No one can claim that Mercedes Benz has left a niche unfilled in its small car line up. To the A class hatchback and GLA class SUV has been added the CLA coupe. The $80,290 CLA 250 tested here may share the same turbocharged four cylinder petrol engine as the GLA 250, but there are some very real differences. Oh, the outputs are identical on paper at 155kW and 350Nm, but where the engine is extremely civilised in the GLA it’s a little monster in the CLA.
In the CLA it emits a deep ‘woof’ every time you change up, aggressively revs the engine on downchanges, and has a wicked cackle and spit from the exhaust when you lift off the accelerator. It’s great, and suits the car perfectly. The power is decent but doesn’t provide eyeball popping acceleration, more of a very fast hot hatch feel. What CLA buyers may not be too fond of though is the ride quality, which is bone shaking to the point of dislodging fillings. And to think there’s an AMG version of this which takes it even more extreme.
Suspension aside, the CLA is a damn fine looking car, especially in the silver with red accents of the test car. The swooping body is claimed to have the lowest drag coefficient of any production car, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to look like a blob. Something had to give to allow that sleek shape though, and so there’s hardly any space in the boot and almost no rear headroom. It’s probably against the Geneva Convention to put people over six- foot tall in the back of this car.
But that’s the way it has always been with Mercedes coupes, starting with the CLS, which everyone at the time assumed would be a sales disaster. It was anything but, and encouraged not only Mercedes but others to emulate the cut down bodystyle.
Inside the CLA you get the same dashboard as in the GLA, which means a very good looking design with good quality components. The only problem is that the screen for the infotainment system still looks like something of an aftermarket afterthought. It’s accessed through the same sort of rotating knob on the other small Mercs and it does take some getting used too.
Like the GLA there are three mode driving options. You can select Eco – which is the default setting – Sport, and Manual. All are fairly self explanatatory with one exception. This is one of those few cars you will really enjoy the Manual mode. You change through the gears with paddles behind the steering wheel and you’ll find yourself changing gear just to hear the sounds the car makes. It will even slip easily from second down to first, a feat that many cars cannot match, or at least without a giant lurch of the drivetrain.
So the CLA looks good, goes fast (and there’s always AMG if you want to go faster), and lack of headroom aside it can still do a pretty good impression of a sedan. That a couple of car dealers I met thought it would cost over $100,000 also means the CLA 250 is a (reasonably) cost effective way to really impress the neighbours.