Mercedes CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport Review

DrivingTalk reviews the new Mercedes CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport on UK roads

By Tim Kendall | 9th June 2013

Vital Statistics

  • Model: CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport
  • Engine: 2.1 4cyl turbo-diesel (168hp)
  • Transmission: 7-speed auto
  • Price: £31,555 (£40,845 as tested)
  • 0-60: 8.2 secs
  • Top Speed: 143 mph
  • Economy: 62.8 mpg (combined)
  • Options fitted to test car:
    N/A

DrivingTalk Roadtest: 2013 Mercedes CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport

Mercedes just loves to invent a new niche. And why not. It’s gone well for them in the past, just look at the E-Class based CLS. The original four-door coupe version of Merc’s core three-box saloon is into its second generation, having sold like warmed-through pastries since the original was launched in 2004. That car coined the saloupé/coup-a-loon sector and spawned a load of imitators. And imitation is the highest form of flattery, I think.

So the fact that the new A-Class has put on a sharp suit and gone down the four-door coupé route should come as no surprise. But is the CLA any good?

DSC_0384

Mercedes CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport: What is it?

It’s a mini-me CLS I suppose. With the innards of Mercedes’ not long-since launched A-Class hatchback wrapped in a four-door coupe bodyshell, this is Merc’s latest weapon to tempt a whole new demographic of young-ish types who wouldn’t have considered a Mercedes before. So it’s a front-wheel drive Merc powered by some fairly workmanlike four-cylinder engines. What’s that you say? The glamorous looks are writing cheques the driving experience can’t cash?

Well to an extent, whether the CLA is a car of substance doesn’t matter that much – it’ll have plenty of kerb appeal and will do well in the showroom. That much is a given.

Mercedes CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport

The CLA doesn’t work from every angle

Will it look good on my driveway?

It’s a subjective minefield. But this car’s whole raison-d’être  is the A-Class in a party frock styling – after all, you can get the same underpinnings in a cheaper, less showy package if the three-pointed star turns you on.

Disclaimers about subjectivity and beauty being in the beholder’s eye aside, the CLA is a complex shape. It’s full of concave curves and sweeps and from some angles, looks a little awkward in its proportions. It’s almost as if the designers had to try really, really hard to make a four-door coupé shape shrink down to A-Class size. It works though, as long as you don’t study it for too long.

In the AMG Sport trim tested, adorned as it was with the AMG bodystyling package that consists of more deeply sculpted bumpers, side skirts and 18” alloys wrapped in 225/40 tyres, it certainly looks sharp. Enough to turn heads, judging by the reactions from residents of leafy Weybridge on a Friday afternoon.

Mercedes CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport

Everyone likes a shapely rear end. Don’t they?

What engine does it come with?

This is a 2.1-litre diesel-flavoured CLA, in AMG Sport trim. That’s the top of the CLA tree for now, until the turbocharged full-fat CLA45 AMG version gets here in the autumn. It kicks out 168hp and a decent chunk of torque (350Nm between 1,400 and 3,400rpm).

What’s the CLA’s interior like?

If you like your interiors a bit funky, then the CLA’s cabin will probably please you. Doubtless an expensive focus group has told Mercedes that people want iPads in their cars. Which is probably why there’s a 5.8” tablet-style display sat atop the centre console. It looks a touch aftermarket in execution, but lends the CLA an up-to-the-minute vibe. Whether it’ll look a bit old-hat when something else comes along and renders tablets a bit yesterday, is moot. If you don’t like it, tough – the faux-iPad thing is standard fit and houses the functionality for the sat-nav and stereo. It looks like you can remove it, but you can’t. I tried and it made an expensive creaking noise.

Mercedes CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport interior

An interior for the digital generation: iPad style display comes as standard

Mercedes CLA tablet infotainment screen

The CLA’s standard iPad-style infotainment screen could date quickly

And so moving onto more Mercedes-like subjects. Build quality. Yes there is some build quality in here – and it’s mostly good, but it’s not the last word in bank-vault old-school Mercedes quality. Plastics in the lower half of the dash are less ‘premium’ than the bits you spend more time seeing and touching – but in this sector most manufacturers tend to get a bit cheaper the lower down you look – Audi excepted – so it’s no shocker.

