Open-top version of BMW’s acclaimed M4 Coupe is also pretty impressive…
Mercedes CLA 180 Sport review (2013 onwards)
Model: Mercedes CLA 180 Sport (from £24,355)
Bodystyle: four-door saloon
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo petrol, 122hp, 147lb ft
Transmission: six-speed manual
Performance: 0-62mph 9.3 secs / 130mph top
What is the Mercedes CLA?
A-Class, C-Class, CLS-Class. Not to mention B, E, M and S variants. Mercedes has claimed the alphabet as its own to cover a bewildering lineup that caters for just about every motoring taste. Surely there’s a car there for everyone? Clearly not. Mercedes has launched a niche version that combines all three of those models into one. It’s called the CLA.
It’ll appeal to those people who find a regular hatch or saloon too dull, and whose cheque books don’t extend as far as the £50k needed for a CLS.
Based on an A-Class but more similar in size to a C-Class, the CLA is a half-price CLS but it doesn’t look like a poor relation when you see it for real, thanks to a swoopy profile that makes this car look more special than its £24k price tag suggests.
Where does the Mercedes CLA fit?
You’ve got the traditional Mercedes lineup as such: A-Class hatch offering an affordable way into three-pointed-star ownership, then the C-Class as the default executive saloon for the middle manager who wants to impress. The CLA slots into the middle of these two, offering saloon qualities but with more kerb appeal than the C-Class. And filling a niche you never knew existed.
Is the Mercedes CLA for you?
You’ll have a sense of style, an eye for detail, a desire to be noticed. Or maybe you’ll just buy a CLA because you like the look of it. The CLA is a refreshingly bold premium car in an era of sameness car design.
What does the Mercedes CLA do well?
Like the A-Class, the CLA is front-wheel drive and it turns into corners sharply, offering a drive that, while not entertaining, is… tidy.
Air vents from SLS supercar
Even in the softly sprung (!) Sport model, the body doesn’t lean excessively in bends and the six-speed manual with a clutch pedal is a pleasure to use.
The cabin lives up to the hype and expectation set by the audacious exterior. The round air vents, for example, are a carryover from the SLS supercar and there’s a single dial to operate the nav, stereo and phone.
What doesn’t the Mercedes CLA do well?
The CLA comes in a choice of two trims: but choose carefully because your back might not thank you for the decision. There’s sports suspension (AMG Sport trim) or normal comfort-oriented suspension, which is confusingly called Sport trim.
Lots of revs to avoid stalling
Our ‘Sport’ trimmed car had the softer non-sport suspension but it still caused the wheels to jiggle around on poorer road surfaces –18-inch, low-profile tyres didn’t help. If you buy the A45 AMG version you will probably need to swap your mattress for a spinal board.
The 180-badged engine is baffling, too – because it’s actually a 1.6-litre turbo with a paltry 122hp on tap and 147lb ft of torque. Needless to say it is flatter than a Yorkshire pudding in a cold oven.
The problem is particularly prescient from set-off, with a big glug of revs required to move the car smartly off the line without stalling. A sign I suppose of how smooth and silent this unit is. Once up to speed it actually feels rather muscular and has enough oomph to overtake with ease.
What is the Mercedes CLA like to live with?
The CLA isn’t as roomy or versatile as an A-Class or C-Class. Adult passengers will struggle not to bump their heads as they negotiate the tiny porthole of a rear door and, once in, will wish they hadn’t bothered: the sloping roofline means the CLA has the headroom of a doll’s house.
The boot suffers from similar issues: it’s a good shape and, with 470 litres of space, is accommodating, but the aperture is incredibly narrow and pinched.
If you need to carry people in the rear, or need a flexible boot, you’d be better off sticking to an A-Class.
How green is the Mercedes CLA?
The petrol CLA 180 should average 50.4mpg. But it’s unlikely to as you need to rev the cams off it to make decent progress. At least company car tax bills will be relatively low: the CLA emits 130g/km of carbon dioxide.
Would we buy a Mercedes CLA?
No. Certainly not the entry-level CLA 180. The 1.6-turbo lacks punch, while the suspension is kept busy on UK roads. And that’s in the comfortable ‘Sport’ trim. By the time you’ve specced the car up with essential kit, such as the tablet-style entertainment system, leather seats and a few other toys, you’ll have spent £30k. Instead, I’d have the real McCoy – a nearly new Mercedes CLS from the classifieds for similar money.
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