Compact saloons have never been popular in the UK, but the CLA is very likeable. There are a lot more A-Class hatchbacks available than CLA saloons and Shooting Brakes, and given that the CLA isn’t as practical, you might find it hard to see the appeal. However, if ultimate practicality isn’t key, there’s lots to appreciate, including the sharp looks, the impressive cabin design and high quality, along with the efficient engines and transmissions. The only real downside is the tight rear seat space for adults, but if that’s not an issue, there isn’t any reason to avoid buying a CLA, whether that’s in saloon (coupé) or Shooting Brake form. Incidentally, if rear-seat headroom is an important consideration for you, buying the five-door CLA might just solve your problems, thanks to its higher roofline.
When it comes to creating – or filling – market segments, few car makers can rival Mercedes-Benz. Indeed, this company came up with the first car way back in the mid-1880s, and since then it has built an enviable reputation for prestige and quality, while latterly extending its fingers into ever more segments of the automotive pie.
Mercedes was also once exclusive, but in recent years the brand has become more accessible, with smaller cars made in much bigger volumes. The A-Class was the best example of this, and the small hatch was developed into a compact saloon in 2013.
It was known as the CLA, with a Shooting Brake (estate) edition following later, and it proved such a hit that Mercedes came up with a second-generation model in 2019, which has been every bit as popular.
The saloon arrived in July 2019, in 134bhp CLA 180 and 161bhp CLA 200 forms, with a turbocharged 1.3-litre petrol engine. There was also a 187bhp 2.0-litre CLA 220, in front and four-wheel-drive (4Matic) forms, plus the range-topping 221bhp 2.0-litre CLA 250. A few weeks later came 148bhp and 187bhp CLA 220d diesels, and the five-door CLA Shooting Brake, along with the 302bhp CLA 35 4Matic. By the end of 2019 the 415bhp CLA 45 S 4Matic+, with four or five doors, had been introduced, also powered by a 1,991cc four-cylinder engine.
In April 2020, the 215bhp plug-in hybrid CLA 250e saloon and Shooting Brake joined the range, powered by a 1.3-litre petrol engine and a 75kW (100bhp) electric motor, which was fed by a 15.6 kWh battery pack.
Which one should I buy?
The CLA 180 and CLA 200 offer reasonable performance, but high-mileage drivers are probably better off with a diesel; if you cover an average mileage, a petrol model will be cheaper to buy, if not necessarily to run, than a CLA 250e plug-in hybrid, which suits shorter trips or urban/low-speed driving.
The entry-level AMG Line trim has 18-inch alloys, adjustable driving modes, front and rear parking sensors plus a rear camera, LED headlights, heated front seats, keyless go, and two-zone climate control, along with a DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation and wireless phone charging.
To this, AMG Line Premium adds keyless entry and an upgraded sound system, while AMG Line Premium Plus has adaptive headlights, a panoramic opening sunroof and electrically adjustable front seats.
Alternatives to the Mercedes CLA
The Audi A3 saloon is packed with tech and looks sharp, plus it comes with some great engines and an incredibly user-friendly cabin, but dynamically, it’s pretty average.
If driving pleasure is important, the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé also comes with some excellent engines and has a high-quality interior. The Mazda 3 Fastback offers a superb driving experience and a large boot, but while a small line-up counts against it, the interior is plush and it looks the part.
The Hyundai i30 Fastback doesn’t have the Merc’s cachet, but it looks great, offers decent value and has a long warranty. It isn’t as posh inside as the Mercedes, but the i30 is a very good car, even if the badge won’t impress the neighbours.
What to look for
Every CLA engine – petrol and diesel – is Euro 6-compliant, so you won’t have to pay to drive in any Clean Air Zones.
The CLA 250e’s electric range is officially up to 43 miles, but this is speed and temperature-dependent; it can be as little as 30 miles in winter.
All CLAs have a tyre repair kit. Some third-party companies offer space-saver spare wheels, but these won’t fit under the boot floor.
Rattle and hum
The CLA’s build quality is generally impressive, but rattles from the B-pillars and vibrations in the front door trims aren’t unknown.
Mercedes has focused on quality for a long time, but the company really upped its game with the high-tech digital dashboards introduced as the CLA was launched. In addition, there are plenty of premium materials, the infotainment is superb, and comfort levels are impressive.
While rear-seat legroom is fine, headroom is tight, thanks to the sloping roofline, but to boost practicality the rear seatback folds down. With the seats in use, the boot capacity is 505 litres (440 litres for the CLA 250e). Drop the back seat and the space jumps to 1,370 litres, or 1,305 in the CLA 250e; AMG models cut this to just 960.
Most CLAs are petrols, but diesel models are also readily-available. The plug-in hybrid CLA 250e is quite rare, however. Meanwhile, one in five CLAs is a Shooting Brake, while one in eight CLAs is fitted with Merc’s 4MATIC four-wheel drive.
All CLAs need to be serviced every 12 months or 12,500 miles. Rates vary, so shop around; you can get quotes from official dealers via mymercedesservice.co.uk
Services alternate between minor and major, at around £360 and £440 for petrol models; diesels cost a bit more. The big service is the fourth one, which costs around £700-£750, and on top of this you need to budget for fresh brake fluid every two years, at a cost of around £130; the coolant needs to be checked at every service too, and renewed every 10 years or 124,000 miles, at £95. All CLA engines are chain-driven, so there’s no need for any replacement cambelts.
Mercedes has recalled the Mk2 CLA seven times. The first was in October 2020 because some 1.3-litre cars built between October 2019 and June 2020 suffered from turbocharger oil leaks. The second recall came in July 2021; some CLAs built in April and May 2019 had an incorrectly mounted crash sensor.
Several recalls (most of which overlapped with each other) were issued in 2021 because of faulty e-Call systems; CLAs built up to January 2021 were affected. Faulty door locks and electric power steering glitches led to recalls four and five, in January 2022. Two months later, poorly assembled brake calipers were behind recall six, then the most recent campaign was launched in August 2022, because faulty cables were installed in the front doors of some CLAs made in March that year.
Driver Power owner satisfaction
The CLA hasn’t appeared in our Driver Power surveys, but the A-Class has. The Mk4 edition, on which the CLA Mk2 is based, made its Driver Power new-car survey debut in 2020, in 36th place. The following year it crept up to 23rd, then it fell to 30th in 2022, and 39th this year. The high spots were the car’s interior quality and design, the gearbox, brakes and infotainment; high servicing costs were the main downside.