Sunday 21 July 2019

The Mercedes CLA: turning on the style as new coupé grows up

Exceptional front and screen interface but engine can get boomy at high revs

Improved drive: the new Mercedes CLA four-door coupé
Improved drive: the new Mercedes CLA four-door coupé
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I may as well be upfront and admit there is a bias towards this week's review car in certain quarters of my family. One young lady in particular has wanted a Mercedes CLA since seeing the first model nearly six years ago. She doesn't really need a new, higher-price car but now she's caught sight of this new model, the prospects of purchase are being raised again.

I've been a voice of reason for some time, but...

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The CLA is essentially a good idea: Make a car look like a stretched coupé and give it four doors instead of two. Just like Mercedes do with their large CLS.

The important thing to remember about this CLA is that it's a larger proposition than before.

So much so they suggest it might tempt a few who are dreaming of buying an entry-level BMW 3-series.

I'm not sure I see that at all, but it's certainly bigger and better to drive. However, the core rival still, surely, is the Audi A3 saloon.

Mercedes grew the CLA by making it 48mm longer, 53mm wider, 2mm lower. The wheelbase is up 30mm. That helps cabin room primarily, while the wider track (63mm more front, 55mm rear) helped balance and drive.

Oh look, I could cite numbers to you all day but when you see it in the flesh, you sense how it has grown up quite a bit.

The one thing I really loved (I don't use that word too often about a car) was the front with its diamond-patterned grille and central star. This is how you do style. Where is there anything like it these days? You're correct: on the front of other Mercs. They've nailed that design. I reckon the front will look like a modern classic in 10 years' time. Yes, I think it is that good. And it's the main reason that our certain family member is so smitten by it.

But I have criticisms to go with the praise - as I cling to the tenuous status of being the voice of reason. The engine, a willing, powerful 1,332cc petrol, could get quite boomy when I put it under pressure. On such occasions it was a bit out of character with this tasty motor.

It generated lots of power and was grand under normal conditions. But I don't do normal conditions sometimes. And that's where the flaw emerged - when I needed strong acceleration I got it but paid for it with too much noise.

It also might seem whingey, contradictory even, to criticise rear-seat room because it is significantly better than before. But three adults (Mercedes claim it's designed to carry that many) found it really tight, I can tell you. And that was only in the course of a quick trip for a coffee near home. Plan on two not-so-tall if you're buying.

Getting in was easier than with the previous model (the roof doesn't slope as acutely) and rear headroom wasn't bad at all. There was decent boot space, too.

But I don't like the look of the back nearly as much as the front. This won't be a modern classic in 10 years, though.

Neither, I suspect, will the dash/infotainment display on the test car (twin screens of info, connectivity and help: with phone, radio, navigation, voice-activated 'Hey Mercedes' driver assistance) because that whole area is changing at beyond-belief pace.

But I'm sure of one thing: this CLA's display will be regarded as being part of one of the real transformations in how information and systems were deployed to act for, and interact with, us. It is an exceptional combination of practical interface and proper, integrated design. It leaves others trailing.

The drive has improved, too; the chassis had more vibrancy but you need Sport mode to get into that bit of sharpness. Maybe it was a bit harsh rather than sharp on poorer roads sometimes. It certainly wouldn't stand up to what a BMW 3-series delivers. Nothing much does these days, does it?

No, the CLA is essentially a nicely-sized small executive that relies on lots more than handling and ride to meet potential buyers' expectations.

And one of those attributes is its neat footprint for those who don't want, or need, a fully-fledged executive car such as the C-Class or Audi A4. It is big enough now to attain a posture of substance but tidy enough to not seem too large for the single-occupancy for which, I believe, it will be mostly purchased.

On that point: have you seen the number of cars, of all shapes and sizes with just the one occupant? Ridiculous.

I can see that number being added to relatively soon by at least one new owner now my voice of reason has deserted me.

Facts & Figures

Mercedes CLA four-door coupé:

CLA 200 AMG Line (1,332cc, 163bhp, petrol), 124g/km; €270 road tax; automatic.

Spec included Artico leather, 18in AMG alloys, AMG sill panels, Dynamic Select, spread of safety equipment, cruise control/speed limiter, sports seats. Options added AMG Line, metallic paint, 'Advantage' package.

Price from €39,420; with extras, €49,303.

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