And how about practicality? Well it also has some of that. The boot in particular is surprisingly commodious – it’ll swallow 470 litres of whatever you care to throw in there. A swoopy roofline hampers rear headroom though betraying the CLA’s humble hatchback origins. You could stick a couple of business colleagues back there, but if it’s for anything longer than a lunchtime jaunt to the sandwich shop, they’ll be launching a personal injury claim before you can say risk assessment.

Is the Mercedes CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport any good to drive?

Yes and no.

Yes in that it steers tightly and accurately, as most new Mercs do. And it performs pretty well through the mid-range, as any self-respecting turbo’d oil-burner should. That provides ample punch for overtaking less thrusting types in conventionally-proportioned hatchbacks. And if you want to push on, the CLA will play ball. It certainly doesn’t say ‘don’t be silly, I’ll fetch your slippers’ if you decide you want to drive it like you’ve half-inched it. Also good is the seven-speed automatic, which changes smoothly and imperceptibly much of the time, although it can get caught napping if you ask it to do a merry dance through several ratios at once via the steering-wheel mounted paddles.

And the no part? Well the 2.1-litre diesel is not the most refined unit, with a noticeable clatter that slightly undermines the smooth and sophisticated demeanour the CLA’s sultry styling projects. But it won’t present a problem to those used to diesel motoring – and that’s most of the population it would seem. The economy too, is strong for the class – returning an impressive 62.8mpg on the combined cycle.

Mercedes CLA steering wheel

The CLA steers accurately

Pudding or soufflé? Does the Mercedes CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport handle?

Right. Imagine if you will, a better world. A keen driver’s utopia, where all the (lightly trafficked) roads are brand new. A world where all the tarmac is freshly laid, without so much as a dimple with which to corrupt even the sportiest-riding S-Line Audi. Were such a world to materialise, the CLA would indeed be an impressive handler. It would rise near to the top of the class.

But alas, this is 21st century Blighty and our roads are buggered. And this for me, proved to be the CLA’s undoing. The ride, on the AMG’s sport suspension was just too jiggly. It’s firm but without the compliance over road scars and sunken manhole covers. It just doesn’t quite deal with our uniquely crap roads. It’s far from terrible, but it does become irksome after a short while. Spec the comfort suspension and things are a little bit better, but it’s still a bit too choppy.

Mercedes CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport roadtest

The CLA is pretty firm in AMG Sport spec….

 

Options fitted to test car:

Panoramic sunroof, reversing camera, Distronic radar-guided cruise control, electric and heated front seats, Blind Spot Assist and Lane-Keeping Assist, intelligent lighting system (Bi-xenon  headlamps with active cornering and high-beam assist, LED daytime running lights)

Here’s a Mercedes CLA video with some edgy drum and bass

Mercedes CLA picture gallery

Mercedes-Benz UK website

Mercedes CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport roadtest

Mercedes CLA 220 CDI AMG Sport Review

  • Performance: 7/10
  • Ride & Handling: 6/10
  • Economy: 8/10
  • Equipment: 7/10
  • Want one factor: 6/10

The Verdict

You can tell Mercedes is trying hard to woo younger buyers with the CLA. And subjectively at least, it’s succeeded in that respect. The CLA will be a hit with aspirational types who love the mini-CLS styling but have a tighter budget. Dynamically, it’s a bit of a curate’s egg, especially on the sport suspension – but that won’t stop it flying off the shelves as fast as Merc can build it. Mercedes has gone its own way with the CLA and it deserves to do well. But there are better cars out there to drive, for the same or less money.

Summary

  • Handles sharply, looks different
  • Rides poorly on sports suspension

By Tim Kendall
9th June 2013

Comments

  1. Steph says:

    I like the pedals. Cute.

  2. Les says:

    Wow! what a car, love it! And a very well written piece.

  3. M Smythe says:

    yup, Mercedes have got it right!

  4. Danno says:

    Love it, in fact mines arriving in March i simply can’t wait!!

  5. H says:

    HAVE HAD A 220 CDI AMG IN RED WITH BLACK LAETHER INTERIOR A REAL LOOKER SINCE SEPT 2013 , DRIVES VERY WELL AROUUND TOWN AND ON MOTORWAY, GIVES GOOD FUEL USE FIGURES , HAD 520 BMW BEFORE FIRST MERC I HAVE HAD

  6. Dotty says:

    Have just bought a 16 plate and absolutely love it…..a real girly car.
    It is a bit noisy when driven but looks outweigh any negatives.

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