2013 Mercedes CLA review
Based on the same platform at the latest A-Class, the CLA doesn't really have any direct rivals. The closest is the Audi A5 Sportback, although potential buyers will no doubt also be considering conventional saloons, such as the BMW 3 Series.
There are just two engines to choose from at launch – a 120bhp 1.6 turbo petrol and a 168bhp 2.1-litre diesel – while a lower-powered diesel will follow later in 2013.
What's the 2013 Mercedes CLA like to drive?
The latest A-Class has an awful ride, so the fact that the CLA uses the same basic suspension set-up doesn't bode well.
The good news is that Mercedes has made various changes to improve comfort, including tweaking the damper settings and installing rubber bushings between the rear subframe and chassis.
These modifications have certainly improved matters. Stick with Comfort suspension – confusingly fitted as standard to Sport models – and the CLA actually rides quite well at high speeds. ?
Things aren't so impressive in town though, where larger bumps and potholes still send jolts through the cabin.
Rivals such as the A5 Sportback are also more controlled and composed in bends, but the CLA is far from sloppy and its steering is nicely weighted.
Sport suspension (an option on Sport models and standard on AMG Sport versions) sharpens things up, helping the CLA respond more quickly to steering inputs and keeping the body very upright through tight bends. However, this firmer set-up makes the ride choppier at all speeds.
Whichever set-up you choose, suspension noise enters the cabin over poor surfaces, but wind noise it pretty well controlled; you just hear a bit of whistle from around the door mirrors.
The 2.1-litre diesel (badged 220 CDI) is reasonably smooth, too, and it picks up speed swiftly from low revs. Unfortunately, it's hamstrung by a slow-witted and jerky seven-speed automatic gearbox, which comes as standard.
The turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol (C180) gets a reasonably slick six-speed manual, instead, and you need to make regular use of this because the engine feels flat at low revs. It’s particularly sluggish when you pull away from a standstill, which can cause problems at busy junctions, but it stays smooth and refined enough when you work it hard.
What's the 2013 Mercedes CLA like inside?
The CLA is virtually indistinguishable from the latest A-Class from the driver’s seat. The dashboard is smartly styled, with heater vents similar to those in the SLS supercar, and there's a 5.8-inch iPad-style display 'floating' on top of the centre console. ?
The cabin materials aren't as plush as those in the Audi A5 Sportback, but everything feels solid and the assembly is generally good. The one exemption is an unusually large gap between the B-pillar and the front door inserts, through which you can clearly see the car's bodywork.
As with larger Mercs, you operate most of the infotainment functions by scrolling through menus using a rotary dial between the front seats. However, the menus aren't especially intuitive, so the system can be frustrating to use – particularly on the move.
Interior space is more impressive; four six-footers will fit as long as they're not too tall in the body, although there is more rear space in an A5 Sportback. You also have to be careful not to bump your head when getting into the back, because the swooping roofline cuts into the door opening.
The boot is only slightly smaller than an A5 Sportback's, but it’s shallow and the small opening (the Audi has a hatchback) makes it tricky to load bulky items.
Should I buy one?
The appeal of the new Mercedes CLA is obvious; it offers four-door coupe styling at a much lower price than a CLS or an Audi A7.
However, take the looks out of the equation and there are better alternatives for the money. A BMW 320d auto will cost you about the same as a CLA 220 CDI, yet is more fun to drive, rides more comfortably and has a classier cabin.
If you don't fancy a conventional four-box saloon, the Audi A5 Sportback 2.0 TDI 177 is also a better bet. True, higher CO2 emissions mean the Audi is pricier to run as a company car, but it’s both bigger and more refined than the Merc.
The entry-level CLA 180 undercuts the cheapest A5 Sportback by around £1900, and comes with more standard kit. However, the two cars will be more closely priced once you take discounts into consideration.
The forthcoming 200 CDI model (with CO2 emissions from around 109g/km) is likely to make more sense, being cheaper than both of its German rivals for company car drivers.
What Car? says...
Audi A5 Sportback
BMW 3 Series
Specification CLA 180
Engine size 1.6-litre turbo petrol
Price from £24,355
Torque 147lb ft
0-60mph 9.3 seconds
Top speed 130mph
Fuel economy 50.4 (official combined)
Specification CLA 220 CDI
Engine size 2.1-litre diesel
Price from £29,355
Torque 258lb ft
0-60mph 8.2 seconds
Top speed 143mph
Fuel economy 62.8 (official combined)
By Rory White and Will Nightingale