Curvy coupe

Benz’s CLA 250 turns heads, carves cor­ners and packs panache

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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