumably have large differences in pricing’, I hear my imaginary voices say. Not the case in the US, at least – there’s $600 dollars in it if you’re looking at the entry-level list price. As expected, the CLA has the higher price tag, but the difference is minor in the grand schemes of two whole cars – just a 1.8% increase. In a similar vein, if we take the basic list prices of the E-Class saloon and the CLS coupe (also a four-door) across the pond, it’s a 25% increase – $53,500 to $69,200. How does that work?

I totally get that the CLA and A-Class saloon are designed for different markets. China particularly loves a small saloon, hence why even the concept car that preceded the four-door A-Class made its debut in Shanghai and BMW’s version of the 1-series over there is in saloon format only. But Mercedes still troops the colour for the CLA, saying that the previous generation found so many buyers it wanted to build another one. If the cars are so market dependent, Mercedes arguably has more R&D power (and money) to get one car right for all markets than any other brand. Maybe it should step back from its all-out model offensive and go for much more tactical strikes instead.

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By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches