Test Drives

Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 2016 Review: Repeat Class

One of Singapore’s favourite Mercedes sedans, the CLA 200, retains its major appeal, with the same drawbacks

SINGAPORE — If there’s been a small-car success story in recent years, then the Mercedes-Benz CLA has got to be at the top of the list. In the past, a ‘small’ Mercedes meant the C-Class – does anyone remember the days it was referred to as the baby Benz? No? Well, I’m sure those who are, are simply not on the Internet and not currently dead.

Now that the C-Class is massive – the latest W204 model is the longest car in its class – think ‘small Mercedes’ and you’d think A-Class or B-Class, the hatchback and multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) respectively. By its own admission, most of the people who buy them in its home market of Germany were retired or firmly family-centric.

While here in Singapore the ‘classic’ best-sellers for the brand were always (and still are) the C and E-Class sedans, in 2014 the launch of the CLA-Class showed that there was rabid demand for a small, stylish Mercedes. The CLA immediately went on to become one of the best-selling cars of its launch year and while me might construe that as a fluke of high COEs endemic to the period, it’s worth noting that Mercedes is still third place in 2016’s sales rankings – behind Honda and Toyota, but ahead of Nissan and Mazda – and the vast majority of its sales are still from sedans.

Of course we lovingly take pains to explain this every time we talk about a ‘four-door coupe’: The CLA is a sedan, despite what marketing materials will have you believe, but the fact that it doesn’t look like your dad’s Mercedes surely contributes to its overall appeal.

With the facelift of the CLA, not much has changed: The lights are now full LED units, the DRLs (also LEDS, just like the new taillights) are reshaped to follow the flow of the new headlamp units. The front end air intakes – two large ones in front of each wheel joined by a thin strip of black under the license plate – and design now follow the ‘bellowing mouth’ look of other Benzes such as the C 63 AMG. It follows that if you loved the CLA before, you’ll love one now or vice versa.

Mechanically there are no huge differences, with the 156bhp ‘200’ engine being a willing, smooth performer that has your usual dose of Euro turbo torque, although the dual-clutch gearbox is, as before, bent on delivering smoothness rather than rapidity and occasionally feels as if it’s slurring its shifts to ensure zero jerks. For a car like this, a little push and shove is fine, especially since buyers will expect it – it’s going the sporty route implied by its coupe-ness.

The view from the driver’s seat is familiar, like it is in all MFA (Mercedes’ compact platform) cars, with everything clearly labelled and not very far away. Standard is the COMAND infotainment system which still works well and delivers most features sans navigation but that’s made up for since new on the interior is Apple CarPlay compatibility and the ability to diddle ambient lighting colours too.

Build quality and ambience is good overall, but there’s an over-reliance on plastic especially in the switchgear – in smaller areas like the manual air-con controls,  the Merc is no match for Audi or even BMW.

And whatever the CLA’s magic formula that translated into healthy sales, ergonomics and comfort is not a huge part of that mysterious alchemy.

While Ju-Len disagrees, I feel that 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, contrary to popular expectations. The coupe-esque styling looks great on the outside but from the inside it’s difficult to see things – the extremely thick pillars all around and small windows make sure of that. The CLA makes up for that a little by being more safe now: In addition to the full arsenal of airbags (including driver’s knee and window bags) there’s now the bright LED headlamps and autonomous braking as standard.

This is the AMG Line model, which stacks on extra stuff (AMG body kit, sport seats, floor mats, sport suspension etcetera) for a $10,000 premium. It does add a certain menace to the stock CLA’s exterior, although the driving qualities remain diffident.

We judge that the CLA’s a big seller because it’s the least expensive, sleek and small Mercedes around. While the Cat A eligible C 180 isn’t much cheaper ($10,000 less) and the CLA 200 is only a 5.8 percent premium over the base model, the additional AMG kit might be a bridge too far for buyers in this case.

But at an entry price of $169,888 with COE for slightly less horsepower and a sporty-looking small car with a three-pointed star on the front, the CLA is already continuing its success, even if the exact reasons for that are a bit of a mystery. Call it fashion, then. 

NEED TO KNOW Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 AMG Line
Engine 1,595cc, 16V, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 156bhp at 5300rpm
Torque 250Nm at 1250-4000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 230km/h
0-100km/h 7.9 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.6L/100km
CO2 128g/km
Price $189,999 with COE
Availability Now

Also Consider: Audi A3 Sedan, BMW 1 Series

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about the author

Derryn Wong
CarBuyer's chief editor has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. He's particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong