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  • Sleek styling; aerodynamics; sharp front-wheel-drive dynamics; strong performance when kept on the boil; fine economy; boot space
  • Poor rear headroom; steering and ride quality decent, but not to usual lofty Benz standards; some cheap interior parts, with average equipment; looks overpriced compared with A-Class

OUR RATING
7 / 10



Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
by Daniel DeGasperi

A benchmark aerodynamics performance for a production car probably isn’t the reason the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is set to slide quickly into the garages of first-time buyers of the three-pointed-star brand.

Being rated at a slippery 0.23 Cd may help the CLA-Class ‘four-door coupe’ achieve better economy figures than the A-Class (0.28 Cd) with which it shares its engines, transmissions and chassis, but Mercedes-Benz acknowledge that this car will sell on its looks – and because it isn’t a hatch.

Priced from $49,900, the entry-level CLA200 tested here (read the full price and specifications here) is the cheapest way to get into a Mercedes-Benz sedan. Although it undercuts the base C-Class by around $10K, it is actually the larger car, eclipsing that six-year-old and soon-replaced model by 39mm in length and 15mm in width. The CLA200 also costs $8500 more than the A200 hatchback on which it’s heavily based.

Besides getting a longer car, with greater rear overhang and a larger boot – 470 litres for CLA-Class versus 341L for A-Class – the CLA200 also includes bi-xenon headlights, blind-spot monitor, Becker pilot satellite navigation and dual-zone climate control as standard over its A200 cousin.

Both share a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine that produces 115kW of power at 5300rpm and 250Nm of torque between 1250-4000rpm. Sending drive to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the 1395kg CL200 claims an 8.6 second 0-100km/h and 5.7L/100km combined consumption. (That slippery shape means it’s 0.4L/100km more frugal than A200, despite being heavier.)

Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200

Despite the quick-ish performance claims, the CLA200 feels dull of the mark. In Comfort mode, which the car defaults to each time it is switched on, the auto slurs into the tallest possible ratio, often requiring an aggressive throttle kickdown that flares revs and affects refinement.

The noise the small four-cylinder makes is then louder and less pleasant than the performance it delivers. Switch to Sport mode and the auto is more incisive and willing to hold onto lower gears, probably at the expense of laboratory economy tests, but it definitely improves real-world driveability and quite possibly economy, too.

When kept on the ball, the engine feels as willing and torquey as you’d expect from a modern, small turbocharged four-cylinder, but it doesn’t feel up to the standards expected of a $50,000 car. To put that point into context, Mercedes-Benz offers the A250 Sport hatchback for just $90 more than this CLA200, and it gets a healthier 155kW of power and 350Nm of torque for a sub-seven-second 0-100km/h.

The CLA200 also needs to be optioned to feel like a $50,000 car. The standard interior has some nice touches, like the circular air vents and ‘floating’ colour display, but the standard Becker satellite navigation looks aftermarket – though we’ve only tried it in the C200 sedan, not the CLA200 tested here, as they were all optioned with Merc’s proper, and far superior Comand navigation that costs $2264 extra if bundled with digital radio and Harman Kardon audio.

Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200

The single-bucket ‘tombstone’ front seats are comfortable but are manually adjustable, and the Artico – or artificial cow, no joke – trim feels barely a shade above vinyl.

Although all forms of luggage will feel right at home in the boot of the CLA-Class compared with the smaller A-Class, the opposite is true for rear passengers.

Although rear air vents are standard and the front-wheel-drive layout means there’s no big centre tunnel and therefore adequate legroom is provided even for the centre rear passenger, headroom is poor. That sloping roofline that so aids aerodynamics – and, subjectively, looks – also means the dome of this 178cm-tall tester is wedged firmly against the rear headlining.

Impressively, however, there are nine airbags standard, including one each for the front passengers’ knees, while auto-braking assistance means the cushions are less likely to be needed.

Seatbelts will tighten before a crash, and little lights will flash up on the wing mirrors if a car is lurking in the rear-view mirror – handy when everyone does 109km/h beside each other on the Hume highway. In terms of safety equipment, this Mercedes-Benz truly feels premium.

The driving excellence shared betweeen the modern-day Mercedes-Benz range means everything between a C-Class and S-Class are posessed of the same steering and ride quality characteristics, in particular, which are almost always the benchmark in their respective classes. The CLA-Class joins the A-Class and B-Class in being the first Benz models in recent years that don’t feel quite born from the same stuff.

Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200

The difference isn’t down to the front-wheel-drive layout, although it may be the culprit that has made the steering a little less direct and consistent than those in loftier Mercedes-Benz models.

