In-depth reviews

Mercedes CLA review - are looks everything?

"The latest Mercedes CLA is better to drive and more stylish than its predecessor"

Carbuyer Rating

3.8 out of 5

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Pros

  • Decent to drive
  • Great interior
  • Lots of standard kit

Cons

  • Tight rear headroom
  • Small boot opening
  • Lack of physical controls

Verdict - Is the Mercedes CLA a good car?

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 Executive trim, the Mercedes is undeniably appealing next to its rivals, and things only get better when you sit inside – even if we think removing a physical infotainment is a mark against the facelift.

Mercedes CLA models, specs and alternatives

The Mercedes CLA formed part of a two-pronged attack when it was launched alongside the Mercedes A-Class in 2013 in an effort to attract younger customers to the brand. The second-generation CLA was facelifted in 2023, it’s arguably even better looking, and more desirable than before.

Mercedes has even made the latest CLA more fun to drive than the original version – the brand’s engineers were keen to give the sleek saloon a more distinctive personality than before, so the chassis was adjusted to improve handling and grip. The CLA is more composed as a result, with the car responding more crisply to steering inputs.

The standard lineup comprises two 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engines badged CLA 180 and 200, along with two higher-performance AMG models with a 2.0-litre unit capable of 302bhp in the AMG 35, and 415bhp in the AMG 45 S – AMG models get four-wheel drive as standard. The 200 is spritely enough for motorway driving, and every non-AMG CLA comes with a seven or eight-speed automatic gearbox and front-wheel drive. The CLA 180 and 200 are both more efficient than you’d expect – they’ve gained new fuel-saving tech for 2023 – and manage over 50mpg, while the AMG 35 and 45 S models manage just over 30mpg if you can resist the temptation to put your foot down too often.

For even better fuel economy figures, Mercedes offers a single diesel model, badged CLA 220 d. It uses a 2.0-litre engine and can manage up to 65.7mpg when you’re treading lightly on the throttle. The CLA 220 d has the same eight-speed automatic gearbox as the high-performance CLA 35 and CLA 45 S petrol models, which both hit 0-62mph in well under five seconds. 

Introduced in 2020, a frugal plug-in hybrid version is an appealing alternative to the petrol and diesel motors – especially for company car drivers. It’s known as the CLA 250 e, and uses the same petrol engine as the 180 and 200, but paired with a petrol engine to produce a combined 215bhp. Not only will it hit 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds, but Mercedes says it’ll also manage up to 314mpg and around 50 miles of electric range – an eight-mile improvement. As with any plug-in hybrid, this will 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 10.25-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 almost every rival feel dated. The smartphone generation will find the interface of Mercedes’ MBUX infotainment system instantly familiar, but others may rue the removal of the Comand control knob between the front seats, as it means leaning forwards to use the touchscreen, using the new touch-sensitive steering wheel controls or sticking with voice commands.

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 slightly compromised by tight rear headroom and a narrow middle rear seat, 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 Executive trim, the Mercedes is undeniably appealing next to its rivals, and things only get better when you sit inside.

Andy is Carbuyer's managing editor, with more than a decade of experience helping consumers find their perfect car. He has an MA in automotive journalism and has tested hundreds of vehicles.

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