The Mercedes CLA is a hugely desirable small car with the aspirations of something much bigger. It’s not the sharpest car to drive, but it handles neatly and predictably, and is perfectly suited pounding up and down the motorway, where it proves a refined and comfortable commuter no matter which spec you go for. The beautifully built, tech-laden interior is a real selling point; little this side of an E-Class feels quite so special inside. If you’re after a small saloon – or estate – with a bit more style, class or panache, the CLA could be just the ticket.
The Mercedes CLA first carved out a niche for itself in 2013, arriving as a swoopy four-door based on the second-generation A-Class that brought mini-CLS styling to an otherwise conservative corner of the market. The latest model, introduced in 2019 along with its Shooting Brake estate counterpart, follows a similar recipe, eschewing outright practicality in the name of sheer desirability.
Elsewhere in the current Mercedes A-Class line-up there’s a hatchback – still the best choice for flexibility – and the Saloon, a more traditional take on the four-door layout that’s geared more towards interior space. Buyers of the CLA in either of its forms aren’t expected to care too much, however – it’s billed as the sportiest A-Class derivative and boasts a few mechanical tweaks to make it more exciting from a driver’s perspective.
The engine lineup is much the same as the A-Class hatchback, with a range of petrol and diesel units mated exclusively to automatic gearboxes. Trim levels are familiar but start in what is the mid-range for the standard car: AMG Line, AMG Line Premium, AMG Line Premium Plus and the two sporty AMG-developed offerings – CLA 35 and 45 – comprise both Coupe and Shooting Brake lineups.
Beside the obvious visual differences, the biggest change over the standard A-Class is the increased track – the width between the car’s wheels – while ‘Lowered Comfort Suspension’ is standard. The result is a more planted, sharper car to drive that resists roll through corners and gives its driver a little more to smile about.
The CLA is a direct rival to the latest BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, as well as more conventional offerings like the Audi A3 Saloon. It’s a luxurious, refined cruiser that’s also good to drive – but practicality is a little lacking over the more flexible hatchback model.
On paper, the Mercedes CLA and the slightly frumpier A-Class Saloon draw certain parallels. However, under the skin, Merc’s engineers have made a few changes; the CLA’s track width has been stretched by 63mm at the front and 55mm at the back – in an effort to make it the sharper of the two to drive.
While the differences to most motorists will be marginal, the tweaks help the CLA stay flatter while cornering and make it the more engaging of the two to drive. This also helps make the CLA an accomplished motorway car; pick the diesel engine and you’ll have a car that challenges a C-Class for its grown-up feel, fuel economy and cruising prowess.
No matter which model you choose, the CLA responds keenly to your inputs, with very little body roll. Every UK car comes with a seven or eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, but every version we tried proved responsive enough not to need the steering wheel-mounted paddles. It’s good to know they’re there if you want them, however.
We’d recommend the entry-level CLA 180 rather than the more powerful CLA 200 if you’re after a petrol car. The two share their 1.3-litre turbocharged engine, and while both can feel strained under hard acceleration, the 180 is punchy enough. The CLA 250 is expensive but smooth and powerful, giving the four-door coupe a surprising turn of pace. AMG models (both 35 and more powerful 45-badged versions) are also available.
The diesel models will suit higher mileage drivers. Using the firm’s newer 2.0-litre diesel unit, these are much smoother than oil-burning Mercs of old. The diesel CLAs aren’t as quiet as the petrol models on the move, but customers covering big distances will be grateful for their dramatically superior fuel economy. There’s only one version (CLA 220 d) available at the moment, but with plenty of torque, it feels as quick and capable as the top-end petrol cars.
The standard CLA is only available in one trim line with various permutations: AMG Line, complete with sporty styling and large 18 or 19-inch wheels. Our test car rode on optional adaptive dampers that are reserved for sporty AMG 35 and 45 models in the UK, and while it rode very nicely, we’ve not yet tried a car on standard steel springs. Make sure you take one for a test drive before taking the plunge.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
There are a load of petrol engines to choose from, but only one diesel CLA and no plug-in hybrid at the moment. The CLA 180 uses a 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine producing 134bhp; it’ll do 0-62mph in nine seconds, while the 161bhp CLA 200 trims this to 8.2 seconds. The differences are marginal, so we wouldn’t bother with the more powerful engine. Both feel a little strained under hard acceleration, but take things easy and they impressively quiet and refined.
