Techy interior, diesel engine with new eight-speed auto
Lesser petrol and seven-speed gearbox not great. Interior quality a bit hit & miss
What is it?
The car to buy, if what annoys you most about the Mercedes A-Class is that you can in fact fit fully grown adults in the second row of seats.
It complements the A-Class the way a CLS does the E-Class, the CLA being for people who are prepared to sacrifice a bit of practicality in the name of style. Style that, in this case, comes from four pillarless doors and a swept-back, coupe-like roofline.
Take it from us, this is a much better looking car in real life than it is in pics. We might even prefer it to the CLS - it’s just better proportioned. And all jokes aside, you can actually fit people in the back. Just about.
The CLA is based on the same platform as the A-Class and B-Class. Soon there will be new GLA and GLB SUVs that share this platform too, as well as a Shooting Brake estate version of the CLA itself. Confusingly, there will also be an A-Class saloon. And, of course, obligatory fast versions of each.
That means it gets the same tech-heavy interior as the hatchback - sit in the driver’s seat and look forwards, and you could just as easily be sitting in an A-Class - with two widescreen displays instead of a conventional instrument binnacle, and all the same driver assistance systems.
The pair ought to drive alike too, though Mercedes claims the CLA is the most fun of all its compact cars. Not because it’s any faster - it uses all the same four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines as the A-Class - but because of changes to the suspension. Changes like a multi-link rear-axle for all models - only 2.0-litre A-Classes get it, others have to make do with a cheaper torsion beam and are worse for it - a wider track and beefier anti-roll bars.
There isn’t another car like the CLA on sale right now - no four-door coupes quite so small - save for the Hyundai i30 Fastback. But while similar in size, shape and theory, it’s not really in the same league as the little Mercedes. So until BMW does a 2-Series Gran Coupe and Audi squashes an A3 Sportback, we reckon the CLA’s closest competitors are the BMW 2-Series Coupe and Audi TT if you're here for the coupe-ness, or the bigger Peugeot 508 and VW Arteon if it's a svelte saloon you're after.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
If you want a small Mercedes, sensible money buys a normal A-Class. Because it’s a bit cheaper, more practical and still has that interior. But many of you won’t do that. You’ll be swayed by the CLA’s swooping roof-line and pillarless doors, and you’ll be only too happy to pay for the privilege of owning them. For that bit of extra glamour. For not having to drive around in a ‘boring’ family hatchback, even one with a Mercedes-Benz badge on the front.
And we don’t blame you. Not one bit. Yes the interior feels a bit cheap in places, the lesser petrol engine is thrashy and it’s not massively more engaging to drive (admittedly we haven’t driven a proper UK-spec car yet), but the CLA has desirable qualities. The dashboard and infotainment, the tech, and above all, those looks. And it’s not that much more money than the A-Class hatch.
It’s certainly a massive improvement on the last CLA, and that alone will make a lot of people very happy indeed. But a word of warning - we liked the A-Class hatch on the launch, too, but when we eventually got a go in the UK, we were a bit disappointed. Chief complaints were the ride and gearbox - but with all CLAs getting the fancier rear-suspension, maybe this time around things will be better.