Small cars are big business for Mercedes-Benz Australia, which this week launched the fifth member of its compact car family — the CLA Shooting Brake.
It joins the CLA Coupe (really a sedan — Mercedes-Benz is rather fond of borderline pretentious names for its body-styles), as well as the A-Class hatch, B-Class MPV and GLA crossover SUV in its small-car family, each of which uses the same architecture.
Mercedes-Benz calls this front- and all-wheel-drive architecture MFA — Modular Front-wheel-drive Architecture — and the vehicles spun from it account for about 35.0 per cent of its total sales this year, or more than 40.0 per cent if you exclude commercial vehicles.
The CLA Shooting Brake is likely the final MFA model, in this current generation at least. So, would you have one? Or perhaps more relevantly, would you have one over the CLA sedan… sorry, Coupe?
We mentioned ‘big business’ before. For all its applications, that tag does not belong to the traditional wagon at present, which more than ever is being utterly usurped in the battle for buyers’ hearts, minds and wallets by SUVs that ride higher and look tougher.
Dimensionally, the CLA Shooting Brake shares the title as the largest MFA-based car with its sedan sibling. It’s 4630mm long, 1777mm wide and sits on a 2699mm wheelbase shared with other MFA cars beyond the CLAs.
Despite that wagon body, it only has a claimed 25 litres of extra storage space over the sedan if you’re using the rear seats, at 495L (7L more than a B-Class). But flip them (almost flat, but not quite), and you get 1354L. In comparison, the 72mm longer C-Class Estate houses 490L/1510L — a difference not as marked as we expected, frankly.
You still wouldn’t call the CLA Shooting Brake the most practical offering. A Volkswagen Golf wagon — sorry for the VW reference, but it’s just a context marker — is about the same length, but stores 605/1620L. That’s 266L extra. There’s also a fairly small loading aperture that makes this resemble more of a stretched hatch than a wagon proper.
The rest of the cabin is familiar from the CLA sedan. There’s a lovely new flat-bottomed steering wheel that looks expensive, trademark seat adjustment buttons on the doors, soft-touch leather pads everywhere, slick round air vents inspired by plane turbines and a floating screen operated via a command toggle on the transmission tunnel that is similar to — but moderately less slick than — BMW’s iDrive (personal preference only).
There’s also the rather busy cluster of audio controls mounted beneath the vents that goes a little heavy on the buttons for my taste. It’s not the exercise in modernity and design genius that the all-new C-Class cabin is, to be kind. And some of the plastics used on the lower halves of the dash and doors feels harder and cheaper than they should.
But who much cares when it looks so cool from the outside, right? The CLA Shooting Brake doesn’t resemble your typical wagon. Like the CLS and the CLA sedan, it’s a car with a design that prioritises style. You get the same flashy, cut roofline, the same narrow glasshouse, and those signature creased side panels.
Despite the prioritisation of style there’s still an extra 40mm of rear headroom over the cramped CLA sedan — though it's still tight on legroom and headroom for its length, requires a stoop to get into, and hard to see out of courtesy of the small windows and large C-pillars — and moderately larger door apertures to assist entry and egress.
It all looks a million bucks. Which is good, because while it isn’t quite that expensive, it’s certainly not cheap. You can read our pricing and specifications breakdown here, but here’s a quick look.
Four variants are to be sold in Australia, each of which costs $1500 more than the equivalent CLA sedan. Therefore the CLA Shooting Brake is not just the largest MFA-based car, it’s also the priciest.
Kicking off the range is the $52,400 (plus on-road costs) CLA200 petrol, with its 115kW/250Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged-petrol engine sending torque to the front wheels. This variant was also the only one we were unable to test on the local launch this week.
The $52,900 CLA200 CDI is the sole diesel offering, with its 2.1-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 100kW of power (between 2400 and 4400rm) and sending 300Nm (from 1400rpm) of torque to the front wheels.
This engine, paired to the standard seven-speed DCT dual-clutch transmission with (new-shape) paddles, is smooth and quiet but short of zip, though with claimed fuel consumption of 4.3 litres per 100km, it’s extremely frugal. The DCT software also seems better-sorted than we recall, with little in the way of overt lassitude.
Both CLA200 versions, petrol and diesel, come with the same equipment. Highlights include autonomous braking at low speeds, 18-inch alloy wheels, faux leather seats, Bi-Xenon headlights, keyless start, blind-spot monitoring, an electric tailgate, boot rails, satellite-navigation and all the requisite connectivity.
The projected top-seller is the $66,400 CLA250 Sport 4Matic (the silver car pictured), with its 155kW of power (at 5500rpm) and 350Nm (between 1200 and 4000rpm) of torque, 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and extra equipment including a panoramic sunroof, leather sports seats with red highlights, auto dusk-sensing headlights, LED daytime running lights, that lovely diamond grille design, sporty body bits, and eye-catching red contrast trim, and beautifully done faux carbon fibre bits, scattered around the cabin.
You also get an all-wheel-drive system that can distribute up to 50 per cent of drive to the rear wheels via a torque-on-demand rear axle in as little as 100 milliseconds, and AMG-fettled suspension that sits the car 15mm lower, as well as a thicker anti-roll bar and the deletion of the 200's 225/40 run-flat tyres in favour of 10mm wider 235/40 hoops that are not run-flats.
It has a lovely engine, with good reserves of almost immediate torque and a notable absence of lag, thanks perhaps to a retuned throttle. Push the button to engage sports mode and the seven-speed DCT’s responses become faster and the downshifts more aggressive, and more importantly, the exhaust outlets emit cracks, blips and braaaaps on gearshifts.
Consider one thing, though. You can get an undoubtedly more premium-feeling rear-drive C-Class Estate with the same engine for $5000 more, which at this end of the market isn’t a big jump. The entry C200 version costs $63,400… so that line is blurring.
Topping the range is the flamboyant (and amazingly, projected second top-selling behind the 250) $89,900 CLA45 AMG 4Matic variant (pictured in red), which flicks the 250’s 2.0-litre in favour of an AMG-made twin-scroll turbocharged one with 1.8 bar of maximum boost and a world-beating 133kW-per-litre output.
You also get a heap of extra features such as 19-inch alloys, the AMG Driver’s package with its higher 270km/h speed limiter (like you’ll ever use it), AMG Night package styling kit, bigger brakes, digital radio, an AMG race timer, a more powerful sound system from Harman Kardon and a leather/suede steering wheel among the best bits.
The 265kW (at 6000rpm) and 450Nm (between 2250 and 5000rpm) engine slams the little wagon from 0-100km/h in only 4.7 seconds — 0.1s slower than the sedan, alas — if you use the violent launch control.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on such a small engine. But as a from-the-box proposition, it’s a riot, with a raucous note that demands attention and a linear — not peaky — wave of power and torque. In sport (S) or full manual (M) modes, the gear changes are rapid and on-point (and given the engine, a note that normally follows a bolt of lightning), though it also seems content to doddle about in urban surrounds in C mode.
No CLA of either body-type is what you would call cushy, but the Shooting Brake benefits from a re-jigged setup with revised dampers (but the same springs) that factors in the likelihood of carrying loads. It feels less abrasive across the board, and the CLA250 4Matic is the pick of the bunch despite the lower suspension.
Thank AMG’s boffins for that, and the deletion of those run-flats.
The CLA45 AMG has three stability control modes with varying degrees of intrusion, though you really need a track to push it, and revised suspension with independent steering knuckles up front and more rigid axle bearings.
The Shooting Brake range — all variants — carries about 30kg over the equivalent sedan, and its weight distribution is subsequently minutely different (goes from 60:40 front to rear bias, to 58:42). If you can honestly tell the difference, then thanks for reading, because you’re clearly a Mercedes-Benz chassis engineer.
The electric steering system is well-weighted, though there’s a veneer of, rather than true, feel-and-feedback on twistier roads. The general handling package means the car sits pretty flat in corners, and more neutral in AWD form.
The CLA45 AMG turns in sharply, with the only real issue being its eminently neutral AWD system. We’d like it to be a little more tail-happy, say if it were capable of sending 100 per cent of shove to the rear axle. You’d need a track to even notice, though.
Small issues aside, our brief first local drive of the CLA Shooting Brake tells us it’s well worth the $1500 step up over the CLA sedan, if you're in the market. For a second opinion, read Trent's overseas review here.
It isn’t cheap — a C-Class Estate become a viable item to cross shop, remember — but it has a style all of its own, and it beats out the CLA sedan in the areas of practicality, urban ride and (just) rear headroom — all traditional bugbears.
So it’s not really a sensible purchase, but we can think of more reasons to justify this emotional offering than we can with the other body-style. And that was the real question all along.