Mercedes-Benz CLA – A Mercedes For the Younger Set

Mercedes-Benz CLA – A Mercedes For the Younger Set

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Mercedes-Benz has long been a car that has been seen as one that suits the more mature in age and outlook, but now with the introduction of the new A Class, that ‘old man’s car’ image is quickly being shed. The A Class is targeted at the younger set, at those people who would otherwise be considering a Volkswagen Golf or a Mini, or any of the hot hatches from Europe.

The A Class is a revival of Mercedes-Benz’s foray into the front-wheel-drive market, and with its new ‘macho’ looks, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia have brought in the CLA, which is a sedan version of the A-Class, but looks more like a coupe.

In fact the CLA has been dubbed the ‘Mini CLS’, and in truth, the CLA was indeed inspired by the CLS. In a nutshell, whilst the CLS was made to appeal to the older generation of Mercedes-Benz owners who wanted a more sporty-looking sedan/coupe, the CLA must have been designed to appeal to the younger set.

Some of my motoring media friends who had tested the CLA told me that the ride was very harsh, and one dear friend even said that the CLA is very far from his impression of what a ‘True blue’ Mercedes-Benz should behave. With these words and opinions lingering in my mind, I took the CLA for a test drive. Being the ‘impartial’ person that I would like to think I am, I kept my mind open, deciding that I would try to figure out what the CLA is all about, and after driving it for three days, I believe that the designers at Mercedes-Benz actually have different objectives for the A-Class. It is also obvious to me that they have actually gone out to check out the competition in this segment, and the CLA is part of their answer.

The CLA is a derivative of the A Class hatchback, with the same sporty driving dynamics, in an equally sporty design, for the young (and the young at heart) user who likes to drive. In Europe, it would be more for the younger set as it would be more affordable there, but in Malaysia, its price tag of RM235+K puts it out of reach of most but for the well heeled or the higher income earners.

I was a little sceptical about the 1.6 litre albeit turbo-charged engine with a mere 156 horses, to my pleasant surprise, the delivery of power was quite impressive due to clever matching of gear ratios and final drives. In a nutshell, the CLA is what I would classify as a ‘fun to drive’ car, with excellent driving dynamics.

Over potholes and bumps, the CLA is not as refined as its bigger brothers, but it is more fun to drive than any of them. I took a peep under the car, and found to my pleasure that there are signs that the people who are responsible for ride and handling at least have had some say – as evidenced by the effort to reduce un-sprung weight by using forged aluminium parts for parts of the suspension. The bonnet also is of a light weight material, probably aluminium too. I can see that a considerable amount of thought and effort has been put into the overall engineering of this car.

My time with the CLA was not too long, so a drive up to Genting Highlands and back was necessitated in order for me to get a quick sampling. In terms of overall handling, the CLA passes with flying colours – somehow I kept on getting the impression that I was driving a Golf TSI; the engine power of 156 PS is close enough to the 160 horses available from the (MK VI) Golf TSI, while the 7-speed DCT (Direct Clutch Transmission) behaves very much like the 7-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) of the Golf. Power delivery is similar to that of the Golf VI TSI, which also delivers the same 250Nm of torque.

The CLA, as stated by Mercedes-Benz Malaysia, is here to create a new segment – and this package certainly does have merit; whilst the older (read as more mature) generation may not like it as much, the CLA will be more appealing to the younger generation.

First off, I did find the CLA a little small for me, being used to the W204 C-Class that I have owned for four years now. Whilst the CLA is the same length as the C-Class, the wheelbase is 61mm shorter, which means the interior cabin space is that much smaller. Besides, the way the sides of the CLA tapers inwards as it moves towards the roof takes away some of the space that one usually has around the shoulders. If you are a little claustrophobic, you might be forgiven for not liking the interior space of the CLA. My driving partner however, did give a comment when I lamented that the CLA was a little small, that I didn’t really need a big car, but rather something that I liked. She liked the shape, and she had no problem with the interior, commenting that it was bigger than the Golf.

Exterior-wise, the front of the CLA speaks volumes – I like the large, macho-looking front mask, and the sleek tapering shape. The CLA has a huge presence on the road, and is a head-turner for sure. The rear end, however, is not too pleasing; perhaps it reminds me of a certain Japanese model that I do have an aversion for, but then it’s probably just me. If I do get one, I would probably go for the hatch instead. Then again, I may still go for the CLA for the little additional space in the boot, not very big at 470 litres, but still enough to take a large suitcase and some smaller stuff. There is no spare wheel, by the way. I like the 18-inch wheels, which also contributes to the good looks, in addition to helping with the overall driving dynamics.

One other reason I may consider the CLA would be the extremely good fuel economy – the claimed fuel economy based on a mixed cycle is 5.2 to 5.5 litres per 100 kilometres. I reset the average consumption display a few times to test the fuel consumption, and my conclusions are as follows. The CLA will do whatever you wish it to do; if you want to have fun, it will deliver enough ‘grunt’ to bring you to the limits of your driving capability (after which the driving aids will come to your assistance), but will consume a little more fuel in the process. An assertive driving manner up the hill got me 14.4 litres per 100 kilometres. Going downhill, also very quickly (which meant putting it in manual mode and playing with the paddle shifters yielded 12.7 litres per 100 kilometres. From Gombak back to Petaling Jaya, I drove like how 80 percent or more of the populace would drive, sticking to the speed limit, generally using gentle acceleration, and on occasion gunning it to overtake, and I was rewarded with 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres. You can choose what you want to achieve. Just as an indication of the overall fuel economy, I found an average consumption of 10.1 litres based on 3,693 kilometres since the last reset when I got the car, which I think is very commendable, especially since this very car has probably been tested by other motoring media before me.

The interior of the CLA actually looks pretty cool, but lacks a two-zone air-conditioning system, and a rear air-conditioner vent. There is still plenty of legroom if you don’t pick up big ‘buffaloes’. I like the electric powered sears for both the driver and front passenger, don’t really like the large display sticking out from the centre of the dashboard as if it was an afterthought, but these are not deal breakers as far as I am concerned.

Finally, what would be the factors that would work for the CLA, and what would not? Notwithstanding the fact that the brand does exude a certain amount of prestige, the price of RM235,888 is likely to work against the CLA. For a lesser sum, one can pick up a Golf GTI which has a 50 horsepower advantage. Its shape and size are plus points, plus the fact that it is ‘fresh’. The overall driving dynamics also speaks well of the CLA, and finally, the brand image would play a great part.

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