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GIVE US A CLA
Published on Saturday 25 May 2013 02:05
Ten Second Review
Every once in a while, there's a changing of the guard in some manufacturer model ranges and that's clearly the case with the Mercedes-Benz CLA. A front-wheel drive saloon with a coupe roofline that's bigger than the C-Class saloon it was introduced to slot in alongside? The CLA will challenge your preconceptions, that's for sure.
It used to be so simple. You had an A-Class as the entry-level Mercedes-Benz hatchback and then a C-Class, the most affordable 'proper' Mercedes saloon car. Then the waters got muddied. The A-Class became really desirable and good to drive. And Mercedes started making saloon cars that looked like coupes. But both of these things had to happen in order for the Mercedes CLA to emerge.
The CLA is a car that embodies all of the modern thinking in this traditionally most conservative of companies. It ditches dogma and challenges its rivals with a style that's anything but straight-laced. It's now the entry-level Mercedes saloon, allowing the C-Class to get bigger and stretch upmarket. An exercise in gap-filling then? Not in the least. Even the merest acquaintance with this car reveals it to be very much the finished article.
The CLA is available with three engines, all powering the front wheels. There's the 1.6-litre 122bhp entry level CLA 180, the 211bhp 2.0-litre CLA 250 and the 170bhp 2.1-litre CLA 220 CDI diesel. The entry-level car gets a six-speed manual gearbox while the other two get the clever 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission. The chassis of all these models features a MacPherson front axle and an independent multilink rear suspension, with a clever flexible decoupling of the rear axle carrier, which improves ride comfort. Wheel carriers and spring links consist of aluminium, in order to reduce unsprung weight.
Two chassis and suspension set-ups are available: the comfort suspension and a sports suspension for sporty yet comfortable handling. The latter entails lowering of the body by 20 mm (front) and 15 mm (rear). The chassis is also capable of being configured for all-wheel drive which, if rumours of a hot AMG version are to be believed, isn't going to be too long in coming.
Irrespective of the selected chassis, all CLA variants come with the Direct Steer system. This electromechanical power steering enables various steering assistance functions which are activated by the ESP stability control unit. These include countersteering in case of oversteering, corrective steering when braking on road surfaces offering different levels of grip (split-friction braking), mitigation of the extent to which the front-wheel drive influences the steering and compensation of crosswind and road gradients. It's all very clever stuff.
Design and Build
The CLA owes quite a debt of gratitude to the large executive CLS-Class four-door coupe in terms of styling, that being the car that pioneered the whole four-door coupe genre over a decade ago. Beneath this CLA-Class model though, are underpinnings that belong very much to Mercedes' entry-level model, the A-Class hatch. That car isn't bad looking these days but this one's on another level entirely.
By any measure it's a handsome car. The vehicle's striking features include the bonnet embedded in the front end with powerdomes and a 'diamond-look' grille. The light modules and LEDs behind the headlamp cover glass have been arranged in such a way as to create a characteristic 'flare effect' for the daytime driving lights and indicators. It's not just about aesthetics either. At 0.23Cd, this is not just the most aerodynamic Mercedes model to date, it's also the most aerodynamic production vehicle in the world.
Like the A-Class, the interior features trim elements which have been given an electroplated finish, resulting in real metal surfaces with a 'cool touch' effect. The instrument panel is divided into a wing profile-type upper section and a solid lower section. Perhaps the most interesting design touch is what looks like an iPad sitting on the upper part of the centre console but which is in fact an integrated touch-screen system. It'll sync seamlessly with an iPhone and expect Android connectivity to follow in due course.
The instrument cluster comprises two large round instruments, each of them with a small round instrument set within it and features SLS-style aluminium four-vane air vents dotted across it. The CLA's rear bench seat emphasises the outer seats (this being a 2+1 rather than a 3-seater), which means that the middle pew is going to be the short straw. Still, compensation comes with a cabin that looks agreeably premium. As Mercedes put it, "The CLA is a car that does not confuse 'middle range' with 'middling quality'."
Market and Model
Pricing pitches this car between the compact A and B-Class models and the C-Class saloon - expect most CLA-Class models to be sold in the £25,000 to £30,000 bracket. This being Mercedes, you know that a lot of work has gone into the CLA's safety systems. It features as standard a radar-based collision warning set-up. Working with adaptive Brake Assist, which lowers the risk of rear-end collisions, the Collision Prevention Assist system gives a visual and acoustic warning to alert a distracted driver to identified obstacles and prepares Brake Assist for the most precise braking response possible. This is initiated as soon as the driver steps firmly on the brake pedal.
The Pre-Safe preventive occupant protection system comprises reversible belt tensioning, the closing of side windows and sliding sunroof and adjustment of the fully electric front passenger seat. Other features fitted as standard include Attention Assist, which monitors the duration and style of your driving and makes recommendations when you may well be driving in a fatigued state, Brake Hold function and Hill Start Assist. Options include Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Speed Limit Assist, Active Parking Assist and a reversing camera.
Cost of Ownership
Expect ultra-competitive running costs; certainly figures to give BMW something to chew on. The entry-level CLA 180 can manage 52.3mpg on the combined fuel cycle with emissions as low as 126g/km. Step up to the rapid CLA 250 - a vehicle that will accelerate to 62mph in just 6.7 seconds - and you're still looking at 46.3mpg and 142g/km. Neither of these can touch the CLA 220 CDI diesel though. This manages 67.3mpg and emissions as low as 109g/km.
Residual values for the CLA are certain to be as beefy as they get, although you'll probably have to keep a very keen eye on the options you build into it if you're to keep that pence per mile figure within check.
Mercedes is on a roll right now. Cars like the A-Class, the SL, the CLS and the CLA demonstrate that it's calling the shots amongst the big German marques with the others doing their best to keep pace. The CLA is an interesting case, aiming to show that rear-wheel drive is not an attribute that the mass-market needs in a car of this type. Older drivers may struggle with that one, but the Generation-Y customers that Mercedes is targeting won't take issue. As one Mercedes Executive VP noted, "We aim to reach new target groups with the CLA - including those who never intended driving a Mercedes."
So it's fair to say that this CLA is a hugely significant development for the brand. It is, in some ways, a new era for Mercedes saloon cars. It opens a big revenue stream and frees the C-Class to be a bit bigger and more luxurious. The most significant Mercedes model of the last fifteen years? That might very well be the case.