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The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class has been officially launched today at the 2013 Detroit auto show in the motor city.

A compact four-door coupe, the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class follows the idea of the larger and significantly more expensive CLS sedan but is set to appeal to an entirely new buyer group, one that may not have previously considered owning a Mercedes-Benz.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA will sit above the A- and B-Class and have a starting price around the $50,000 mark. Although launching in other markets in the coming months, Australia is not expecting to see the CLA in showrooms until the fourth quarter of this year, with the hotted-up all-wheel-drive CLA45 AMG looking more likely for early 2014.

The front-wheel-drive CLA range will consist of similar engine choices to the soon to launch A-Class, with which it shares its platform, but while petrol and diesel offerings will be included, the CLA will not be offered with a 180 base model.

All CLA variants will be coupled to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with no option for a manual. Mercedes-Benz Australia’s corporate communications manager, David McCarthy, admitted the company could’ve asked for manual transmission variants but previous experience (including very limited demand for manual SLK variants) had showed that manual transmissions are not the right fit for Mercedes-Benz products in Australia.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA, which actually measures slightly longer than a current generation C-Class, is expected to take some sales away from the company’s best selling model, but not enough to be of concern. The German manufacturer primarily expects its buyers to come from other brands and be first-time Mercedes-Benz customers.

The company sees no natural competitor for the CLA in Australia, with the only vehicle likely to compete on price being the Volkswagen CC. However, McCarthy dismissed the CC as a CLA competitor, noting that there’s a “difference between a strong brand (Volkswagen) and a prestige brand (Mercedes-Benz). People that want a prestige brand, buy our car”.

With the CLA part of the new family of cars designed by Mercedes-Benz head of design, Gordon Wagener, Dr Dieter Zetsche, the global chairman of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz cars, told the automotive media that he is “confident that this look will especially appeal to the Generation Y buyers”.

Interestingly, despite its size, the Mercedes-Benz CLA boasts the best aerodynamic design of any mass-produced car in the world, with a drag coefficient of just 0.22cd – more aerodynamic than the Toyota Prius.

Given the CLA is expected to have big demand from the North American market, stock levels may not satisfy demand, with Mercedes-Benz Australia expecting to sell around 200-250 standard CLA units per month and around 500 a year of the CLA45 AMG.

On the specification side of things, the CLA range will be positioned higher the A-Class and differ from the B-Class focussing more on convenience than sports when it comes to features. Final specification levels are still unconfirmed for the Australian market but we suspect the CLA will gain all the technological features of the A-Class, including native integration with the iPhone’s Siri system.

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