8
New-generation four-door coupé combines sporting performance and refinement in an attractive compact saloon

Our Verdict

Mercedes-Benz CLA 2019 first drive review - hero front

Mercedes' new four-door coupé may use A-Class underpinnings, but it has been engineered to be much sportier to drive

Damien Smith
27 June 2019

What is it?

When it was launched in 2013, the Mercedes-Benz CLA promised refinement and performance in an elegantly swooping saloon package. A world sales total of 750,000 units suggests the cocktail worked, so it’s time for a new generation – including this, the compact CLA 250 four-door coupé.

And compact is the word, even if this new version is both longer and wider than its predecessor. The CLA 250 is based on the underpinnings of the A-Class, and from the inside it will certainly be familiar to those with experience of the popular hatchback.

On the outside, the long, curving bonnet – complete with (in Mercedes parlance) twin ‘power dome’ bulges – and a short boot create a car that is pleasing to the eye, with fine AMG Line design details such as attractive chrome doorhandles and front splitter, plus Merc’s trademark diamond grille, creating a proposition that is aimed squarely at a younger market than is perhaps traditional for the Three-Pointed Star.

Performance with a sporting edge was the intention and on that point, this CLA delivers in a manner that will induce smiles – and in the right circumstances, even a beaming grin. But that compact nature inevitably means compromise when it comes to practicalities. This is not a saloon for everyone – which again is probably the intention.

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What's it like?

The attractive CLA 250 has a track 63mm wider at the front than its predecessor and 55mm at the rear, and has also grown 48mm in length. It adds a sporting purpose to its appearance that is matched by its performance out on the road, particularly when it comes to corners.

The 2-litre in line four offers 224bhp and only pulls the car from 0 to 62mph in 6.3sec – but it feels faster than that sounds. A raucous engine note, particularly in Sport mode, certainly helps, although it is muted enough within the cool cabin to avoid being judged too unruly. The seven-speed DCT transmission ensures progress is silken too, whether you’re in full auto or in manual paddle shift mood. At the top end, acceleration plateaus perhaps a little early, but for drivers who like an unblemished licence there’s plenty to savour and enjoy here within the confines of the national speed limit.

But it’s in the twisty bits where there’s real fun to be had. The lack of noticeable roll courtesy of a stabiliser bar, and a firm ride – MacPherson struts and coil springs on the front, de-coupled multi-link at the rear – on five-spoke 18in wheels give the CLA 250 a sharpness akin to at least nicely warmed hatches, if not far off those of the properly hot variety. The well weighted direct-steer system makes apex-hugging direction changes a pleasure, while the instant response from the petrol 2.0-litre repays smooth inputs. It’s a car with obvious driver appeal.

Inside, the seats are firm and a little narrow for those running their own personal wide-track spec, but are not uncomfortable over distance. The large 10.25in touchscreen offers Merc’s usual Cinemascope user experience, but with enough physical buttons to make it easy to navigate. There is everything you’d expect and hope for in here, at this price: automatic climate control, Keyless-Go starting function, DAB radio, smartphone integration for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, heated front seats and a wealth of safety packages – although not for the first time, Active Lane Assist can be alarmingly aggressive, even on what one would consider moderate motorway lane changes.

The Premium Plus model tested here also included the all singing and dancing MBUX infotainment experience, which includes not only voice but also gesture recognition. Further testing of such systems is required for a definitive judgement, but let’s just say they take some getting used to if you are unfamiliar. And despite promises to the contrary, the ‘Hey Mercedes’ icily detached female voice still interrupts driver-passenger conversations.

Up front, it’s all very A-Class. But it’s in the second row where the compromise of the compact approach is brought home. Leg room is very limited. If this is to be a family car, it will only be so for a short time – because children tend to grow. Any journey, even over short distances, would be uncomfortable for those of adult proportions.

Should I buy one?

