New Mercedes-Benz CLA coupe will stand out from the crowd
MERCEDES-Benz turns the sex-appeal thermostat from lukewarm to steaming hot with the shapely new CLA. As before, the compact four-door coupe is designed to seduce but Stuttgart's second attempt is classier, curvier and more charismatic.
The completely new model, due to reach Australia in the third quarter of this year, is sure to be a more effective customer magnet for Mercedes-Benz than the first-generation CLA launched in 2013.
In Europe, half the people who bought the CLA previously drove something from another brand. And three out of four of these first-time buyers chose another Mercedes-Benz as their next car.
It's been a big success in Australia, racking up almost 15,000 sales so far, and a big hit worldwide, with combined sales of the four-door and five-door Shooting Brake wagon totalling 750,000.
The new Shooting Brake due out later this year will not be sold in Australia. Slow-selling diesel versions of the CLA will also be dropped, according to Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesman Jerry Stamoulis.
First of the new line to arrive, about August, will be the CLA200. This front-drive model features the same lacklustre engine and gearbox team of turbo 1.3-litre four and seven-speed double-clutch auto as the A200 hatch launched last year. Expect prices to begin from about $56,000, an increase of roughly $3000.
It will be swiftly followed into showrooms by the CLA250, with a lively turbo 2.0-litre four, seven-speed double-clutch auto, and all-wheel drive. High performance AMG variants join the line-up later still.
The new CLA is a larger car than before, growing about 50mm wider and longer compared to the current model, though height is almost the same. Its axles, front and rear, put more distance between the wheels than in Mercedes-Benz's other compact models.
There's more elbow room inside the enlarged new CLA, in front and behind. Front seat headroom increases, too, but the swoopy roofline means the rear seat remains squeezy for tall types. The cargo compartment is slightly smaller but a much wider boot opening makes the space easier to use.
Inside is a skilful fusion of style and tech. With the same widescreen instrument and infotainment display as the new A-Class hatch and a similar layout, the cabin of the CLA is as seductive as its exterior.
The tech isn't bad either. With the Alps looming ahead at one stage of the international launch test drive in southern Germany, we decide the view calls for music.
Saying "Hey Mercedes" to first activate the car's MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User eXperience) set-up, my co-driver requests "The Lonely Goatherd" from The Sound of Music. Seconds later we're yodelling along.
When it comes to providing driving entertainment, the new CLA isn't so adept. The 165kW engine of the popular-in-Australia 250 version is energetic enough but the transmission is a constant pain.
Gear changes tend to be jerky, especially in slow-moving traffic when pressure on the accelerator pedal is light. It's easy to make things worse; switch to Sport mode and the seven-speed double-clutch holds low gears too long and this reluctance to upshift quickly becomes annoying.
Another problem noted during the German test drive was the proclivity of the car's collision-avoidance tech for false alarms - not only warning beeps but sudden and sharp braking. This is technology with great lifesaving potential but the CLA's set-up needs extra work to make sure it acts only when really needed.
All the CLA250s available for testing at the launch came with adaptive damping. Comfort mode delivers a floaty feel. Too soft. Sport is firmer, reducing comfort. Slightly too hard.
The non-adaptive AMG "lowered comfort" suspension that will be standard on the CLA in Australia needs to hit the Goldilocks zone in between.
So the new CLA highlights the talent of the Mercedes-Benz design department but isn't a great example of the company's engineering expertise. Having grown longer and wider, the compact coupe is now close in size to the C-Class sedan.
For similar money to the new CLA250, a C200 or C300 will deliver proper Mercedes-Benz polish when it comes to the driving experience. There's another big difference, and it's an important one - the C-Class sedan isn't styled for seduction.
Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4MATIC Coupe
Price: $70,000 (est)
Safety: Not yet rated
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 165kW/350Nm
0-100km/h: 6.3 secs
In our globalised age, brand homeland is not a reliable indicator of where something is made. Mercedes-Benz is German as can be but the new CLA isn't made there. Instead, it's built in Kecskeme, Hungary.