The Numbers

2143cc, 4cyl, FWD, 125kW, 350Nm, 4.5L/100km, 117g/km CO2, 0-100km/h in 8.2secs, 230km/h, 1525kg

The Topgear Verdict

Should be better. Merc has created a new niche, but not filled it with a good car.

2013 Mercedes Benz CLA220

Even by Merc's usual niche-busting standards, the CLA is a leftfield car. It doesn't even have any direct rivals. So here's a tip if you're struggling to pigeonhole it: think mini-CLS.

The CLA is based on the A-Class hatch platform, but with the boot and four-door configuration of a sedan and the looks of a coupe. And it's the latter that concerns us now we've actually seen it in the wild. Styling is subjective, of course, and you'll be able to make your own decisions from the pictures, but, in the metal, the proportions look a bit… odd. The side and rear are the worst bits, as it's got a very droopy backside. Not really what you'd want from a car aspiring to be a fashionista about town.

Expect the CLA line-up to have a similar range of petrol and diesel engines to the A-Class when it goes on sale in Australia in the fourth quarter of this year, with the hotted-up CLA 45 AMG due early next year. We drove the 220 diesel with 125kW and 350Nm in AMG Sport trim. It'll do 0-100km/h in 8.2 seconds, and the day-to-day data is impressive: 4.5L/100km and a tidy 117g/km of CO2.

But as soon as you move off, things take a turn for the worse. Around town and under heavy load, the 220 CDI clatters and tingles too much for comfort. To be fair, it settles down at higher speeds, and the turbo is happy to help from a usefully low 1300rpm, but the overriding feeling is of an engine that doesn't whisper as much as you'd expect.

The gearbox is equally frustrating. Using the A-Class's seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission, it unsurprisingly suffers from similar problems. In Eco, it's too sluggish pulling away from a standstill. In Sport, it holds onto gears for too long or changes cog at random points. And in Manual mode, it simply doesn't feel as reactive as other dual-clutch 'boxes. You don't notice any of these faults if you're just pottering or cruising along the highway, but, even then, we'd still only grade it as okay. A brand-new Merc should be aiming for more than that.

A Merc should also drive and ride better than the CLA. Our AMG Sport (lowered by 15mm over the standard comfort suspension) didn't ride well, but neither did it handle brilliantly. Maybe the standard car is better, but we'll have to wait and see.

It all adds up to a car that's fairly average. There's no sparkle and no groundbreaking character trait that gives you a reason to plump for the CLA over any other similarly sized car. If customers are going to buy into the CLA ethos (it's effectively a pricier and less practical A-Class), they deserve a car that drives better than this one does. Not Stuttgart's finest hour.

Reviewed by: Piers Ward

Driven: June 30, 2013