Go on, you know you want one

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News - PAUL POT­TINGER CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR paul.pot­tinger@cars­guide.com.au

We get to grips with Benz’s bril­liant CLA, sort of a sedan but billed as coupe. It’s priced to ap­peal

YOU might as well skip this. You’re go­ing to buy the CLA no mat­ter what the likes of me say.

Such a meet­ing of rel­a­tive af­ford­abil­ity and out­right de­sir­abil­ity has sel­dom been seen.

The CLA will, as one observer pun­gently put it,

‘‘ sell its tits off’’ when it ar­rives for Christ­mas.

For what it’s worth, you’re un­likely to re­gret in­vest­ing in the cheap­est ever Mercedes four-door. At some $50,000 it’s a good deal dearer than the same-un­der-the-skin A-Class hatch­back yet the CLA sedan— or four-door coupe, as it is styled— is a good deal more evoca­tive and cooler than some­thing so util­i­tar­ian as a hatch­back.


We’re barely used to the re­al­ity of a fully equipped, good-to-drive Benz priced sub­stan­tially un­der a ba­sic Com­modore. Such is the en­try A-Class.

Cars­guide gleans that this new and madly stylish de­par­ture will start just north of $50K— eight grand un­der the ridicu­lous lux­ury car tax and nine un­der the Mercedes C-Class, which sells its chest as­sets off de­spite the tax.

Benz has been here be­fore, al­beit with the two-door and too poor CLC, a de­vice to give hair­dressers’ cars a bad name. The CLA is cut of a very dif­fer­ent cloth, es­sen­tially an A-Class in a classier suit, but with all that’s sub­stan­tial about that land­scape-al­ter­ing model.

Stan­dard is seven-speed twin­clutch auto trans­mis­sion driv­ing a choice of four-cylin­der turbo petrol or diesel en­gines and mul­ti­me­dia screen pos­si­bly with sat­nav. The prob­a­ble start­ing price is higher than we ex­pected but Mercedes vows a boun­ti­ful kit level (de­sir­able op­tions will be plen­ti­ful and costly). Ini­tially we’ll see the two turbo petrol vari­ants,

the en­try CLA 200 and the stove-hot 250. The former can be op­tioned with sports sus­pen­sion and 18-inch wheels to match the lat­ter’s han­dling, if not its punch.

A diesel fol­lows next year if you must go that way, as does the CLA 45 AMG with all­wheel-drive and blis­ter­ing per­for­mance. You’ll go that way if you can.


Of the open­ing line-up, the 250 is that which all with petrol in their veins will de­sire. The 200 is the one al­most ev­ery­one will buy and feel sat­is­fied by. Both have a three-mode drive sys­tem that at a but­ton’s push shifts en­gine re­sponse be­tween nor­mal, sport and man­ual, which is op­er­ated within strict lim­its by shift­ing pad­dles.

Most Mercedes ex­cept SUVs re­main rear-wheel drive but its lat­est models suf­fer lit­tle from the one end do­ing both the steer­ing and driv­ing. All vari­ants get Di­rect Steer, which is smart enough to re­act to changes in grip, gra­di­ent and gra­tu­itous driv­ing.

Few cars punch so cleanly through the air. The term

‘‘ drag co-ef­fi­cient’’ may mean noth­ing to you; suf­fice that the sharp-an­gled CLA’s is among the low­est of any pro­duc­tion car and a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to its ex­cep­tion­ally low fuel use and emis­sions.

The new­est ver­sions of Merc’s mul­ti­me­dia sys­tem bring photo-real­is­tic map dis­play, an ad­di­tional Blue­tooth pro­file for net ac­cess via iPhone and real-time traf­fic data.

Con­nois­seurs need to know that while the A250 Sport was devel­oped from the get-go with the in­put of that mighty tuning arm AMG, the top CLA lacks that. Mind you, we who drove be­tween Mar­seille and St Tropez reckon that counts for close to noth­ing, so adept is the new­comer.

