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Tuesday 12th March 2013


MERCEDES-BENZ CLA: DRIVEN

Downsized CLS lookalike for posh Golf money - genius or niche fakery too far?


The CLA is a Mercedes for people who can't afford a proper Mercedes, right? A front-wheel drive four-door coupe based off a family hatchback, propelled by four-pot engines offering a 170hp diesel max at launch in the UK. Come on.

Half the price of a CLS but is it half the car?
Half the price of a CLS but is it half the car?
But is it really just another niche filled in the Mercedes marketing plan?

The CLA is intended to bring fresh blood into showrooms, targeting people who would never have previously considered the brand - the edgy visuals an attempt to excoriate any remaining vestiges of stuffiness, that faint but lingering whiff of old man. But it also redefines the economic realities of sporting Merc ownership - costing roughly half the price of the CLS it so obviously wants to be when it grows up, it starts at under 25 grand.

If the chassis talks, the niche marketing walks...
Initial UK supply is limited to 122hp CLA180 1.6 turbo petrol and 170hp CLA220 CDI, which makes up for being one of those noisy 2.1-litre turbodiesels with its surging 258lb ft of torque. The diddy petrol was strangely absent from the drive roster in Marseilles, but the diesel quickly makes it clear that Mercedes isn't messing about.

A-Class has changed? No kidding!
A-Class has changed? No kidding!
At this point we could mention the ridiculous 0.23Cd figure - a production car record, at least until VW's XL1 finally gets a price - and the interior. Which is A-Class derived in a good way, with its X-Wing air vents and iPad-esque display. However, we'd prefer to highlight the chassis, which proves a pleasant surprise.

The CLA's consciously been set up less aggressively than the A-Class - including extra bushings for increased suspension isolation at the back. But hacking through traffic across the Route des Cretes , the resulting car is really rather nicely balanced, with stacks of grip, a pointy front end, and electrically assisted steering that's finely judged in relation to the body control.

Basically, it stays pretty flat, is remarkably allergic to understeer, and builds your confidence quickly ¬- making direction changes fluid, yet surefooted and assured, in a manner that's utterly Mercedes.

Front-drive for now, four-wheel drive to come
Front-drive for now, four-wheel drive to come
Front-wheel drive? Not entirely.
That's on the standard Sport's 'comfort' suspension. Upgrade to the angrier looking AMG Sport spec, and you get a Sport chassis with 30 per cent stiffer springs and 10-15mm lower ride height. This is even tighter through the turns, but the way it thumps into sunken French man hole covers suggests it may trade too much suppleness for too little additional incision to make total sense in the UK.

More interesting still is the CLA250 4Matic - which we should be getting later in the year. As the name suggests, this matches the potent 211hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol from the A-Class with Mercedes' latest Magna-developed four-wheel drive, neatly sidestepping those FWD complaints and becoming a kind of junior preview of AMG's forthcoming CLA45.

The combo is certainly effective, with huge traction and an extra level of agility that bodes very well for the Affalterbach special indeed.

Tablet-inspired nav among modern touches
Tablet-inspired nav among modern touches
And now for the bad news...
But before you blow the dust off the chequebook, there is some bad news. Not the strangely uncomfortable front seats, nor the limited rear headroom - rather the seven-speed automatic gearbox that replaces the six-speed manual on the faster engines.

The dual-clutch design is apparently great for economy, but its reluctance to give you timely downshifts on paddleshift command very nearly ruins the whole car.

In the end, you can drive round it - and the rest of the CLA is good enough that, given time, it becomes a minor annoyance instead of an intolerable calamity.

Taken as a whole, this is a fun four-door coupe with a three-pointed star for the price of a premium hatchback. And niche or not, a lot of people are surely going to love the hell out of that.


MERCEDES-BENZ CLA220 CDI
Engine:
2,143cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 170@3,400-4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@1,400-3,400rpm
0-62mph: 8.2sec
Top speed: 143mph
Weight: 1,525kg
MPG: 67.2- 62.7 (depending on wheel size)
CO2: 109-117g/km (depending on wheel size)
Price: TBC

MERCEDES-BENZ CLA250
Engine:
1,991cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 211@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@1,200-4,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.7secs
Top speed: 149mph
Weight: 1,480kg
MPG: 46.3-45.5 (depending on wheel size)
CO2: 142-144g/km (depending on wheel size)
Price: TBC





 

Author: cjhubbard