Cars: It's back to the drawing board with Merc estate
Stylish CLA an alternative to crossovers
I love going back to the beginning with cars - to the sketches by designers of what they dreamt a motor should look like when they were given the task of coming up with a new model.
Like most things in this life, however, the end result most often bears only scant resemblance to the concept. Bending carmakers' bean counters and metal to your dream in the real world is no easy task, I suppose.
But this week's car, the Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake - that's estate to you and me - got close enough to what was initially envisaged, I have to say.
As you are probably aware, this is based on the compact CLA 4dr coupé which itself is a baby-Merc-take on the large and wonderful CLS.
However, Mercedes got it wrong with the larger car's estate version - it is disproportionately designed I think.
But they got the proportions and the looks right with this smaller version.
Well that's what I think - and so did dozens who felt compelled to share their views on it with me.
It is a striking-looking piece of work and while it has its drawbacks, undoubtedly, it is one of the best examples, for some time, of a car in tune with what we are told are our rising fortunes.
I mean, how smart would you feel with this compact estate in your driveway?
And does it, for once, pose a real alternative to having a crossover or SUV?
Okay, I hear you say, we don't buy estates in this country. Europeans do in their droves, but we shy away from them for some reason. But this, I would venture to suggest, is different.
It has the style - there is no arguing with that. And it has plenty of practicality too.
There is a decent boot area, more headroom than the saloon/coupé version and plenty of seating/luggage flexibility.
The tailgate opens wide and luggage space expands from 495 litres to 1,354 litres when you fold the rear seats.
All these elements are crucial because those who buy this will want space either for the family or their own lifestyle accoutrements.
Those most likely to be interested in it include young couples who want a bit of style in their car but need the extra space that is maybe lacking in the 4dr.
Among the downsides, if we are comparing it with a crossover/SUV for example, is that it is quite low and getting into the rear was a bit restrictive because of the way the roof slopes.
However, when you are in, there is more headroom (4cm) than in the saloon/coupé and I had no complaints from my variety of passengers.
The estate version is virtually the same car as the 4dr as far back as the rear seats but it goes its own way after that - hence the higher ceiling.
The bottom line is higher too; the estate costs between €800 and €1,500 more than the saloon - depending on which model or version you go for.
That means my test-drive version would stand you €47,000 or thereabouts with all its bells and whistles. Now that is a serious handful of money for what is a compact estate. You could get a decent BMW 5-series for that.
But would you feel you were driving something a little bit special? Or different?
Undoubtedly there are better driving and handling cars out there, though the 2.2-litre diesel engine (we know it well from several other models) had plenty of power and was decent at cruising speeds.
Cars like this are for niche markets so it's very much a matter of taste and having the money to go with it.
The harsh facts are that the price of my, admittedly well-specced, test car excludes a lot of us.
It is a premium estate and that means you pay a commensurate price for the privilege.
But maybe, just maybe - a little bit like the designer's sketches I mentioned - we can dream about owning something like this in the not too distant future.
It's that sort of car.
Facts & figures
Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake (estate), 200Cdi Sport auto diesel (2,143cc, 106g/km, 136bhp; €190 road tax, 4.1-litres/100km)
Test-car spec included several airbags, air con, range of safety/driver assists (adaptive brake lights, collision prevention, pedestrian protection, etc), audio streaming, Bluetooth, USB, 18ins AMG alloys, lower sports suspension, sports seats. Price from €43,045. Options include bi-xenon headlights, reversing camera, panoramic sunroof, Light/Sight Pack, ambient lighting. Total price: €47,870. Range starts: €36,125.
My side of the road
I wonder if there is anything more fraught with risk than backing out of a driveway. You are virtually blind to the imminence of cars, pedestrians, dogs, etc.
It's helpful, I find, to roll down the windows before starting to reverse out slowly. That's because you will hear before you see. It could make all the difference.