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The Top Gear car review: Mercedes-Benz CLA

£24,720£43,905
5/10
Overall verdict

For: 

Unique offering, styling from certain angles

Against: 

Impractical rear, A-Class is cheaper and better, styling from other angles
Not what Merc should be doing. Please focus on engineering, not trying to invent another niche

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Our choice

Mercedes-Benz

CLA 220 CDI Sport 4dr Tip Auto

£29,720
N/A
67mpg
8.20s
170bhp
111g/km

What we say: 

Odd-looking Mercedes four-door coupe. Oddly, it's more flawed than we'd ever expect from Merc in 2014

What is it?

An A-Class with a boot. Mercedes has really excelled itself here – in a time when niches are increasingly hard to find and exploit, this one is genuinely new. A sort of saloon/coupe, but in the hatchback class. Think mini-CLS and you’re about there. As we said, it’s based on the A-Class so shares the platform, engines, transmission and interior, but gains a droopy new back end. For added high-performance thrills, there’s now a 355bhp AMG version.

Driving

On paper, the CLA looks fine. The two main engine choices offer decent-ish poke – either a 168bhp diesel or a 120bhp petrol – and they will do 0-62mph in 8.2secs or 9.3secs respectively. The CLA is front-wheel drive, but that shouldn’t be a drawback.

Yet somehow it is. The CLA doesn’t drive particularly well, and is neither comfortable nor refined. You initially want sport suspension because it lowers the car by 15mm so looks a lot better, but this also makes it too stiff, so then you don’t. The engines grumble at low revs too much and the twin clutch gearbox makes a politician look decisive. It all adds up to a car that is relying on its badge far too much. And then there’s the AMG version. 355bhp, four-wheel drive traction… and still a bit unexciting.

On the inside

Up front, all good. The dash is neat – the eyeball vents look especially good – and the switchgear feels solid and premium. The steering wheel is sporty and the seating position is pretty good, too. The only minor blemish is the sat nav screen that sticks out of the top of the dash, and seems like a bit of an afterthought.

B-pillar back, though, and things take a turn for the worse. The rear seats are cramped – very cramped, in a way you don’t expect from a modern car. Headroom is so tight that even our 5’9” tester struggled to sit upright. Blame the coupe lines for that. And the boot is also tiny, compounding the practicality issues. Want a more practical Merc? Buy an A-Class. Want a betterlooking Merc? Buy the C-Class Coupe. In both cases, you’ll be disappointed if you choose a CLA.

Owning

Merc’s residual values are usually strong, and the CLA shouldn’t be any different. Expect to lose about half the value over a three-year period. But make sure you go for the dual clutch ‘box – second hand Mercs with a manual are much harder to shift. In terms of fuel economy, the CLA is on a par with the few rivals it has. The diesel will be the better seller in the UK, and when you look at the fuel economy, you can understand why: 62.8mpg and 117g/km. Mini-CLS looks but not CLS thirst, which is likely to be a key part of its appeal.

Highlights from the range

Title 0–62 CO2 MPG BHP Price
The fastest
CLA 45 4Matic 4dr Tip Auto [Comand]
4.6s 165g/km 39.8 360 £43,905
The cheapest
CLA 180 Sport 4dr
9.3s 128g/km 50.4 122 £24,720
The greenest
CLA 200 [2.1] CDI AMG Sport 4dr Tip Auto
9.8s 105g/km 67.3 136 £30,520

Wildcard

How about something completely different?

Wildcard

9/10

BMW M135i

£17,720£34,410
How about an M135i? Yes, we know it's not a saloon, but it's difficult to explain just how much better the BMW is than the oddball CLA