2015 Mercedes CLA Test Drive Review
2015 Mercedes CLA – Click above for high resolution picture gallery

Mercedes CLA Review

Car Tested: 2015 Mercedes CLA

Price OTR Mumbai: Rs. 41.01 – 46.69 lakhs

The Mercedes CLA has massive visual appeal and is a very well rounded package

Thinking out of the box and understanding the market preferences ahead of time is vital to an automobile manufacturer’s success. In a diverse country like India, this is no less than a daunting task. So when a couple of years ago Mercedes-Benz bet on the compact luxury segment, many were no less than bewildered at the thought. However, the success of the A-Class made its German counterparts look into the matter more seriously and the competition launched a slew of products to compete in this segment. With the sedan body-type being a favourite for fellow Indians, Audi launched the A3 sedan last year. Mercedes-Benz had its most successful year in 2014, having retailed more than 10,000 cars, a first in the Stuttgart based manufacturer’s history in the country. But barely before the dust has settled, the company is keen to carry the momentum in 2015 with the launch of the CLA. We drove the swanky new CLA in Goa to understand this Audi A3 rival better.

Motor Quest: The CLA was first shown as a concept at the 2012 Beijing Auto Show and the response was so good that the Germans put it into production the very next year. Launched in 2013 in Europe and America, the CLA saw huge success in little time. Currently the initial units sold in India will be CBUs but Mercedes-Benz has plans to assemble all MFA platform cars at their Chakan facility soon.

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Sharp lines running across the car give it a very sporty and dynamic stance

Exteriors – The CLA, without a doubt, the most gorgeous of the MFA cars. Wagner’s new design language seems to suit the CLA best. Flowing distinctive lines and the coupe profile makes it very pleasing to the eye with a solid road presence. The front styling is similar to the A-Class with the wide front grille and the large three pointed star. The CLA gets the same 302 pin diamond grille but this time the company has gone for black pins which adds a touch of elegance to the package. The hood gets two large sculpted lines (powerdomes in Merc speak) which adds a lot of sportiness to the package. The design involves sharp sculpted lines which flow to the side to give a wide distinct shoulder. The coupe roof with the wide shoulder makes the stance very sporty and adds a sense of motion even when it’s standing still. The silhouette of the side profile has a striking resemblance to the CLS. Add to that the frameless windows and the ‘wow’ factor gets further amplified.

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Coupe styling and frameless windows add to the style quotient of the CLA

The flowing lines continue along the side profile and create a 3D effect when light falls on it to make it look very dynamic. 17-inch silver and grey finish 5-spoke alloys complement the sporty profile. The CLA is the most aerodynamic series production car currently with a COD of only 0.25. To achieve this feat, Mercedes-Benz has extensively tested the car in the wind tunnel and the vehicle has been optimised to reduce drag. To achieve this, the wheel arches have vents which maximize the air flow while reducing drag. The under body has scuff plates which direct the under body air flow in a favourable manner. The wheelbase is 62 mm longer than the Audi A3 which translates into more legroom for the rear bench. The rear profile is the most striking. The way the shoulder line integrates around the boot and the detailed LED tail lamp cluster go on to show how meticulously the design has been thought of. Dual chrome exhausts add to the sporty touch. If style is what you crave, the CLA delivers in plenty. The CLA will be initially available in three colours only, namely red, white and silver.

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CLA has an option of either beige or black interior layout, build quality is excellent

Interiors – The interiors of the CLA have been derived from the A-Class but there are a few differences and improvements. The dashboard layout is more or less the same but Mercedes-Benz has equipped the CLA with the latest 5th generation telematics infotainment system which now has a bigger high resolution colour screen. Navigation is standard and needs a Garmin SD Card to be placed in the slot to be functional. We tried it around Goa and it works like a charm. The infotainment screen also works for the reverse camera which not only shows guide lines but can be toggled to show a 3-angle reverse display. Vehicle settings can be scrolled through the menu in a similar way to the new C-Class. The CLA comes with a high-end Harman Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system which thumps superb sound through its 12 speakers and amplifier. This Dolby Digital 5.1 system has an output of 450 watts. The infotainment system supports Bluetooth streaming, CD and USB. Mercedes-Benz has added an additional USB port (in the front central armrest) over the A-Class, so there are two ports now.

