Test Drives

Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 2019 Review: Face Off (with Video)



The Mercedes-Benz CLA grows past its ‘only four-door Merc under S$180k with COE’ label and proves it’s no longer just a wallflower

Photos: Mercedes-Benz, Derryn Wong  


MUNICH, GERMANY – The Mercedes-Benz CLA is only in its second-generation, but it already has plenty to live up to.

First launched in 2013, it followed the four-door coupe formula Mercedes made popular with the CLS in 2003, but was also a far bigger success since it went the opposite way, size-wise.


The old CLA doesn’t quite look so pretty now…

The current CLA was a huge hit in Singapore for a few reasons: It was the first contemporary Mercedes-Benz four-door to cost significantly less than $180k with COE. The looks struck a chord, the very least by implying ‘undergraduate’ more than than ‘uncle’.

 

In fact the first CLA is the sort of car other brands dream of making since it created a whole new segment, drawing many first-time Mercedes buyers: “70 percent of CLA buyers were new customers to the brand,” says Robert Lesnik, Mercedes-Benz director of exterior design.

The question now is, how can the CLA overcome sophomore slump? Fixing the shortcomings of the first-gen is a good way to start.

As our CarBuyer.com.sg review of the previous CLA 200 states, our key criticisms of the car were its cramped feeling interior and unsettled ride quality:  “…other MFA cars — like the B-Class and GLA-Class — manage ride quality much better than the CLA and are simply less tiring to drive. Passengers, especially in the rear, are probably not going to be enthused about riding in this particular Mercedes.”

We were always cynics of the first CLA’s appearance, but Mercedes has made it much more appealing (see our sidebar story), while also bolstering driving dynamics, practicality, and in-cabin technology.

At 4,688mm long, 1,830mm wide, and 1,439mm tall, the new CLA is 48mm longer and 2mm lower, but importantly it’s a huge 53mm wider. The front and rear track are also increased by a considerable 63mm and 55mm, respectively. Wheelbase is increased by 30mm to 2,729mm.

Though the CLA is still considered a small segment car it’s actually now longer and wider than the BMW 4 Series coupe (4,638mm), though the latter has a longer wheelbase (2,810mm).

Mercedes says the interior room has been improved with +44mm to rear elbow, and +22mm rear shoulder room, so passengers should be a little more comfortable.



Cramming more than two adults in the back is still a challenge though, and headroom is effectively unchanged so tall people (1.8-metres or more) will head-scrape the liner.

Practicality has been improved significantly though. The boot space is actually ten litres less (460-litres) but the loading aperture is much larger, since the new split taillight design allows for a wider bootlid.

 

The 1.33-litre turbo engine and seven-speed gearbox are a smooth combo, as Mercedes continues the trend of making its small cars’ dual-clutch units emulate conventional automatics.

The 163hp output is generous, so the CLA 200 had no problem with autobahn merges, though it did lag a little on acceleration in sections with no speed limit.



Breaking news: Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 with 306hp just announced! What’s it like? Probably very much like the 306hp A 35 AMG which we’ve tested for your pleasure


Like on the A-Class, the engine isn’t the most refined, especially when you try to wring out all of its horses, but the CLA is notably quieter (than both its predecessor and the current A-Class thanks to its very slipper 0.22 coefficient of drag) and has less perceivable thrumming.  

The thinner A-pillars are easier to see out of, and all round visibility is much better – that extra width helps – and a huge improvement from before. Likewise, it no longer jitters excessively, despite the 19-inch wheels, scoring points in refinement and driver confidence.

 



READ MORE: Need more power, but not too much? The CLA 250 (shown above in Edition 1 trim) will be available in Singapore too – we’ve tested it here


 

“The Mercedes star is slanted forward by five degrees, and the rest of the nose section, which makes the front end appear shaded in the daytime, and makes the car look more aggressive and sporty,” says Lesnik, a trait the CLA shares with the CLS and S-Class Coupe.

