Mercedes CLA saloon
"The latest Mercedes CLA is better to drive and more stylish than its predecessor"
- Decent to drive
- Great interior
- Lots of standard kit
- Tight rear headroom
- Small boot opening
- Only one diesel engine
First launched in 2013, the Mercedes CLA formed a two-pronged attack with the Mercedes A-Class hatchback aimed at gaining the brand some younger customers. The latest, second-generation CLA is even more desirable.
Not only is the CLA even more stylish than before, but it's also better to drive. Mercedes engineers were keen to give the rakish saloon a more distinct personality, so it was widened to give the chassis more poise and grip. The result is a much sharper response to your steering inputs and virtually no body lean through corners.
Petrol engines came first, starting with 1.3-litre turbocharged versions badged CLA 180 and 200 with 134 and 161bhp. The 200 has plenty of punch for motorway driving, and every non-AMG CLA comes with a seven- or eight-speed automatic and front-wheel drive as standard. For more performance, the CLA 250 gets a larger 2.0-litre turbocharged engine with 221bhp, cutting the 0-62mph time to a hot hatch-rivalling 6.3 seconds. The CLA 180 and 200 manage over 45mpg, and you’ll get over 40mpg from the 250.
There’s also a single diesel engine, badged CLA 220 d. It uses a 2.0-litre engine with 187bhp, and sprints from 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds. Despite that, it’ll manage up to 57.7mpg when you’re treading lightly on the throttle. The CLA 220 d has the same eight-speed automatic gearbox as the fast CLA 35 and CLA 45 S models, which come with 302bhp and 415bhp respectively and both hit 0-62mph in well under five seconds.
New for 2020 is a plug-in hybrid version. The CLA 250 e uses the same petrol engine as the 180 and 200, and produces 215bhp. Not only will it hit 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds, but Mercedes says it’ll also manage 282mpg and 44 miles of electric range. As with any plug-in hybrid, this’ll depend on how often you recharge the battery and the type of journeys you do.
While performance is important, many CLA customers will choose it over models like the Audi A3 saloon, Hyundai i30 Fastback and Mazda3 Fastback on the strength of its interior alone. Two 10.3-inch displays form a widescreen glass panel, spanning from behind the steering wheel across the dashboard, for a crisp and ultra-modern look that makes every rival feel dated. The smartphone generation will find the interface of Mercedes’ MBUX infotainment system instantly familiar.
Considering its sporting brief, the CLA is also just practical enough that a family could consider it. A growth spurt means passenger space is only compromised by tight rear headroom, and its 460-litre boot is more than big enough for a trip away. If the narrow boot opening is a deal-breaker, you’ll want to look at the Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake estate instead.
If the striking looks and improved handling of the CLA hold appeal over the Mercedes A-Class saloon and hatchback, you'll only need to look past the extra cost and poor rear headroom. In our favourite CLA 200 AMG Line trim, the Mercedes is undeniably appealing next to its rivals, and things only get better when you sit inside.