If you like the added space and practicality estates bring but aren't so keen on boxy styling, then Mercedes-Benz and its new CLA Shooting Brake could be of interest.
After showing that estates needn't be boxy with its CLS Shooting Brake in 2012, Mercedes is now offering this smaller CLA version, offering similar styling for a lower price.
The engine range consists of three petrol engines (including the performance-oriented CLA45 AMG) and two diesels. We're driving the entry-level diesel here, the 2.0-litre 200d, and this is our first experience of it on UK roads.
Style doesn't come cheap it seems: even the entry-level 180 petrol CLA Shooting Brake costs nearly £26,000. Audi's A4 Avant and BMW's 3 Series Touring are therefore the CLA's biggest worry, but so are more practical choices such as Volkswagen's Golf Estate.
What is the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake like inside?
There has never been an issue with the CLA coupe's front space, or seat and wheel adjustability, and that remains the same here. However, Mercedes has tried to improve head room for those in the rear seats - the coupe's weak point.
Adults will still find that the sloping window line sits below head height and tall adults' heads will brush the ceiling. Leg room isn't particularly generous either while sitting three adults side-by-side across the back would be uncomfortable.
The CLA Shooting Brake's boot holds 495 litres, which is some way smaller than the Golf Estate's (605 litres) but similar in size to an A4 Avant or 3 Series Touring's. However, tilting the rear seatbacks to a more upright 'cargo' position increases it by another 100 litres, if hindering rear passenger comfort.
Folding the rear seats is done using levers by the rear headrest. The seats split 60/40 and lie pretty much flat without any step up from boot to seatbacks. However, the CLA's styling leaves a narrow boot opening, a shallow overall space and a hefty boot lip to scale when lifting heavy items inside from ground level.
Our test car was fitted with Mercedes' standard 7.0in screen 'Comand' system, which is easy enough to navigate, thanks to its three-layer menu system and rotary dial controller between the front seats. BMW's iDrive is easier again to use, though and looks more modern in terms of on-screen graphics.
Cabin quality in our Sport test cars was good higher up the dashboard and on the doors, where stitched man-made leather is the focal point. Things start to feel cheaper farther down and around the centre console while the climate control switchgear feels equally low-quality.
Forward visibility is good for the driver, but the Shooting Brake's heavily styled rear end doesn't help the rear view, with large rear pillars and a small screen ensuring much of it is obscured.
Entry-level Sport cars come with 18in alloys, a powered tailgate, automatic headlights and wipers, cruise control, the lesser of the two infotainment systems (with smaller 7.0in screen) and sports seats finished in man-made leather.
AMG Sport cars then add different 18in alloy wheels, xenon headlights and a sports steering wheel, while range-topping Engineered by AMG models get speed-sensitive steering, bi-xenon headlights and more aggressive styling.
What is the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake like to drive?
This entry-level diesel provides all the power and torque you're likely to need, and since it pulls from around 1500rpm there's rarely need to reach for our automatic car's paddle shifter in search of a lower gear and a sweet section of the rev range.
The trouble is, the seven-speed gearbox isn't so sure, and when left to its own devices, is too keen to kick down a gear. In the process, it exposes the 200's main weakness: its refinement. It's a raucous engine above 2500rpm and it sends vibration back through the wheel when pushed.
Up at motorway speeds, the diesel does a better job of settling down and there's only a small amount of wind noise around the door mirrors.
There are three suspension settings on a CLA Shooting Brake: 'Comfort', 'Lowered Comfort' (15mm lower at the front, 20mm at the rear) and 'Lowered Sports' (stiffer, too). The diesel we tried was on standard Comfort, and struggled over bumps and broken surfaces, with its body taking a while to settle. There's quite a bit of body float over undulations in the road, too.
The CLA isn't the sweetest handling estate compared with its competition, but at least its steering is relatively precise and evenly weighted while there's urgency from the front wheels when changing direction. A BMW 3 Series Touring is a far more rounded car when it comes to ride and handling, though.
Should I buy one?
The CLA Shooting Brake is stylish and well-equipped alternative to a traditional estate. If you love the looks, and its limited practicality isn't an issue, it will definitely appeal. However, be prepared to put up with poor refinement, a scrappy ride and interior quality that doesn't really live up to the list prices.
If space and practicality are important you're better off looking elsewhere. An Audi A4 Avant or BMW 3 Series Touring might have similar sized boots, but they're a more practical shape, more accessible and their rear cabin space are roomier. As equivalent diesels, both are within a stone's throw of the CLA's price too.
A Volkswagen Golf Estate has a bigger, more practical boot and more cabin space, while offering similar levels of equipment and interior quality for less money, even as a range-topping GT model. That said, its looks might not entice you in quite the same way.
Mercedes thinks the majority of Shooting Brake sales will be to company car drivers, and the 200 diesel we tried has the most competitive CO2 emissions of the range at 106g/km. Even so, an Audi A4 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra Avant costs slightly more to buy, but emits 104g/km and sits in a lower tax band, working our cheaper month-to-month in company car tax.
What Car? says...
Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake 200d DCT