Cuts a dash but the Mercedes CLA doesn’t really do a dash

IT’S AMAZING sometimes how the car business works. 

More often than not a manufacturer will come up with a sane and practical contender which is aimed at a specific target market — be it the single city dweller, the executive market or the family buyer.

Sometimes though a car maker will take a punt on something different which is not already defined by the accepted norms of the business.

Mercedes has proved itself to be particularly adept at this sort of thing, regularly refining and adapting conventional designs into something different altogether. The CLS was a spectacular example of this outside-the-box thinking: a four door executive saloon with a coupe body. Who’d have credited it?

Cuts a dash but the Mercedes CLA doesn’t really do a dash

Well, about 170,000 people thus far have bought one, and even in a global context and in a cut-throat environment, that represents a pretty phenomenal success. The fact too that Mercedes’ two biggest rivals — Audi and BMW — were forced into immediate retaliation with their respective A7 and 5 Series GT models, indicated that Mercedes had struck gold and had invented a whole new market niche.

The next step in this process is to continue the formula. Mercedes initially did this with the introduction of the CLS Shooting Brake — essentially an estate version of the saloon.

After that the company then decided to introduce the concept into other model ranges and Mercedes has done that most recently with the unveiling of the CLA, designed to give the steady but dull compact saloon market a shot in the arm.

Logically, a Shooting Brake version of the CLA was next on the list and Mercedes has not disappointed, because that is exactly what they have made. Okay, so there is a price premium with both CLA and CLA Shooting Brake versions over their lesser siblings, but the company’s aim is to provide people with a small car option that nevertheless decorates their driveway in a very satisfactory manner.

This they have achieved in spades because out tester this week, the CLA Shooting Brake is indeed a spectacularly good looking car which certainly looks a lot more expensive and classy than the €31,490 being asked for the entry level CLA 180 petrol model.

Ok, so the prices do go up substantially — the tester, for example, costs well north of €40,000 — but simply to have this level of upmarketness decorating your driveway for slightly more than thirty grand, is something that will very definitely draw a lot of customers.

Mercedes traditionally relied on the pillars of mechanical and engineering excellence and the sheer drawing power of the three-pointed star for its’ appeal, but latterly the company has pieced together a model range with spades of panache added in, offering diversity and allure alongside its’ time-honoured attractions.

In saloon form the CLA was not quite everyone’s cup of tea, however, the droopy rear end styling coming in for a lot of flak. Mercedes, though, is nothing if not sensitive to criticism and with the Shooting Brake, it has addressed many of the barbs thrown at it. With its’ long bonnet, sloping roofline, frameless windows, broad tailgate, the CLA Shooting Brake certainly cuts a dash.

The look of the car therefore is going to be probably its’ biggest selling point; without doubt it is the sort of vehicle that, once you’ve clapped eyes on it, you’ll find it very difficult to resist its’ charms. Which is just as well because as a dynamic driving proposition the CLA — as tested — did not reach the heights the exterior looks promise.

Powered by the somewhat weedy 2.2 litre turbodiesel which outputs just 100 kW (136 bhp), the test CLA 200 CDI, fitted with the seven speed DGT automatic ’box, was not the most potent thing we have come across recently, although it will hit 100 kph from a standstill in 9.8 seconds and notch up a top speed of 220 kph, all of which seems decent enough.

Out in the real world though, you have to thrash the engine to get the most from it and that makes life rather raucous. In fact it just doesn’t seem right to be thrashing a Merc, but that’s what you have to do to make rapid progress with this thing. It is a very pleasing partner if motorway driving is going to provide the bulk of your mileage, but if that’s not the case and you have to do a lot of cross-country work, then you might want to look elsewhere in the range.

Handling and ride are definitely better than in the saloon and the suspension is not as harsh, even on the 18” AMG alloys. The standard lowered suspension means that grip levels are impressive, while the beautifully weighted steering adds to the overall feeling of well-being this chassis exudes.

As a family car proposition the CLS Shooting Brake is not the biggest. Sure the estate vibe will please many, but in truth this is not the biggest or most commodious around, although the build quality is top drawer and the feelgood factor once you’re aboard is palpable.

You could certainly make a case here that this is a car where style triumphs over substance, but you’d have to concede that the style element alone is strong enough to make this a winner with the buying public.

Despite reservations about the engine in the tester, I’d have to admit that every time I opened the front door and saw this svelte and beautiful beast in the driveway, it took my breath away.

Personally, if I was buying this Shooting Break I’d be looking maybe at the CLA 200 petrol with 156 bhp, priced from €35,235, rather than the diesel. I’d take a small hit on the consumption levels (5.4 l/100 km against 4.6) for the sake a quieter and more peppy drive.

Car companies reckon that vehicles such as this are “emotional” purchases for people anxious to avoid the norm and Mercedes have certainly built a car here which will appeal to people on many levels, not least of which will be the way it looks. And it looks fantastic.

COLLEY’S VERDICT

The Cost: €43,045 — €47,798 as tested.

The Engine: Didn’t do a lot for me and I would be looking elsewhere in the range for a driving companion.

The Specification: Stuff like the panoramic sunroof, metallic paint, reversing camera and ambient lighting add over four grand to the list price. So be careful with what’s on your wish list.

The Overall Verdict: Brilliant looking, but choose carefully on the engine front depending on your wants and needs.

 

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