Benz’s CLA 250 turns heads, carves corners and packs panache
SOME car buyers just want to look good, others opt for fuel economy while handling is not the priority it once was.
It’s a tough ask fitting all those criteria into the one package and the German makes customarily have been the best at it.
That’s not likely to change any time soon as the European brands aim to broaden their reach by pitching to mainstream buyers. It’s a winwin for consumers: as the European brands become more affordable, the Asian counterparts add features and improve cabin ambience to maintain their edge.
At the entry level, the three German badges pitch slightly different takes on their version of a compact sedan.
Audi’s A3 sedan is deservedly selling in big numbers, though its forte is practicality and build quality at the expense of innovative exterior styling. BMW’s 2 Series has the looks but misses out on a second set of doors.
Enter the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, a scaled-down imitation of the executiv emarket CLS. This four-door coupe combines looks, thrift and dynamics with few compromises in any area.
It is pitched as a style-driven emotional buy — few sensible cars turn heads like the curvy-roofed CLA.
There are three variants in the range and, for most owners, the $64,900 CLA 250 Sport has the best balance between visceral go and visual whoa.
This is a look-at-me mobile
highlighted by the “diamondstud” grille and arch-filling wheels. That sense of style continues inside, with the alloyfinish panel sweeping across the width of the cockpit and fake leather covering the top section of the dash.
It isn’t perfect. The lower sections of the fascia are finished with plastics that jar slightly in what is intended to be a premium model, rear headroom is never going to win awards and the 250 is appreciably slower than comparably priced Audi or BMW models.
Speed is relative, though, given the Benz still hits 100km/h just 6.6 seconds after launch. If buyers desperately demand speed-related bragging rights, there’s the CLA 45 AMG further up the food chain for an extra $22,000.
What the CLA brings to the party is a great chassis that is tuned for a sporty ride, courtesy of a once-over by the AMG division. The ultra-taut chassis is paired with a suspension that’s likewise set up to deliver an outright driving experience rather than merely damping out the ruts.
So it will jar over deeply recessed manhole covers and the like but that is forgotten — and forgiven — when it resolutely hangs on around the corners.
All-wheel-drive helps this handling prowess by sending up to half the available urge to the rear wheels.
The drivetrain is hard to fault. The turbocharged fourcylinder engine is inoffensive around town, burbling with a quiet and efficient intent and no sign of turbo lag as it cruises along suburban streets.
Stretch the tachometer and the burble becomes a rorty roar as the Benz makes a charge for pole position.
The seven-speed auto transmission is no slouch either. It is marginally less silky than the eight-speeder found in some BMWs but can’t be faulted for matching the correct cog to the driver’s right-foot demands.
Both front occupants are secured in deep electrically operated bucket seats that are soft enough for long hauls while still having the lateral support needed when the driver gives the CLA its head.
If you want practicality and pace, test-drive the Audi S3 sedan. If panache plays a part in the buying decision, it is hard to look past the CLA 250 Sport.