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The CLA gets new 5th generation telematics with a high resolution colour screen

The dashboard has a silver finished insert (similar to the GLA) with the turbine shaped air vents we love. The AC is powerful but there is no climate control on offer, nor are there rear seat vents. Build quality, fit and finish is the usual we see with the Mercedes cars, simply fantastic with tons of attention to detail. Mercedes-Benz is offering an all black and a black and beige interior colour arrangement. The lighter beige layout makes the cabin feel larger than it is but we rather settle for the all black arrangement. The front seats look sporty with the integrated headrest and comes with electronic adjustment with memory function and lumbar support. The front seats are quite supportive with good lateral support but under thigh support for both the rows is strictly average. The rear seat is surprisingly spacious for a coupe body-style and this is owed to a marginally longer wheelbase.

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Rear space is decent due to a longer wheelbase and scooped out front seatback

Also, the rear portion of the front seat is scooped out for additional knee room. There is decent legroom at the rear but the sloping roofline robs away headroom for even average heighted passengers. The small rear windows and the integrated headrest of the front seat does make it a little claustrophobic behind but matters are greatly helped by the panoramic sunroof which makes the rear seat feel slightly airy and adds some headroom but not sufficient enough. The sunroof is designed to close automatically in case of rain (it is connected to the rain sensor for the wipers). The high transmission tunnel makes it difficult for a third adult to squeeze in thereby making the rear seat ideal for two kids. Mercedes-Benz has provided an additional adjustable headrest for the third passenger but this obstructs the view in the rear view mirror. Central armrest with cup holders has been provided (unlike the A-Class).

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Boot space is decent at 470-litres but spare tyre placement robs usability

The boot size is average with good depth but vertical height is a little less owning to the sloping bootlid. However, the rear seats fold in 60:40 ratio to enhance space for bigger items. Mercedes-Benz is offering a space saver, which is a good move owning to our road conditions but this is placed in the boot (above the tray) and takes away a lot of space. Amongst the bells and whistles is ambient lighting to set the mood at night. The multi functional steering wheel now has new buttons which feel good. Mercedes-Benz has also made changes to the multi-information display which now gives fuel efficiency figures in km/l rather than the conventional litres/100 km. The gear lever stock on the steering gives the central console a clean look with sufficient space for odds and ends.

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The 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine is our pick in the performance department

Performance – The CLA will be powered by the same petrol and diesel engines doing duty on the GLA. We spent most of our time behind the wheel of the petrol powered car. Under the hood of the CLA 200 (petrol) is a 1991cc, inline 4-cylinder engine which produces 181 BHP of power at 5500 RPM and 300 NM torque between 1200-1400 RPM. Torque is available right from 1200 RPM, which means there is absolutely no lag and power delivery is linear. Coupled with this engine is a dual clutch, 7-speed gearbox which is quite responsive. Surprisingly, the same gearbox in the GLA feels a tad slow but it seems like it works brilliantly in the CLA. Power is available throughout the rev band with a strong mid-range and top-end. Aerodynamic efficiency and the energy recuperation help the CLA deliver an ARAI certified fuel efficiency of 15.04 km/l. NVH levels are in check at all times with barely any engine sound, wind noise or tyre noise creeping into the cabin. Rev the nuts of this motor and it has a very sporty whine which will encourage you to push hard.

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Acceleration is brisk but the gearbox is’int the quickest in the segment

The performance of the CLA 200 is quite impressive and the 181 horses on tap are quite eager to be pushed hard. A 0- 100 km/hr dash comes in a quick 7.8 seconds. Floor the pedal to the metal and this Merc takes off quickly and you are beyond triple digit speeds in quick time. Overtaking on the highway is easy owning to the responsive gearbox. Spank the throttle and the CLA will quickly downshift in the requisite gear (based on speed and RPM) and dart off ahead. The paddle shifts not only add to the snob value but work well when you push the car to the limit.

The petrol CLA is likely to appeal to enthusiasts while the diesel mill is tuned for fuel efficiency

The diesel powered CLA 200 CDI is powered by a 2143cc, 4-cylinder turbocharged oilburner which produces 134 BHP between 3600-4400 RPM and a peak torque of 300 Nm between 1600-300 RPM. Torque is available in a wide band which contributes to better drivability. There is absolutely no turbo lag whatsoever and power delivery is very linear. The low and mid-range are good but power fades off quickly as you reach near the redline. Drive this CLA in the torque band and it drives like a charm. The 134 horses may seem less on paper but real world performance is pretty decent. The CLA 200 CDI will hit 100 km/hr from standstill in just 9.8 seconds which is impressive for an engine tuned for fuel efficiency. Similar to the petrol version, even this diesel comes mated to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. This transmission might not be the fastest in its segment but is more than capable of getting the job done. Gear shifts are smooth and brisk. Although this car is noisy on the outside, the cabin insulation does filter the diesel clatter for good. The ARAI certified fuel efficiency of the CLA 200 CDI is 17.9 km/l.

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The petrol and diesel models do 0-100 km/hr in 7.8 and 9.8 seconds respectively

Mercedes-Benz has positioned the petrol model for the enthusiasts and the ones who crave for efficiency will find solace in the diesel powered CLA. In both cases, power is channelled to the front wheels and there are three driving modes, ‘E’ (Economy), ‘S’ (Sport) and ‘M’ (Manual). In the ‘E’ mode, the transmission shifts early thereby conserving fuel and delivering better fuel efficiency. In the ‘S’ mode, the gearing becomes more aggressive while in the ‘M’ or manual mode, once can shift cogs through the paddles on the steering wheel. The CLA also gets ‘Auto Start/Stop’ which can lead to savings on fuel up to 6%. As with Formula 1, today’s road cars also feature similar technology used in the pinnacle of motorsport. The CLA comes with brake energy recuperation (similar to KERS in F1). The kinetic energy generated while braking is stored in the battery resulting in less load on the alternator thus conserving fuel.

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Ride quality is simply exceptional, ground clearance has been raised for India

Driving Dynamics – If the A-Class is anything to go by, you would expect the CLA to be in the same league when it comes to ride and handling but we were in for a surprise. The suspension of the A-Class is more stiffly sprung and Mercedes seems to have figured the perfect balance in setting up the CLA. Ride quality is simply phenomenal, whatever the roads, whatever maybe the speed. The CLA absorbs most of the bumps and undulations and barely anything is felt inside the cabin. Both front and rear passengers will vouch for the brilliant ride quality. Even badly broken roads did not ruffle the CLA. Another huge improvement made for the Indian spec car was raising the ground clearance to ensure its underbelly stays clear of kissing the road. To put this to test, we tried going over speed-breakers of different sizes and shapes, first at slow speed, then faster and the CLA managed to stay clear of all these and passed with flying colours. This is a huge improvement since our country is having bad and broken roads in excess.

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Handling and braking is very good too and the Mercedes CLA is fun to drive

Having set-up such a promising ride quality, you would be compelled to think that the handling would have been compromised but it seems like Mercedes has hit a sweet spot between the two. Handling is very predictable with good feedback from the steering. The petrol version seems to be better when it comes to pushing it to the limit. The steering weighs up quite well at high speeds but is reasonably light when it comes to manoeuvring in tight spots in the city. Being a front-wheel drive, the CLA copes well when pushed hard around the corners. The petrol variant is more nippy of the two while the diesel, being front heavy (60 kgs to be exact), is not a match for its petrol sibling. Even the steering feel of the diesel at high speeds is a bit wavered when you compare the two. The tyres offer sufficient grip to ensure the car stays glued to the road. Our test car on 245/45/17 Continental rubber had sufficient grip up its sleeve. Push it beyond its limit and you will notice understeer creeping in but it is well controlled. High speed stability deserves a special mention. The cabin is so well insulated that you can barely know the speeds you are doing. Body roll is well controlled and the CLA isn’t as sharp as its hatchback counterpart. Stopping power is good with the all four disc brakes. Standing on the brakes at 100 km/hr, the CLA stops without any drama.

