✔ Rear styling divides opinion, but the four-door saloon version of the A-Class looks the part. ✖ Not an ‘easy’ drive, less rear headroom than the A-Class hatch.
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Combining CLS-like coupé styling, the Mercedes-Benz CLA comes with lots of standard equipment and safety kit. As the four-door saloon version of the popular A-Class, it also has a big boot. From the diamond grille to the sporty twin tailpipes, the CLA certainly wins in the style department and is much better looking than its hatchback sibling.
The test car was in Sport trim, the lesser of the two equipment grades available, which translates to softer ‘comfort’ suspension and a more subtle looking front grille and body kit than that applied to the more expensive AMG Sport version.
Two engines are currently available on the CLA – one petrol and one diesel. I drove the CLA 180 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, 120bhp petrol unit in ‘Jupiter Red’.
In the cabin, the front section is little-changed from the hatchback with the same raised centre screen, the same air vents, the same slim-grip steering wheel and the same comfortable seats and well laid-out controls. I can’t help thinking MB have missed a trick by not differentiating the front of the cabin even slightly from that of the hatch, particularly when the unique exterior styling promises so much.
In the back, the reducing roofline dictates a little less headroom for tall passengers and makes for decidedly tricky rear visibility. However, the overall Germanic package makes a good honest case for itself with quality materials throughout, as you would expect of the marque.
The softer ‘comfort’ suspension set-up of the CLA 180 Sport is smooth, although the car did feel unsettled over poor surfaces and the ride felt decidedly lumpy on bumpy roads, which would become quite tiresome on longer trips. Handling is sharp and precise and the progressive steering balances up nicely as you turn in and there’s plenty of confident grip all round when ‘pushing on’.
The 1.6-litre petrol engine in the CLA 180 Sport is the same powerplant found in the A180 hatch and, while not exactly setting any benchmarks in the performance stakes, it has sufficient poke to make effective and fuss-free progress and behaves best on the motorway and well-maintained A and B roads.
As there is no automatic option on the CLA 180, the engine is coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s an effective transmission, although the gear-throw is very light and felt almost clumsy, making it an ‘uneasy’ driving experience. Some ‘getting used to’ mileage could well be called for.
The boot is large and while a tad shallow should be more than sufficient to accommodate family baggage for long holiday trips
The styling of the CLA certainly holds gravitas (nuances of its rear will reflect on the new C-Class for 2014) and is a car that is set to take Mercedes-Benz into a new era and attract new buyers to the brand who have not owned a Merc before – known in the trade as ‘conquests’ – possibly tempting them from the other premium German car manufacturers Audi and BMW.
As a package, the CLA morphs the uninspiring A-Class hatch into an altogether appealing car. When in it and underway, you quickly realise it’s little more than a regular A-Class. But with its cheeky, good looking rear, for most buyers that will be more than acceptable.
It would be for me.