Step up to the CLA 220, which uses a 187bhp 2.0-litre engine, and the 0-62mph time tumbles to seven seconds flat. This unit is also available with 4MATIC all-wheel drive, but adding that extra traction doesn’t affect performance. The CLA 250 is faster still (0-62 in 6.3 seconds), while the AMG 35 and AMG 45 S versions both complete the benchmark sprint in less than five seconds (4.9 and 4.0 seconds respectively). Each and every one of these more powerful petrol cars feel quick and composed on the road.
If diesel is your fuel of choice, the only model available is the CLA 220 d. It’ll do 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds and hit 152mph flat out. With loads of torque (400Nm) it makes light work of brisk overtakes, without feeling rattly like old Merc diesels.
As with most Mercedes models, there’s a large range of engines to choose from when ordering a CLA. The overwhelming majority of these are petrol engines; 1.3 and 2.0-litre units with a variety of outputs. Economy is reasonable across the board, but it’s the CLA 220d diesel that’s the best choice if low running costs are your primary concern.
The CLA 220d is the only diesel in the range, at least for now. In Coupe form it returns 53.3-57.7mpg, depending on trim – more or less on par with the BMW 220d Gran Coupe’s 53.3-56.5mpg. The Mercedes emits 114g/km in AMG Line trim, which will equate to a 26% Benefit in Kind (BiK) charge for company car buyers – again, more or less on par with its BMW rival.
The CLA 180 and CLA 200 are simultaneously the most efficient petrol-powered models in the range; each uses the same 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine, tuned to 136 and 163 respectively, but economy and emissions are identical: 42.8-47.9mpg and 126g/km of CO2. Each commands a 29 per cent BiK charge.
The lower-powered 2.0-litre doesn’t lag too far behind with its 38.7-42.2mpg and 138g/km of CO2 (equating to a 31 per cent BiK rate), but adding the optional 4MATIC four wheel drive system will see these figures drop to 36.7-40.4mpg and 148g/km respectively. Opt for the more powerful, front-drive-only CLA 250 and efficiency takes a further drop, although its 38.7-42.2mpg and 138g/km of CO2 are not terrible given the performance on offer. Company car users will face a 31 per cent BiK rate; there’s only a 2 per cent increase from the bottom of the standard petrol engine range to the top.
Opting for either AMG model means sacrificing economy in the name of performance. The Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4MATIC returns 34.9-37.2mpg and emits 164g/km, enough for a 36 per cent BiK rate. These figures aren’t terrible for such a potent hot hatch, however. The full-fat AMG 45 S 4MATIC+ is even more powerful and so returns 33.2-34.5mpg, with a hefty 189g/km equating to the maximum 37% BiK charge.
The Shooting Brake versions of each of these is marginally less efficient, with CO2 emissions and therefore BiK ratings rising ever so slightly for most engines. Claimed fuel economy also takes a slight hit, but the differences in actual use will be marginal.
It pays to note that while prices start below the £40,000 VED surcharge threshold, some CLA models will breach it with a few options added and yearly payments will increase drastically.
The CLA roughly occupies insurance groups 27 to 43 depending on which model you choose; the CLA 180 petrol is the cheapest to insure and the AMG models are the most expensive. The CLA Shooting Brake sits roughly within groups 26 to 39.
According to our experts the CLA Coupe will retain 37 to 45 per cent of its value after 36,000 miles and 36 months come trade-in time; the Shooting Brake should hold on to around 39 to 48 per cent over the same period.
The Mercedes CLA aims to offer the sleek styling and coupe roofline of the larger CLS, but in a smaller and more affordable package. It certainly looks the part; those sweeping lines and pert rear end give it a level of road presence missing on rivals like the Audi A3 Saloon and even Merc’s very own A-Class models.
Available only in AMG Line trim (plus the flashier AMG Line Premium and AMG Line Premium Plus specs), the CLA comes loaded with all the kit buyer of cars like this desire. Be that a smart but subtle body kit, large alloy wheels or high-end paint finishes, the four-door coupe cuts a dashing silhouette.
Inside, the CLA sets an alarmingly high benchmark that other makers will be hurriedly trying to match. Quality is very good, while the fully digital dashboard – first seen on the A-Class hatch – elevates the CLA above many cars in the class above. Every car gets the large central screen, but you’ll need to upgrade if you want the wider dials; these aren’t essential, but they do give the CLA a real edge in this class.
Every version gets a DAB radio, sat-nav, wireless charging and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. Merc’s ‘Hey Mercedes’ virtual assistant is included, though in our experience this isn’t the most useful or innovative system of its type.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Every Mercedes CLA features Merc’s MBUX infotainment system, complete with ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice assistant. Some customers may find this tech useful – you can change things like the radio station and the temperature for the climate control – but in reality it doesn’t work all that well. If you’re used to services like Amazon Alexa, you’ll find Merc’s set-up a challenge to use.
