Them’s the brakes
Benz builds a go-fast version of its compact wagon. It’s unique, that’s for sure
IN THE world of prestige cars, the compact class has become the new and booming battlefield.
Forget the 3 Series and the A4 and the C-Class, these days there are smaller and cheaper contenders from the Big Three out of Germany, with Mercedes-Benz setting the pace in value as well as choice.
The A3 is cooking along for Audi, BMW has just restyled and revitalised the 1 Series but Benz is into top gear with no fewer than five choices for someone is looking for condensed luxury.
The A-Class is selling up a storm around the world, the practical B-Class is doing well and for some people the GLA SUV and CLA four-door coupe also tick a box.
Then there is the CLA Shooting Brake. Which is where the queries begin.
Very few people in Australia are buying tiny wagons. So why is Benz going there? And why is there an AMG version of the Shooting Brake — aren’t gofaster fans much more likely to pick the CLA coupe?
In search of the answers, I’m jumping into the CLA 45 AMG 4Matic and quickly discovering it’s a car that tries to be all things to lots of people. It is, as Benz ambiguously describes it, “a unique vehicle”.
It’s a looker, that’s for sure,
and there is no questioning the performance potential of a pocket powerhouse with 265kW, a 0-100km/h sprint time under 5.0 seconds, and an electronically limited top speed of 270km/h.
But the boot is not as good as the GLA, which is my personal favourite among the silver star’s tiddlers, and even less useful than I expect as I’m trying to load the six-year-old’s BMX bike and equipment into the tail.
It’s a tighter squeeze than I anticipate, despite a claimed 470L, but should not come as a surprise when the “big box” look of conventional wagons has been binned in favour of a drooping roofline that matches the contours at the front.
The performance is impressive and we love the explosive turbo work that comes in full sports mode.
On the safety front, Benz does some of the best work in the car world so I’m confident it’s a five-star performer even without an official ANCAP score or rating for the wagon.
But I can’t help thinking about the C63 wagon, and how it’s so much more what I’d want in a hot wagon. There is the question of price, of course, but still the CLA is a hefty ask from $89,510.
Yes, basically $90,000 before on-roads, for a baby wagon.
Now, there is still a lot to like in the CLA 45, from the body design to the classy interior finish. There are sports seats with real support and a grippy leather-wrapped wheel.
As a drive, I find it’s a bit short in suspension travel — which means it can thump through some potholes and sharp dips — but the cornering grip is great and there is always enough go. With an on-demand all-wheel drive system, the car is constantly adjusting to the road and your driving, so it always feels balanced and planted.
The turning circle is not great, at 11.04m but the fuel economy is good at 7.0L/100km.
With the rotary dial to select the driving mode, from placid to race-style, AMG has also tuned the car so it can match any mood. And the paddle shifters for the seven-speed auto are crisply responsive.
TICK OR NO TICK
Even so, for all its pluses, the CLA AMG Shooting Brake is a car too far. So, for the first time in a very long time, there is no tick for this three-pointed star.