That final point will probably be a defining factor. If family space isn’t a strong consideration, which it might not be for the younger customer Mercedes hopes to attract with this car, this is a pleasing – if pricey – alternative to a fast hatchback. But this is not a saloon all-rounder that would suit everyone.

With reasonable but not outstanding economy figures, what you’d be buying here is a car to enjoy driving and to be admired in. Sounds pretty good? It is. The CLA 250 makes you smile as you approach it, and that’s still the case when you walk away.

CLA 250 AMG Line Premium Plus specification

Where Surrey Price ££36,630 On sale Now Engine 4 cyls in line, 1991cc, petrol Power 224bhp at 5500rpm Torque 258lb ft at 1180rpm Gearbox 7-spd DCT automatic Kerb weight 1490kg Top speed 155mph (limited) 0-62mph 6.3sec Fuel economy 38.7-41.5mpg CO2 139g/km, 31% Rivals Audi A3, BMW 1 Series

Join the debate

Comments
6

27 June 2019

Have to disagree with the comments on the rear cabin. Tried one of these a few weeks ago and my 5'6 daughter had plenty of room in the rear. Granted a family of 4/5 6 footers would struggle but then they will struggle in loads of cars.

I compared internal dimensions with the outgoing 3 series and the CLA matched or beat it in every dimension except rear head room and I don't recall many reviews slating the rear cabin space.

 

The interior finish wasn't as good as the A3 saloon but it otherwise I can't see why you would buy a C Class over this unless you were over 60.

27 June 2019
SamVimes1972 wrote:

Have to disagree with the comments on the rear cabin. Tried one of these a few weeks ago and my 5'6 daughter had plenty of room in the rear. Granted a family of 4/5 6 footers would struggle but then they will struggle in loads of cars.

I compared internal dimensions with the outgoing 3 series and the CLA matched or beat it in every dimension except rear head room and I don't recall many reviews slating the rear cabin space.

 

The interior finish wasn't as good as the A3 saloon but it otherwise I can't see why you would buy a C Class over this unless you were over 60.

 

In most situations, being around 60 years of age, is now not considered "old", that being the point you were mistakenly making. Years away from state pension, for most, years of work still ahead. It is a car for whoever decides it suits their purposes.

29 June 2019
Takeitslowly wrote:

SamVimes1972 wrote:

Have to disagree with the comments on the rear cabin. Tried one of these a few weeks ago and my 5'6 daughter had plenty of room in the rear. Granted a family of 4/5 6 footers would struggle but then they will struggle in loads of cars.

I compared internal dimensions with the outgoing 3 series and the CLA matched or beat it in every dimension except rear head room and I don't recall many reviews slating the rear cabin space.

 

The interior finish wasn't as good as the A3 saloon but it otherwise I can't see why you would buy a C Class over this unless you were over 60.

 

In most situations, being around 60 years of age, is now not considered "old", that being the point you were mistakenly making. Years away from state pension, for most, years of work still ahead. It is a car for whoever decides it suits their purposes.

You just can't resist demonstrating how you suck at life, can you?

You useless wad.

27 June 2019
"The 2-litre in line four offers 224bhp and only pulls the car from 0 to 62mph in 6.3sec – but it feels faster than that sounds."

Only 6.3 sec?? Anything around or below 7 secs is a fast car to the uninitiated... Just because the motoring press want everything to do 0-62 in 3 secs does not mean a 6 sec time is slow!

It wasn't that long ago that a 4 sec time was only the stuff of dreams and massively expensive supercars.

27 June 2019

Firm ride - firm seats. Might be okay for the occasional early morning blast, but not for every day driving. And with the usual necessity of requiring Mercedes’ extras I t will be a forty grand car. Really?

Jeff Box

29 June 2019

The entire car is designed perfectly. The car is added with all the new features that are necessary for making the car more advanced Virtual Private Servers. The advanced features make the car more comfortable for the users to use it based on the technologies.

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