Stretching the car’s footprint has also made it an abler corner-carving device, and there’s a far more dynamic ability on hand. While the steering still feels lifeless in most settings, it’s at least accurate and light.

The car obviously prefers smooth rather than sharp-edge driving, like a big GT wrought small, but bringing it to your favourite set of roads will deliver some satisfaction at least. More importantly, we think it’ll translate well in Singapore, as our long spells in Munich congestion showed.

As part of Mercedes’ second wave of small cars, which are all based on the MFA2 platform, the CLA has the same features seen in the current A-Class and new B-Class. Like those cars, the interior ambience is now one of high-tech luxury and a vast step up from before.

MBUX infotainment means you can interact with the car via touchpad, touchscreen, gestures, and a useful voice control system – we managed to change the ambient lighting and put on Bee Gees songs without lifting a finger.


Augmented reality helps with navigation by identifying exactly where you need to go

The CLA 200 we drove was in Progressive spec with adaptive dampers and 19-inch wheels, and a generous equipment loadout that included a panoramic sunroof as well as adaptive driving assists (steering, cruise control). No word yet on Singapore’s standard spec, but if the A-Class is anything to go by, we should expect the dual HD cockpit screens at the very least.

As detailed in our news piece, the CLA 200 will be the sole launch variant for Singapore in Q4 2019 and we expect it to cost around $170,000 to $180,000 with COE. In the pipeline are a lesser CLA 180, AMG mid-range 35 model, and AMG range-topping 45 model. The CLA 250 will be an indent-only model.

If we assume the eyes have the biggest say in the buying decision, then the CLA’s position at the head of the small Mercedes pack is unassailable now that it’s leaner and meaner.

That’s important because small luxury four-door territory might get more crowded with its own sibling the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class sedan might crowd into the CLA’s first-time lucky niche – not to mention the extant Audi A3 Sedan, and also the BMW 2 Series Coupe (the 1 Series Sedan is China-only).  

On the other hand, by gaining many new features, a lovely cabin, and a much-improved drive, the CLA might also be able to convince those whose car shopping method is more than skin deep, this time around.

Scroll down for our sidebar on the CLA’s design as well as a full gallery.

Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 Progressive

Engine 1,332cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 163hp at 5500rpm
Torque 250Nm at 1620rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
0-100km/h 229km/h
Top Speed 8.2 seconds
Fuel Efficiency 5.4L/100km
VES Band / CO2 TBA / 125g/km
Agent Cycle & Carriage
Price TBA
Availability Q4 2019

Sidebar: Got the look
It’s all in the eye of the beholder they say, so how do you better the looks of a car that was primarily a visual hit?

“The main reason for the success of this car is the design,” Robert Lesnik, the exterior design director of Mercedes-Benz, says.  

Funny, since we at CarBuyer were never fans of the small four-door coupe’s looks either. That tack, which worked well with a bigger canvas on the body of the CLS, looked fussy and squished when wrought small.

Buyers proved us wrong, no doubt, but there’s also little doubt here that the CLA looks far better in its second iteration.

The first CLA was hobbled by oversized head- and taillights, but this one adopts the cool new Mercedes ‘squint’ we see on the CLS, as well as the forward leaning shark-style nose, all making the car look more aggressive.

“The Mercedes star is slanted forward by five degrees, and the rest of the nose section, which makes the front end appear shaded in the daytime, and makes the car look more aggressive and sporty,” says Lesnik, a trait the CLA shares with the CLS and S-Class Coupe.

The designers also pushed the dashboard back from the front axle by 30mm, stretching out the car’s proportions and making it look less pug-nosed than before. “Having better proportions means we could get rid of all the lines,” says designer Robert Lesnik.

There’s more of the cleanly-styled sheetmetal to enjoy, and the execution is more subtle – it replaces the two obvious contour lines on the side for a more sculpted muscularity. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the new CLA is hoping to make more beholders into believes with these eye-catching steps.


about the author

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Derryn Wong
Has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. Is particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats.