Sometimes you can’t have the car you really want. If you dig the 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA, there’s a good chance the CLA200 you see here isn’t the one you really want.
I mean, when you’ve got the poppy-crackly cranky fast and sporty Mercedes-AMG CLA45, why would you want the base model CLA, which starts from $52,500 plus on-road costs. Soooooo, that’s about 40,000 reasons to go for this one over the AMG (it costs $92,215 plus on-roads!).
The entire CLA range has just been updated, with the revised model sporting some new exterior styling including reshaped bumpers, a new grille treatment and new wheel designs. Our CLA200 was finished in the new hero metallic hue, Canvasite Blue, a $1290 option that looks the part for a compact luxury sedan… or Coupe, if you buy into the Merc nomenclature.
For the money, the CLA200 is well equipped. As part of the changes – similar to those seen as part of the recent A-Class upgrade – the CLA has seen the addition of a new 8.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, while it also has the usual Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Garmin Map Pilot navigation and DAB+ digital radio.
There’s push-button start – but no keyless entry! – an auto-dimming driver’s side mirror and rear-view mirror, auto lights and wipers, front sports seats in Artico manmade leather (they look sweet in our car), ambient interior lighting, dual-zone climate control and LED headlights. The 18-inch wheels you see here are the standard issue, and it has run-flat tyres with a tyre pressure monitoring system.
Safety is accounted for, with a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors with semi-automated parking assist, forward collision warning with autonomous braking, blind-spot monitoring, driver drowsiness warning system, and nine airbags (dual front, front side, rear side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee coverage).
At this price, it feels properly premium inside – the colour combination in particular, when you’re stepping from outside to inside where you’re greeted by the no-cost optional Crystal Grey pretend leather, is absolutely plush, even if the leather isn’t real.
As you would expect, the interior fit and finishes were of excellent quality. The centre stack, with its plethora of buttons, is a little bit old-school these days, but it’s all easy to operate. Thankfully with the latest phone connectivity, voice control is a cinch.
Our car was fitted with the COMAND package at $2490, which adds online functionality, a better navigation mapping system, DVD player, twin USB inputs and a 12-speaker Harman/Kardon stereo system. The infotainment system is improved compared to the existing system in the pre-facelift CLA, and its rotary dial selector between the seats is much easier to use than the more modern one fitted to the C-Class, E-Class and S-Class. Still, we reckon the BMW iDrive or Audi's MMI systems are simpler.
The interior has decent storage in the doors and between the seats up front, while in the back there are smaller door pockets, dual mesh map pockets, and a flip-down armrest with cupholders. There are rear seat vents, too, which is a nice plus, but we particularly liked the ambient lights under the head restraints – very chic.
But while the ambient lighting is a nice addition to the cabin, rear seat space is cramped, with limited head room (particularly when you’re getting in and out of the car) and tight legroom – if you want a similarly sized sedan with better room, consider an Audi A3. For little kids it’s fine, but you might find their feet kicking the backs of the front seats if they’re in a booster, and there are dual ISOFIX outboard anchor points and three top-tether points.
The boot of the CLA is decent, with 470 litres of cargo capacity: that’s a good 130L more than an A-Class hatch, and 45L more than an A3 sedan. Swings and roundabouts, eh?
Under the bonnet of the CLA200 is a carryover 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, which is teamed to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. It’s front-wheel drive, with power rated at 115kW (at 5300rpm) and torque pegged at 250Nm (from 1250-4000rpm).
Fuel use for the CLA200 is claimed at 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres, and over our testing – urban, highway and back roads – we saw 7.4L/100km.
It’s an engine that does what you need of it, but not much more. It can be noisy if you push it hard, and while there is decent power there if you need it, the CLA200 is certainly more of a cruiser than a bruiser. Around town, during urban running, there was little to complain about, but if you stomp the throttle, it could leave you wanting. The engine is noisier than it should be under hard revs, and not in a good way.
Even so, the dual-clutch transmission (DCT) could be better around town. It can stumble at low speeds. For example, when you’re taking off at the traffic lights, and unlike many DCTs we’ve sampled from rival brands, the Mercedes unit can slur a bit between shifts.
So it’s better as a commuter, the type of car that you can travel 50km in day in, day out. And, unlike the more sporting versions of the CLA, you don't get sick of the sound of it if you’re doing gentle miles.
The suspension set-up is suited to that sort of driving, too, with the ride comfort proving mostly fine. The front end can be somewhat confused by sharp edges, potholes and the like at lower speeds, crashing down at times. But at higher speeds it deals with smaller bumps decently, and large lumps or rolling ridges are sorted well, too. Over more repetitive bumps or bigger ones, the suspension can be a little noisy.
The CLA’s steering is reasonably accurate at all speeds, but it lacks much in the way of feel. You can trust what you’re going to get in terms of reactions, but it isn’t necessarily involving at the helm.
As with all Mercedes-Benz models, there’s a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and buyers can pre-purchase a capped-price plan for servicing, with maintenance due every 12 months or 25,000km, whichever occurs first. The plans span between two years/50,000km and five years/125,000km. There are two levels of cover: Silver, including brake fluid, filters, oil, coolant, transmission fluid and wheel balancing; and Platinum, which adds brake pads and discs.
Overall, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA200 has seen some worthwhile additions, and it remains a plush enough entry point the little four-door sedan range. It isn’t as spacious as some rivals, but it’s arguably more swish, and if you can’t stretch the budget to the top-end go fast models, it could be the CLA for you.
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