Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 review

SINGAPORE - There is just no way a person like me was ever going to dislike the new Mercedes CLA. After all it was created specifically for someone in my demographic, except with money: young(ish), unburdened by children, image conscious and slightly hedonistic.

Think of it as a car for, say, someone who thought about a Volkswagen Scirocco but who got distracted by a BMW 1 Series and then waited long enough to have this come along, with its sculpted body shape and sleek, coupe silhouette.

And that ‘coupe’ bit is important. Though it has four doors, the CLA is being pitched as a coupe (the same way the CLS was, and is), which if you think about it, is why it makes sense to mention it in the same breath as a Scirocco (or a Beetle, for that matter). 

If you take that idea to heart, it also allows you to accept that the CLA is cramped in the back and hard to see out of, but no more so than a Scirocco, which is also billed as a coupe. In fact, if anything it’s far more practical than that car, because even if you’ll bang your head on the small door aperture created by the swoop of the roofline as you enter or exit the rear, at least you won’t have to contort your way past a tilted front seat.

All clear on the whole four-door coupe thing? Good. The other thing you need to know about the CLA is that it’s built on the architecture of the current A-Class, which also underpins the B-Class and an upcoming baby off-roader that will be called the GLA.

It’s basically Mercedes’ platform for a younger demographic than its traditional buyers, and it means the CLA 200 has a lean-burn 1.6-litre turbo engine that drives the front wheels through a twin-clutch, seven-speed transmission. 

So far it is the best of its platform siblings to drive, though. For one thing, even though the rear suspension feels like it has springs made of granite, it rides better than an A-Class. And it’s more agile than a B 200, while offering far more stability around corners at any speed you care to hustle it up to.

Like modern German turbos, the engine has loads of low to mid-range grunt so it’s the gearbox that usually gets in the way of things if you want to make a sudden lunge for the horizon. Just as well there are standard gearshift paddles on the steering column, then.

Otherwise, if the going is gentle, the CLA 200 is a hushed car to be in. The interior feels plusher than in the other front-drive Mercs, too, the say way a CLS has a nicer cabin than an E-Class. Dashboard materials feel more fancy, and the standard sports seats are pretty sexy. Indeed, apart from the jarring ride quality, it’s true enough to the DNA of its parents that you could imagine an older Mercedes customer choosing one not because he wants a cheaper Benz, but because he wants a small one. 

Mind you, if you want your CLA 200 to look as nice as our test car you’ll have to splash out a bit on options. The AMG styling pack costs 10 grand but adds some perforated upholstery made of synthetic leather with red contrast stitching, dark aluminium cabin trim, AMG lettering for the caprtes and stainless steel pedals. Also, you get the tasty bumpers you see here, which look like they came from a racing car.

The black 18-inch alloys add $1,500 on top of that, and the red contrast stitching for the dashboard is part of a $6,800 pack that swaps the man-made leather for real cowhide.

Our test car’s panoramic glass roof cost $4,000 (I say go for it, because headroom up front is ample anyway and the extra light helps to perk up the cabin), while satnav added $10,800.

All of that’s enough to push the CLA 200 into different pricing territory altogether, but even if you stick with the basics you still get niceties like Xenon lights (and a thick row of LEDs), split-folding rear seats, a sharp multifunction display between the instruments and electric front seats. The car will parallel park itself, too, which is useful because the CLA is actually 4cm longer than a C-Class sedan.

And you’ll get what is otherwise an extremely pretty car, with what Mercedes calls a diamond grille, and two bulges down the bonnet like the ones on the SLS. That’ll be enough to ensure that buying a CLA 200 will put a bit of swagger into your stride, from all the attention it will get from onlookers whether the car is aimed directly at them or not. There’s a demographic for people who are helpless in the face of beauty, after all. It’s called ‘everyone’.

ALSO CONSIDER BMW 118i M Sport, Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4 TSI

NEED TO KNOW
ENGINE 1,595cc turbo in-line four, 16V
MAX POWER 156bhp at 5300rpm
MAX TORQUE 250Nm at 1250rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch
TOP SPEED 230km/h
0-100KM/H 8.5 seconds
FUEL EFFICIENCY 5.5L/100
CO2 129g/km
PRICE $179,888 with COE
AVAILABILITY Now

Photos by Alvin ‘Alexander Alvinus’ Doms Valentin

Leow Ju-Len
Author: Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len has covered cars and the car industry since 1995. If it has an engine and wheels, you can count on him to be all over it like a monkey on a banana. Ju-Len believes in rear-wheel drive, V8s and world peace. Follow him on Twitter @leowjulen