What Car? says...
Mercedes' use of apparently random letter combinations to label its models might leave you wondering – what is the Mercedes CLA?
Well, the CLA is effectively a Mercedes A-Class Saloon that's been put through an extensive programme of nipping and tucking. The resulting car has been transformed from a traditional three-box executive car into the sleeker silhouette of a four-door coupé, complete with twin "power domes" on its bonnet, an arching roofline and a sculpted tail.
True, Mercedes has carried over the interior from the A-Class pretty much unchanged, but we reckon that's a plus. You see, it means you get tactile materials and big screens to keep tech fans happy. The CLA should still be able to work for those who have to cart around kids and all their kit.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Let's start with the CLA 220d, which is powered by a 188bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine. It has more than enough power for most needs, takes 7.3 seconds to get from 0-62mph, and requires only a gentle squeeze of the accelerator pedal to get up to motorway speed.
The entry-level petrol, the CLA 180, is the weakest engine in the line-up, and is best avoided. With 134bhp, it takes 9.4 seconds to get from 0-62mph.
Our pick of the engines – unless you're choosing a company car – is the 161bhp, 1.3-litre petrol engine in the CLA 200. It provides perky, rather than scintillating, performance, with 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds. It’ll be fine around town, and has the legs for longer motorway journeys, but you need to work it hard while overtaking, and when you do, it starts to sound coarse and thrashy.
That same 1.3-litre petrol engine also shows up in the CLA 250e PHEV, where it’s paired with an electric motor to produce a combined 215bhp. As well as offering impressive pace, the 250e can officially travel for up to 53 miles on electric power alone. The VW Arteon PHEV can manage 37 miles, while the Audi A5 Sportback isn't available as a PHEV at all.
With the petrol cars, Mercedes gives you a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox while the diesel and the PHEV get an eight-speed auto. In Normal mode, the gear shifts are smooth, but there’s a bit of a pause when you need a burst of acceleration. Switching to Sport helps speed up the reaction time, while letting the engine go higher in the rev range for sustained performance.
In town, the CLA feels smaller and more nimble than rivals, and if you break out in search of the countryside and back roads, it’s perfectly capable up to about eight-tenths pace. Just bear in mind that beyond that its steering doesn’t provide a huge amount of feedback and it will run out of grip before the A5 and Arteon.
It also bounces around more than those rival coupés over dips and crests, but stops well short of being uncomfortable, and its ride is smooth on a motorway.
In the diesel, you’ll feel a few vibrations through the seat, steering wheel and pedals at idle, and there's a little gruffness under acceleration, but these all but disappear into the background at a cruise. Occupants are well isolated from wind and road noise, with just the odd clunk from the suspension and thump from the tyres on sharper bumps.
Strengths Punchy diesel engine; quiet cruiser
Weaknesses Petrol engines needs working hard; tidy handling, rather than exciting
The interior layout, fit and finish
The interior of the Mercedes CLA offers a serious wow factor, especially with the dual 10.3in screens as standard. One is the central infotainment touchscreen, while the other is for the driver’s instrument cluster.
It helps that the graphics are very sharp, and the menus are logically laid out. You can choose between pressing the on-screen icons, scrolling with touchpads on the steering wheel, or issuing voice commands to a system that recognises natural speech instead of requiring you to remember specific phrases.
Neither is foolproof, because the touchpads are on the small side and exchanging voice commands takes longer. Fortunately, there’s a row of physical controls for the ventilation system, unlike in the Mercedes C-Class. The CLA has wireless phone-charging via a handy tray in front of the main infotainment touchpad, and you get USB C sockets for charging devices too.
Whether you’re tall or short, it won’t be too tricky to find a driving position that works for you, thanks to a wide range of adjustment for the steering wheel and seat, and good under-thigh support.
Forward visibility is excellent, thanks to slim windscreen pillars that don’t obstruct your view out at junctions. To remove any guesswork when manoeuvring, all models come with a rear-view camera, but you’ll need the high-spec AMG Line Premium Plus for a 360-degree one.
Powerful LED headlights are standard, while adaptive LED headlights, which can remain on main beams without blinding other drivers, are standard on AMG Line Premium Plus trim.
The relaxing ambient lighting (provided from AMG Line Executive and above), flashy air vents and classy wood or metal finishes mean the CLA outguns the Audi A5 Sportback and the VW Arteon for visual pizzazz. However, in terms of outright interior build quality, it's no match for the A5 because some of the materials feel a bit flimsy.
