Having lived with the CLA 200 d over four months, I can confidently say this is one of those cars that grows on you over time. You see, at first glance, the CLA seems to rely more on its styling and the badge on the nose than The Thrill of Driving. It is, after all, front-wheel drive. It is the first FWD Merc we’ve run on our longterm test fleet. And, as we know all too well, FWD equals no sliding. What’s the fun in that?
I can now tell you a well sorted front-driver, can be a lot of fun. A different kind of fun, mind. You step on it and the tail does not wag, not even slightly, rather unlike the E- and C-Class I’ve ran before (even though no Mercs, apart from the AMG, let you switch off ESP completely). You have to drive it like a hot hatch, load up the nose as you trail brake into corners, carry a lot of mid-corner speed, wait till you hit the apex lest you push the nose into understeer and hard on the gas as you open up steering lock. Understeer is the enemy and when you get understeer there’s nothing you can do apart from easing off on the gas and waiting for grip to return. Oversteer doesn’t happen, least of all with 134bhp. You have to find the neutral balance. You have to be very precise in how you drive it, precise with the brakes, precise with the steering, push it to, but never over the limit. Get it right and the CLA can, genuinely, be a lot of fun as we found out over the past four months.
But of course the CLA draws more fans for the way it looks rather than the way it drives. From the rear, especially, the coupe-like roofline draws many second glances and this really is a handsome, well-designed and attractive car. It’s particularly eye-catching at night, with its sharp taillights in full glow and the baby of the Merc range definitely looks every bit as special as the other cars from the three-pointed star’s stable.
The CLA is positioned as a sporty sedan and hence gets those one-piece seats and all-black interiors but I’m not a big fan of the latter. As it is the CLA isn’t very generous with interior space, on top of that having the entire cabin in black can make it feel claustrophobic. Having the sunroof is a boon and except for mid-afternoon drives, I had the cloth cover on the full length glass roof open at all times to let in more light and open up the cabin.
Keeping with the sporty theme, you sit nice and low in the baby Merc, which is nice but with the seat adjusted to my driving style there’s precious little space in the rear. The boot space is also compromised with the space saver spare wheel strapped into it. The steering is nice and sporty to grip, there are paddles for the twin-clutch gearbox and a full list of equipment including Apple CarPlay. Running through menus on the latest version of Merc’s COMAND system is easy and intuitive except for a few ergonomic hiccups, most irritating of which was trying to adjust the bass on the sound system with Apple CarPlay connected. It took me hours! It really should not be that complicated and if Marutis and Hyundais have it, I don’t see why Merc cannot offer a touchscreen.
As I said before, the driving experience doesn’t disappoint. It’s easy to drive around town and proved to be surprisingly nimble too. Occasionally the gearbox would give me a surprise jolt while creeping away in traffic but from past experience with Merc gearboxes, I’ll put that down to the hard life this car has had at the hands of various magazine testers and not a comment on CLAs in general. However what all CLA owners will complain about is the stiff ride quality that became really pronounced once the monsoons washed away our roads.
Given its sporty looks, we would have liked some more power from the engine, but it doesn’t feel inadequate either. That 2.1-litre diesel engine has sufficient bottom end grunt and its gearbox reacts quickly leading to a surprise benefit – excellent fuel economy. The figures barely fell below 15kmpl and the CLA has a comfortable real world cruising range of around 700 kilometres on tankful. This figure further improves if you drive the car in Eco mode for a longer period of time (though, be warned, it really saps all urgency out of the engine and gearbox).
In the course of putting together last month’s story on how much it costs to service a luxury car, we not only found out that CLA ownership is pretty reasonable but baby Merc owners are treated with the same care and attention as those with an S-Class. Book it for a service and your CLA will be collected and dropped off for you. A big issue? You’ll get a courtesy car. And most of all it looks every bit a Mercedes: expensive, desirable and with an abundance of that crucial feel-good factor.
Duration of test: 4 months
Total mileage: 15,476km
Mileage this month: 1330km
Costs this month: Nil
Kmpl this month: 16.5