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Like all Mercs, the CLA too gets a host of safety equipment as standard

Safety and After Sales Service – The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is certified 5 stars in safety by Euro NCAP. Safety features include six Airbags, ABS with EBD, ESP (you can’t turn it off), Adaptive Braking, Hill Hold, Acceleration Skid Control (ASC), Tyre Pressure Monitoring, Pre-Safe & Attention Assist. Mercedes-Benz has the largest dealership network in the country when it comes to the luxury segment and will add another 15 outlets in 2015. Mercedes-Benz is also the only luxury car manufacturer to offer a standard 3-year warranty on all its cars. The company has also worked to minimize the service cost for all MFA cars and claims that the routine service cost for the CLA comes to only Rs 1.99 per km for the first 20,000 kms.

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It might be Mercedes’ entry-level sedan in India but it’s a compelling package

Verdict – The CLA is a perfect entry level sedan from the three pointed star. With the C-Class having moved up a segment, the CLA fits into its shoes perfectly. Both the petrol and diesel engines offer good grunt keeping the fuel economy in mind with the petrol more performance oriented of the two. Again if it’s only raw performance you seek, there is also the CLA45 AMG on sale. The CLA is one of those cars which is practical to use and will still massage your ego. Targeted at young buyers, the owners will prefer the front seat than be chauffeur driven. Drop dead gorgeous design, great attention to detail, host of features on board, the CLA seems to be set to be another success story from the house of Mercedes-Benz.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA picks up where the old C-Class left off. Gorgeous design with a host of features adds a lot of value to the package. The CLA will surely get you noticed with its oomph and exceptional style. A truly rounded package, the CLA will surely find success for the Stuttgart based manufacturer.

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Framless doors are one of the coolest design elements on the CLA

What’s Cool

* Design and style
* Build quality
* Ride quality
* Performance (Petrol)

What’s Not So Cool

* Rear Space
* Under powered diesel engine

Alternatives: Audi A3

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The CLA will fight it out with the Audi A3 in India, it has no rival from BMW yet

Mercedes-Benz CLA Specifications

* Engine: 1991cc, 4-Cylinder (Petrol), 2143cc, 4-Cylinder (Diesel)
* Power: 181 BHP @ 5500 RPM (Petrol), 134 BHP @ 3600-4400 RPM (Diesel)
* Torque: 300 Nm @ 1200-1400 RPM (Petrol), 300 Nm @ 1600-3000 RPM (Diesel)
* Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic
* 0-100 km/hr: 7.8 seconds (Petrol), 9.8 seconds (Diesel)
* Top Speed: 235 km/hr (Petrol), 220 km/hr (Diesel)
* Fuel Consumption: 15.04 km/l (Petrol), 17.90 km/l (Diesel) (ARAI claimed)
* Fuel Type: Petrol, Diesel
* Suspension: Coil spring gas pressure with SDD
* Tyres: 225/45/17
* Brakes: All 4 Discs, ABS, EBD
* Safety: Six Airbags, ABS, EBD, ASC, ESP, Hill Hold, Pre-Safe, Attention Assist

Mercedes-Benz CLA Dimensions

* Overall length x width x height: 4630 mm X 1777 mm X 1432 mm
* Wheelbase: 2699 mm
* Turning Radius: 5.5 metres
* Ground clearance: 160 mm (est.)
* Boot Space: 470 litres
* Fuel Tank Capacity: 55-litres
* Kerb Weight: 1510 kgs (Petrol), 1570 kgs (Diesel)

Further Reading –

Mercedes CLA45 AMG Review
Mercedes GLA Review

Picture Editing – Sri Manikanta Achanta