Strengths Lots of visual appeal; simple layout for controls and displays
Weaknesses Doesn’t feel as robust as some rivals
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Despite its coupé roofline, the Mercedes CLA offers plenty of head room up front, especially if you avoid the panoramic sunroof that comes with the top-spec AMG Line Premium Plus.
Sadly, the news isn’t so good in the back. Yes, leg room is plentiful, but your bonce will be rubbing against the headlining if you're close to six feet tall.
You could look at the estate version – the Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake – for more rear-seat (and boot) space. The Audi A5 Sportback is slightly better too, and the VW Arteon has loads more space in the back.
In terms of boot space, the CLA's official figure varies slightly depending on the engine you choose. The diesel has the most – 490 litres – while the mild-hybrid petrols have slightly less, at 485 litres. If you go for the PHEV, you lose a bit more, leaving 455 litres of load space.
For comparison, the A5 Sportback is less practical than most versions, with 465 litres, but the Arteon wins with 563 litre – unless you go for the PHEV Arteon, which loses loads of space to the hybrid kit, dropping the total to 445 litres.
The CLA is a bit trickier to load than the other models because of the small, saloon-style opening, but just like in the rivals, it has back seats that split in a versatile 40/20/40 configuration and fold down when you pull a lever in the boot.
The door pockets in the front of the car are big enough for a small bottle of water and a selection of travel snacks. The glovebox is deep and there's a big cubby under the armrest between the front seats.
Strengths Space for tall adults in the front; plenty of storage space; generous boot capacity
Weaknesses Limited rear head room
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Pricing for the Mercedes CLA is slightly higher than for the equivalent A-Class, but it does undercut the Audi A5 Sportback and the VW Arteon.
The CLA holds its value far better than those rivals though, which helps to keep monthly PCP quotes affordable – unless you start looking at the AMG 35 and AMG 45 models. You can check the latest prices on our New Car Deals pages.
Equipment levels are generous, with even the entry-level Sport Executive getting 18in alloy wheels, LED headlights, climate control and heated front seats.
Our recommended AMG Line Executive trim includes sportier exterior and interior styling, snazzy ambient lighting, keyless entry and sports front seats.
Pricier AMG Line Premium comes with larger 19in wheels and two-zone climate control.
AMG Line Premium Plus adds a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery and electric seats with memory settings, but pushes the price to the levels of more practical coupés.
The best company car choice in the CLA range is the PHEV 250e, because its low official CO2 emissions and good electric-only range will keep your benefit-in-kind tax bill down. The PHEV Arteon is in a higher tax bracket because of its shorter electric range.
Fuel economy is on a par with rivals, with petrol CLAs just pipping the 35 TFSI A5 Sportback for emissions – although the 35 TDI A5 Sportback is narrowly ahead of the diesel CLA’s official 55.4mpg figure.
The CLA earned the full five-star Euro NCAP rating back in 2019, with very high individual scores for adult occupant, child occupant and pedestrian protection.
The Mercedes CLA did well in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey coming second out of 15 models in the coupés, convertibles and sports cars section. Mercedes didn't do so well as a brand, finishing in 24th place out of 32 manufacturers. Audi came in 26th place, BMW came 12th and VW came in 22nd place.
Strengths Well equipped; relatively frugal engines
Weaknesses High entry-level price
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Mercedes uses the ‘CL’ designation to signify a four-door coupé with a more steeply raked rear roofline than the equivalent saloon. The ‘A’ shows that it sits alongside the Mercedes A-Class and Mercedes A-Class Saloon at the smaller end of the brand's coupé range. The Mercedes CLS is at the other end of the scale, alongside the Mercedes S-Class.
No. The Mercedes C-Class is a little longer than a CLS – at 4.75 metres long against 4.69 metres for the CLS. The C-Class is also more spacious inside.
No. A revised version arrived in 2023, alongside the updated Mercedes A-Class.
|RRP price range||£34,535 - £73,075|
|Number of trims (see all)||5|
|Number of engines (see all)||6|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol, diesel, hybrid|
|MPG range across all versions||256.8 - 55.4|
|Available doors options||4|
|Warranty||3 years / No mileage cap|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£634 / £5,288|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,269 / £10,575|