While sat-nav is included, you’ll need to pay extra (by opting for the AMG Line Premium trim) to get Merc’s excellent ‘augmented reality’ mapping, which lays arrows and directions over images taken from the car’s external cameras. It works wonderfully and can prove really handy on busy city streets.
AMG Line Premium also adds the larger 10.25-inch digital dials and an upgraded stereo system. Going for this spec also upgrades the ambient lighting system.
The Mercedes CLA is car created with style in mind rather than outright practicality – whether you choose Coupe or Shooting Brake body styles, don’t expect the last word in interior space.
Each model is a five seater, but only just – a heavily sculpted rear bench means the middle seat is only suitable for shorter journeys, while head and legroom is tight.
it’s easy for the driver to get comfortable thanks to comfortable, adjustable seats and plenty of adjustment for the steering wheel. Visibility isn’t as good as in the standard A-Class, however – the C-pillar is particularly thick so there are substantial over-the-shoulder blind spots to contend with. Opting for a full suite of active safety kit should counter this, however.
Interior storage is much the same as the A-Class hatch – a good-sized central cubby under the armrest and decent-sized door bins. Two cupholders are located ahead of the car’s infotainment controls.
The Mercedes CLA Coupe measures in at 4,695mm long, 1,999mm wide (including mirrors) and 1,430mm tall. The Shooting Brake estate version is more or less the same size, save for a few extra millimetres in height. AMG versions of both ride lower and have marginally wider track. For comparison, the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is slightly longer at 4,526mm and wider at 2,081mm including mirrors, while total height is a little lower as standard at 1,420mm.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The CLA is a car that has been designed around its driver; there’s not as much space in the back seats as you’ll find in the hatchback. Legroom is tight for six-foot adults, while headroom is compromised by the sloping roofline on either model. If you need to carry passengers and don’t mind sacrificing a few degrees of driver involvement, the A-Class Saloon or hatchback are better bets.
ISOfix points are supplied in the two outer rear seats, but loading child seats won’t be the easiest task thanks to the swooping roofline.
The CLA Coupe’s boot measures in at 460 litres and so is larger than you’ll find in the hatchback. However, a narrower opening means it’s not as easy to load heavy items. All CLAs come as standard with a 40/20/40 split-fold rear bench, so there’s a modicum of flexibility here. The 2 Series Gran Coupe’s boot measures trails slightly at 430 litres.
The Shooting Brake gets a larger 505-litre boot, which extends to a total of 1,370 litres with the rear seats folded. It’s the more flexible choice if you regularly need to carry bigger items.
The Mercedes CLA may not be the first car you’d consider towing with, but it’s rated to a decent standard nonetheless. Each engine and bodystyle combination has its own quoted braked and unbraked figures, but the best choice for towing is the CLA 220d in either Coupe or Shooting Brake form – each manage trailers of up to 750kg unbraked or 1,600kg braked. If you prefer petrol power, the CLA 220 4MATIC Coupe is rated to 750kg unbraked or 1,800kg braked.
The CLA is closely related to the A-Class hatchback and as such comes fully loaded with safety kit. All cars get autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, a driver attention monitor and cruise control as standard, with traffic sign recognition, parking assistance and blind spot assistance added as you climb the range. The optional Driving Assistance pack can be added to AMG Line Premium Plus cars and costs around £1,500, adding a full suite of up-to-date active safety and driver assistance systems, adding features like adaptive cruise, lane-change assist and evasive steering assistance. Euro NCAP is yet to test the latest A-Class in any form, but it’s safe to assume that you’ll be well protected if the worst happens.
The latest A-Class did not feature in our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey; Mercedes itself achieved a fairly disappointing 26th-place finish, with owners enjoying interior design, quality and infotainment but feeling let down by running costs and noisy engines. The latter isn’t an issue in the very refined CLA, however. Of those surveyed, 24 per cent reported experiencing a fault with their Mercedes. For comparison’s sake, BMW finished just one place ahead overall in 25th, with 22.3 per cent of owners reporting having experienced a fault with their car.
As with every new Mercedes, the CLA comes with a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty and roadside assistance that’s valid across Europe. This matches those offered by Audi and BMW.
Mercedes offers flexible servicing payment options on all its cars under the ServiceCare banner. As with many other manufacturer schemes, this allows you to spread the cost of servicing over monthly payments, or pay for all your car’s servicing requirements in one go. Mercedes’ scheme is comprehensive and can be customised depending on your car’s use and mileage.