The new Mercedes CLA has clever mood lighting and mini-CLS looks | Top Gear
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The new Mercedes CLA has clever mood lighting and mini-CLS looks

Not many engine details yet: Mercedes wants to shout about the tech

Published: 08 Jan 2019

Here’s a sign of the times: Mercedes has revealed the new CLA coupe-saloon-based-on-the-A-Class-thingy, and not said a single word about what sort of engines it’s slotted in the CLS-esque nose, or if it’ll get a manual gearbox, or how fast it’ll go from nought-to-sixty.

Nope, this is a tech presentation. A microchip tour de force. Think less ‘motor show’ and more ‘Apple keynote.’

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So, the headlines. The new CLA, which is no longer a dumpy little object by virtue of standing 48mm longer, 53mm wider and 2mm lower than before, has an even cleverer version of the ‘MBUX’ infotainment centre than the A-Class hatchback with which the car shares its architecture.

Sure, it’s still based around twin widescreens and the ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice assistant, but that’s been updated so it’s no longer confused by conversations between passengers. It remembers who said the magic ‘Hey Mercedes’ last, and only interrupts the on-board bon homie when the system recognises that voice addressing it. Apparently, you can now ask it more complex questions too. Clever. Bit scary, but clever.

So is the ambient lighting. Sensors notice if your hand is reaching towards the ceiling, where you’d fumble for the cabin light switch, and automatically illuminates the interior. If you reach over to the passenger seat to grab some paperwork, or some crisps, the car will spotlight your hand to help you find anything left on the opposite chair, and deactivate once your hand moves away again. Seriously, who thinks of this stuff?

If your hand is heading for the centre touchscreen itself, the screen will react, highlighting your preferred options so they’re easier to jab. And thanks to judging from which angle the hand is coming from, Mercedes says “the system is able to distinguish between the driver's and front passenger's wishes and thus knows for whose seat the massage function is to be activated, for example". Yep, the CLA can basically do a palm reading. No word of a fortune telling function yet, but that’s probably being saved for the facelift. Or the AMG. “You will get a speeding fine and go to jail", most likely.

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If you want to set a shortcut hand gesture, like ‘navigate me home’ or ‘play awful nonsense on Capital FM’, then you make a V-sign at the car. No, we’re still not making this up. Okay, it’s not a rude schoolboy-on-a-coach-trip sign, nor the Winston Churchill V for Victory. Mercedes politely advises “by holding a hand over the centre console with the index and middle finger spread in a V-shape…any command which is controllable via MBUX can be stored for simple access".

Mercedes then gets a bit carried away, suggesting how your CLA can basically be a better parent, teacher, accountant, cook or newscaster than a human.

“There is also a growing number of domains for which MBUX can understand complex questions and quickly reply”, Mercedes explains. “These include sport ("Hey Mercedes, how did the San Francisco 49ers play?"), the stock exchange ("How has the Apple share price performed compared to Microsoft?"), calculations ("What is the square root of 3?") or general knowledge ("How big is Texas?", "What is the fat content of avocados?").”

Had you forgotten we’re actually talking about a car, not a new smartphone? Us too. Right, let’s talk about some car-y things. What we know is there’ll be a range of four-cylinder turbo engines and a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox driving either the front or all four wheels. The axle tracks are wider for CLA Mk2, the centre of gravity a mite lower and there are beefier anti-roll bars, so we’re also promised tighter, tidier handling. You can have 19-inch wheels to complement the styling, or 16-inchers to ruin it.

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One thing you can’t have, in the UK at least, is this fluorescent ‘Orange Art Edition’.

Which is fine. Not as if you’ll be short of stuff to show off inside…

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