Just when you thought there were no more niches for Mercedes-Benz to fill, along comes this, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake.
Mercedes-Benz has been on a compact car rampage over the past few years, and the German company believes this estate variant completes the set.
With the CLA 'Coupe' a success in Australia, Mercedes-Benz thinks the Shooting Brake variant is primed to continue the model’s march ahead. It's on sale now in Australia, with Mercedes-Benz suggesting it will appeal to buyers who might love the Coupe styling but need to use the second row seating - and indeed the luggage compartment - more often.
Mercedes-Benz will launch four model variants into Australia - the CLA200 ($52,400) and CLA200 CDI ($52,900) as well as the CLA250 Sport 4MATIC ($66,400) and the range topping CLA45 AMG 4MATIC ($89,900). The latter powered by the most powerful production four-cylinder engine in the world, as seen in the CLA45 AMG Coupe.
Globally, most buyers of CLA Coupes have been what the salespeople call 'conquest sales' - that is, buyers who are new to the brand.
At this point I need to make a confession - no matter how good the CLA Shooting Brake turns out to be, I maintain the name ‘Shooting Brake’ is among the silliest monikers given to any car. If the success of the CLS Shooting Brake is anything to go by, though, the buying public clearly disagrees with me.
Straight from the 2015 Geneva motor show I headed to Frankfurt to sample the new CLA Shooting Brake in Mercedes-Benz heartland.
The exterior styling of the CLA Shooting Brake is undoubtedly appealing, no matter the setting. In a similar vein to its significantly larger CLS Shooting Brake sibling, there’s aesthetic appeal to the heavily stylised estate body. In fact, the CLA is, in this writer's opinion, even more stylish than the CLS given its slightly more diminutive size. Mercedes-Benz told us at launch that it’s also an efficient design - the CLA Shooting Brake is the most aerodynamic vehicle with an estate body style on the market.
There’s no slab-sidedness evident, with the rear three-quarter especially a more appealing angle on the smaller estate when it's parked alongside a CLS wagon. There’s a fluid, smooth flow to the styling from front to rear and the CLA Shooting Brake proves that compact bodies don’t have to mean compromised styling.
Despite the heavily sloped roofline, there’s 40 millimetres of added headroom over the coupe, meaning I could sit comfortably in the second row behind my own driving position (and I'm not small). Long-legged passengers won’t want to sit back there for hours, but shorter trips will be no problem at all - however, it’s in the second row where the Shooting Brake plays its strongest card against the Coupe in real world terms.
The luggage space is flexible too. The second-row seat backs can be set at various angles to make the luggage space more flexible as well as folded completely flat to open up 1400 litres of storage space. With the second row up, there’s nearly 500L of storage on offer.
Chassis balance and handling hasn’t been affected in significant fashion by the switch from swoopy sedan to wagon, either. The Coupe has a 60:40 front to rear weight bias, while the Shooting Brake shifts to 58:42. That’s thanks largely to the extra 30 kilograms at the rear of the estate. The platform (structurally and mechanically) is otherwise identical.
A city section illustrated the around town ride and stop/start system, while a longer country loop gave a taste of some unlimited autobahn cruising and backroad handling.
The launch drive was brief so this review will focus on two models specifically.
The first drive section was behind the wheel of the range topping AMG variant and the second drive loop was spent in the variant I think will be the sweet spot in the CLA Shooting Brake range, the CLA250 Sport. While the entry-level petrol and diesel twins will appeal to those on a tighter budget, the CLA250 offers enough excitement without the cost (and associated theatrics) of the AMG version.
That said, Mercedes-Benz can still expect to sell plenty CLAs with AMG badging, and my first stint was behind the wheel of the CLA45 AMG Shooting Brake.
In short, the savagery of the AMG 2.0-litre engine isn't diluted by the addition of the estate-stlye rear end, as the extra weight makes no impact on the world’s most formidable four-cylinder production engine.
Off the mark, the CLA45 AMG is a bullet, cranking on speed effortlessly. An unrestricted autobahn section allows us to wind the engine out to 240km/h and it gets there quickly. With its highly strung four-cylinder churning out 265kW and 450Nm, and claiming a 0-100km/h time of 4.7 seconds, it tends to lend itself to rapid acceleration.
The twisty country run up into mountains outside Frankfurt - still covered in snow - illustrated the surefootedness of the Mercedes-Benz all-wheel-drive system and the fun you can have, even on damp roads.
The AMG Speedshift DCT is slick at speed and there’s no loss of momentum as the gearbox shifts between gears (seven of them, in this case). The theatrics of the exhaust system and the urgent nature of the powerful engine won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but accessible performance rarely gets more usable in the real world.
Around town, the stop/start system is snappy and there’s only the slightest hesitation at takeoff just after the engine has fired back into life and you’re ready to move off. It’s not even remotely a deal breaker though: rather, it's a minor complaint.
We went looking for pockmarked roads - not easy in Germany - to see how the slight weight shift and estate body affect the CLA45 AMG’s ride. The Coupe borders on too firm back home, and I suspected the Shooting Brake could be the same when we test it on local roads.
However, Following my drive in CLA45 I mentioned to Jochen Eck, who works in development for compact cars at Daimler AG, that the few poor road surfaces I could find seemed to indicate a slightly softer ride than I had expected. He was impressed we picked it up, as the estate gets retuned dampers (despite using the same springs) compared to the Coupe. Australian owners will appreciate the ever so subtle shift in ride comfort.
Slipping in to the driver's seat of the CLA250 Sport, it quickly became apparent that this model grade is an impressive one. Indeed, after my drive over the same long road loop, I was of the firm opinion that this model strikes the perfect balance between pricing and performance.
There’s obviously less power and outright performance than the rip snorting AMG-tuned version, but there’s more than enough punch for the daily drive and to keep you entertained while doing so - 155kW at 5500rpm and 350Nm between 1200-4000rpm is more than enough to tackle the daily grind while still entertaining on a weekend dash into the country.
While the AMG variant was a seriously fast drive, the CLA250 Sport impressed with its all-round ability. It’s not as stiff, not as focused and not as engaging to drive near the limit, but around town it proved an exceptional melding of performance and comfort.
The 4MATIC system again illustrates the appeal of AWD, especially on slick road surfaces, and there’s a surefooted feel to the way the CLA250 Sport gets about its business.
As Mercedes-Benz has done with the Coupe, a sensible model spread means there’s something for just about everyone in the CLA Shooting Brake range.
It’s every bit as impressive as you’d expect and arguably more flexible than the Coupe as well, especially if you need to use the second row seating regularly. There’s the requisite premium feel to every aspect of the CLA Shooting Brake range especially from behind the wheel.
Keep in mind we tested this vehicle on winter tyres in late winter conditions, too, so there’s reason to believe it will be even more surefooted on grippier tyres and dry road surfaces locally.
Overall though, the CLA Shooting Brake is a sensible addition to the Mercedes-Benz range and is primed to take advantage of Australia’s rekindled love affair with wagons.