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The Top Gear car review:Mercedes-Benz CLA
For:Unique offering, styling from certain angles
Against:Impractical rear, A-Class is cheaper and better, styling from all the other angles
CLA 220 CDI Sport 4dr Tip Auto
A capable oddity. Massive grip and speed, but also too bland and too placid to be a genuine AMG. Fortunately, the A45 does it better.
The junior AMG hot hatch is finally here… Ollie Marriage reports
Mercedes has created an entirely new niche with the CLA, but is it any good? We test the 220 CDI AMG Sport…
What we say:
Odd-looking CLA is more flawed than we'd ever expect from Merc in 2016
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 the AMG CLA 45.
All well and good, apart from the styling. From certain angles it looks great: we love the side-profile, very junior CLS. But from others it looks compromised: a little too tall, a little too narrow, a bit too stubby to be a truly svelte coupe. That’s not the only compromise either.
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.
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: 67.3mpg and 109g/km. Mini-CLS looks but not CLS thirst, which is likely to be a key part of its appeal.