As with the A- and B-Class, but unlike the C-Class, E-Class and others, the CLA-Class rides on run-flat tyres. Although the technology that allows drivers to get a flat and continue driving means that Mercedes-Benz can ditch a spare tyre, it’s also the technology that plagued the ride quality of rival BMWs in the mid-2000s.

Perhaps predictably, the CLA200 on 18-inch tyres doesn’t ride with great finesse. It’s generally decent at lower speeds and calm on smooth surfaces, but it is irritated by changes in road surface and thumps over sharp-edged imperfections like pot holes.

When the road gets twisty, though, the CLA-Class comes good, partially justifying its average ride quality. That’s especially true of the limited edition CLA200 Edition 1 that costs $4990 above the regular car and includes among interior trim upgrades including a stitched faux-leather dashboard, 18-inch alloy wheels and sports suspension.

The rebound damping on the Edition 1 – which is only available till December 2013 – is particularly tight, occasionally causing the driver to bounce around in the seat as the body hugs tightly to the road.

Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200

But the front-end turns in crisply, and the chassis delivers the same sense of front-to-rear balance delivered by the mega-CLA-Class, the CLA45, only at much lower speeds. Quick changes of direction reveal fine agility, too.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class isn’t a pragmatic car, which is particularly obvious when the A-Class is better packaged, much cheaper and drives largely the same. It does, however, deliver torquey performance and great handling, even if the steering and ride quality aren’t quite to Benz’s usual lofty standards.

There’s no doubting the claim that 75 per cent of Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class buyers will be new to the brand, such is its combination of style and dynamics, but if you can cop a hatchback, the A250 Sport that can be had for the same money is ultimately the better car.


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Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review: CLA200
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Mercedes-Benz CLA Specs

200 : 117 : 1.6L TURBO MPFI - 7 SP AUTOMATIC - PREMIUM UNLEADED PETROL - 4D COUPE
Car Details
Make
MERCEDES-BENZ
Model
CLA
Variant
200
Series
117
Year
2013
Body Type
4D COUPE
Seats
5
Pricing
New Price
N/A
Private Sale
$36,410 - $41,380
Dealer Retail
$36,450 - $43,340
Dealer Trade
$28,300 - $33,100
Engine Specifications
Engine Type
TURBO MPFI
Engine Size
1.6L
Cylinders
TURBO 4
Max. Torque
250Nm @  1250rpm
Max. Power
115kW @  5300rpm
Pwr:Wgt Ratio
80.4W/kg
Bore & Stroke
83x73.7mm
Compression Ratio
10.3
Valve Gear
VARIABLE DOUBLE OVERHEAD CAM
Drivetrain Specifications
Transmission
7 SP AUTOMATIC
Drive Type
FRONT WHEEL DRIVE
Final Drive Ratio
0
Fuel Specifications
Fuel Type
PREMIUM UNLEADED PETROL
Fuel Tank Capacity
50Litres
Fuel Consumption (Combined)
5.7L / 100km
Weight & Measurement
Kerb Weight
1430
Gross Vehicle Weight
Not Provided
Height
1436mm
Length
4781mm
Width
1777mm
Ground Clearance
117mm
Towing Capacity
Brake:1400  Unbrake:715
Steering & Suspension
Steering Type
RACK & PINION - POWER ASSISTED
Turning Circle
11
Front Rim Size
7.5x18
Rear Rim Size
7.5x18
Front Tyres
225/40 R18
Rear Tyres
225/40 R18
Wheel Base
2699
Front Track
1540
Rear Track
1540
Front Brakes
DISC - VENTILATED
Rear Brakes
DISC
Front Suspension
MacPherson strut, Coil Spring, Gas damper, Anti roll bar
Rear Suspension
Multi-link system, Coil Spring, Gas damper, Anti roll bar
Standard Features
Comfort
Auto Climate Control with Dual Temp Zones, Sport Seats
Control & Handling
18 Inch Alloy Wheels, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Electronic Stability Program, Hill Holder, Traction Control System
Driver
Cruise Control, Leather Steering Wheel, Multi Function Steering Wheel, Mobile Phone Connectivity, Parking Distance Control, Power Steering, Reversing Camera, Satellite Navigation, Trip Computer
Entertainment
Radio CD with 6 Speakers
Exterior
Xenon Headlights
Interior
Power Windows, Tinted Windows
Safety
Dual Front Airbag Package, Anti-lock Braking, Head Airbags, PreSafe, Side Airbags, Seatbelts - Pre-tensioners Front Seats
Security
Central Locking Remote Control, Engine Immobiliser
Optional Features
Comfort
Power Sunroof
Exterior
Metallic Paint
Package
AMG Styling Wheels & Body Pack
Other
Service Interval
12 months /  25,000 kms
Warranty
36 months /  999,000 kms
VIN Plate Location
Driver Side Front Floor
Country of Origin
Germany