Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class car review: Dr Z answers the sceptics

Dieter Zetsche, the Daimler chairman, wanted Mercedes to appeal to younger buyers. One result is the CLA-Class. The car with a sexy back has massive visual appeal, coupe styling, frameless windows and looks … er, non-Mercedes

By: | Updated: March 21, 2016 12:37 PM

Mercedes, Mercedes Benz, Mercedes Benz CLA class

The CLA is available in three trims and two engine options. Reuters

A Mercedes-Benz, in urban India, is no longer a head-turner. Period.” Two years ago some young management consultants were discussing luxury cars at a tony restaurant in Gurgaon. “I prefer a Bimmer,” said one. “Only my 60-year-old boss uses a Merc,” said another.

The global media had branded Mercedes as “old man’s car”. Gorden Wagener, the Mercedes design head, was forced to say, “The perception was … you are the old guy in this game.”

The story was no different in India. Young, moneyed professionals were increasingly seen driving the entry-level BMW and Audi cars.

A sporty image was needed. Wagener’s team, under Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche, was working on it. Soon, the masterpieces, one by one, were being introduced across the world, including in India—new E-Class, A-Class, GLA-Class, CLA-Class—to appeal to younger, first-time premium car buyers. And the company started getting them.

The result: Mercedes leads BMW by a long shot in India and, in 2014, a mere 650 units separated it from Audi, the luxury car market leader. Merc has now entered the lucrative compact luxury sedan segment with its latest offering, the CLA-Class. We drive it.

Exterior

The CLA looks stunning. Period. At the front the diamond radiator grille, silver louvre, chrome inserts and the three-pointed star makes a dominant statement. Sharp lines running across the body give it a dynamic stance. The coupe-like roofline and starfish-shaped alloy wheels look striking. The rear three-quarter angle, especially, is arresting and the twin-pipe exhaust system completes the ensemble. Wherever I took the car, it turned heads 180-degrees.

Interior

The first thing you will notice as you open the doors is frameless windows, which lend it a lot of elegance. Once inside the car, it is very Mercedes. Turbine-like air vents, wide dashboard with a 3D design and sporty dials look impressive. But the best thing in the cabin is the unique sports seats with integrated headrest. The dashboard gets a colour screen for the COMAND computer; however, the screen slightly obstructs your view of the road, especially if you are short (even after considering the fact that the CLA gets height-adjustable powered seats).

The information display gives fuel-efficiency figures in the more convenient “km per litre” rather than “litres per 100 km”, as is the case with many other luxury cars.

Because the wheelbase of the CLA is 62 mm longer than Audi A3, there is comparatively more legroom at the rear; however, due to the sloping roofline, the headroom comes at a premium. The rear portion of the front seats is scooped out for additional knee-room—an intelligent touch. The car is loaded with equipment—panoramic sunroof, web browsing via Bluetooth, GPS navigation, reverse camera, Harman Kardon music system and more. The boot space is 470 litres but its usability is limited because of the spare tyre strapped to the floor.

Engines

The CLA gets two engine options. The 2,143-cc diesel motor develops a peak power of 134.1 bhp, goes from 0-100 in 9.8 seconds and has a top speed of 220 kmph. The 1,991-cc petrol develops a peak power of 181 bhp, goes from 0-100 in just 7.8 seconds and has a top speed of 235 kmph.

The claimed fuel-efficiency for the diesel is 17.9 kmpl and that for the petrol is 15.04 kmpl.

Ride and handling

While the engines are powerful enough for the segment, it is the transmission that takes the cake. The 7G-DCT dual-clutch gearbox combines the comfort of a 7-speed automatic transmission with the driving dynamics of a manual, and is perfectly aligned to the power output of these engines. The gearbox consists of two sub-transmissions—one transfers the tractive power to the wheels while the other preselects the next gear, leading to quick, smooth shifts.

The ground clearance of 165 mm ensures the CLA won’t scrape most speed-breakers found on our roads. But while the ride quality is good, on bad roads the CLA turns a little nervous; however, the ride quality never goes harsh. The car behaves its best on smooth roads and cornering even at high speeds is a lot of fun. Braking is spot-on.

Safety

Being a Mercedes, there are a host of safety features. You get attention assist (which monitors the steering behaviour of the driver, recognises signs of drowsiness and warns accordingly); automatic headlamp; ABS; electronic stability; tyre pressure monitor; reverse camera; and six airbags.

Verdict

The CLA is available in three trims and two engine options. The CDI Style diesel is priced R31.5 lakh; the 200 Sport petrol is priced R35 lakh; and the 200 CDI Sport diesel is priced R35.9 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). The car currently has only one competitor in India, the Audi A3, which is priced from R24.5 lakh to R30.2 lakh. While the CLA is priced higher, yet it comes across as a compelling package. It behaves well on Indian roads, is frugal and has a design that won’t go out of style any time soon. Unlike the A3—and, ironically, many other Mercedes cars—the CLA won’t get lost in the crowd. It is not exactly a car for chauffeur-driven buyers, but if you are a young, moneyed professional who enjoys driving and loves turning heads, the CLA makes sense.

A new Teutonic order

What’s nice

* Futuristic design

* Cosseting cabin

* Solid build quality

What’s not

* Tight rear headroom

* To some, the price

* Less usable boot space

Petrol

Displacement - 1,991-cc

Power - 181 bhp

0-100 kmph - 7.8 secs

Top speed - 235 kmph

Price - R35 lakh

Diesel

Displacement - 2,143-cc

Power - 134.1 bhp

0-100 kmph - 9.8 secs

Top speed - 220 kmph

Price - R31.5 lakh

Alternative:

Audi A3 (R24.5 lakh to R30.2 lakh)

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