Any­way, the CLA 250 Sport to sit be­neath the full-on-AMG model is on the way.


Ba­si­cally this is the A-Class in a shell sculpted down from the im­pos­ing CLS, the model that started the ma­nia for so-called four-door coupes. The ef­fect of those ac­cents con­cen­trated in a smaller shape— though one longer than the cur­rent C-Class sedan— is con­fronting.

‘‘ Ag­gres­sive’’ is in­vari­ably used to de­scribe the styling of sport­ing cars. For once the ad­jec­tive is war­ranted. Seen in the metal the CLA is stun­ning. The shapely nose mir­rors that of the hatch­back but we’re as­sured not a panel is shared.

The in­side story is, to our eyes, yet more suc­cess­ful even with the lurid and mer­ci­fully op­tional yel­low stitch­ing and striped seats of our test 200.

The cabin is oth­er­wise a model of class, from the bare cen­tre con­sole and the largely un­adorned but qual­ity ex­panses to your front. The five cir­cu­lar vents are the more ef­fec­tive, both func­tion­ally and in form, for stand­ing out.

It isn’t clas­sist to say this de­fines the dif­fer­ence be­tween a try-hard car and a true pa­tri­cian. It just is.

Now to the caveat. No one stand­ing more than 180cm will want to sit in the back. In fact, they can’t. There’s also the mi­nor mat­ter of the driver be­ing barely able to see out the back, so thick are the pil­lars and small the rear por­tal. Blind-spot alert had bet­ter be stan­dard.

But this is, of course, a coupe, al­beit one with two more doors than usual and if func­tion­al­ity is too im­peded for your lik­ing, Benz will sell you a me­chan­i­cally com­pat­i­ble hatch­back.


We do tend to go on about ac­tive safety and so we should. By that we mean the abil­ity of the car to co-op­er­ate with you in not mak­ing nec­es­sary all those airbags and crum­ple zones. The five-star rat­ing of the A-Class will surely carry over but the CLA’s in­her­ent bal­ance and in­stinc­tive drive­abil­ity will do most to save you from your­self.


There has been con­sid­er­able dis­quiet among the petrolhead fra­ter­nity as Benz and soon, BMW, move away from the holy rear-wheel-drive par­a­digm. Likely buy­ers are hardly likely to be both­ered and even the doom mon­gers will be hard put to com­plain.

The 200, run­ning the smaller turbo petrol en­gine, will be more than enough for most. Never mind that its 0-100km/h time of 8.6 sec­onds is more than two ticks of the clock be­hind the guts-and-glory 250.

We talk about torque for the damn good rea­son that it’s far more im­por­tant than power in most mod­ern driv­ing sit­u­a­tions. This is an­other com­pact turbo petrol en­gine that sum­mons all the torque it has al­most im­me­di­ately both for ef­fi­ciency in gen­eral run­ning and rapid re­sponse when over­tak­ing.

That re­spon­sive­ness is al­lied to re­fine­ment fully in keep­ing with one of Merc’s lux­ury sedans— the CLS for ex­am­ple. Hastily leav­ing a toll booth on the test drive (at that point it’s a rat race in France), the gut­tural growl of the en­gine is al­most shock­ing, so quiet was it un­til this moment. Mercedes might be af­ter younger buy­ers but it’s not about to for­sake its tra­di­tional virtues.

That ap­plies to the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The 200 is not the sport­ster of the line-up, though the op­tional sus­pen­sion keeps it in that ball­park.

It is, how­ever, recog­nis­ably of Mercedes DNA. You can well imag­ine a CLA owner for whom fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­ity has come ei­ther trad­ing up to a C-Class or get­ting an A- or B-Class as a sec­ond car to ful­fil life’s grim­mer tasks. Once you’ve had a Benz in the drive­way, you won’t will­ingly go­ing back to the farm.

On the first-world roads in the south of France, the CLA 200 is fault­less. The ride won’t thrill a tra­di­tional Benz buyer but even on sports sus­pen­sion it is ab­sorbent with­out los­ing

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