So far we’ve only driven a small selection from the CLA range: the big-selling 220d, powerful 250 petrol and mid-range 200 petrol. The 220d is powered by a 2.0-litre diesel that’s also found in the C-Class and E-Class saloons and is a big step forward from the clattery 2.1-litre lump used by the previous CLA. Yes, you do feel a few vibrations through the seat, steering wheel and pedals at idle, but these tremors all but disappear as soon as you start moving. Any gruffness remains muted even under hard acceleration and engine noise is virtually non-existent at a cruise.
A relatively gentle squeeze of the accelerator pedal has the CLA 220d gaining speed with ease. In fact, a brief spin in the 2.0-litre turbocharged CLA 250 confirms that this petrol engine may be faster on paper, but needs to be worked a lot harder. Indeed, in the real world there’s very little to separate them. Yes, the 250 is a smoother and quieter, but we suspect the 220d’s far superior economy will be a trade-off that many are prepared to make.
Lower down the range is the 200 petrol: a 1.3-litre four-cylinder with a reasonable 161bhp. It certainly feels adequate when you’re pottering around, but you need to work it hard for it to feel as potent as the numbers suggest. Do this, though, and it starts to sound rather coarse and thrashy.
Both petrol cars we tried were fitted with Mercedes’ seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox; the diesel went one better with an eight-speed dual-clutch set-up. Although both can be a little hesitant from a standstill, shifts are smooth once on the move, especially with the eight-speeder. One gripe that applies to both gearboxes, though, is that flicking the car into Sport mode causes gears to be held on to for an unnecessarily long time.
While Mercedes talks about dynamism and excitement, the CLA isn’t the most thrilling car to hammer down a country road. That’s not saying it handles badly; the steering’s weight builds naturally as you enter a corner and is very precise, if a little lacking in road feel. Body lean is well contained and the tyres grip the road tenaciously, but the car never encourages you to have much fun. On the plus side, it proved comfortable – even on the bigger optional 19in wheels – on the admittedly smooth roads we drove it on. If the A-Class is anything to go by, you’re unlikely to need a chiropractor after every jaunt out, especially if you stick to smaller wheels.