Mercedes CLA (2013-2019) Review
Sleek styling and a striking interior make the Mercedes CLA a desirable - but expensive - small saloon
Strengths & weaknesses
- Striking design
- Good equipment level
- Economical diesel engines
- Cramped rear seats
- High new and used prices
- Can be uncomfortable over bumps but not sporty to drive
The Mercedes CLA is a compact four-door saloon (Mercedes actually calls it a coupe) which doesn't have that many rivals, because it's not expected to sell in great numbers. The alternatives you do have include the Audi A3 saloon and the cheaper VW Jetta. However, the A3 saloon is really the CLA’s closest rival in badge, quality and price.
The CLA is definitely the sportier-looking of the two but that sleek, coupe styling comes at the expense of interior space, especially in the rear. At least the front is spacious and the 470-litre boot is usefully large, although hampered by a high sill and small opening.
With that badge you’d expect the interior to be seriously plush but aside from the standard fake Artico leather trim (which is realistic, but you can feel the difference) it feels a bit plasticky in places and nowhere near the quality of the beautifully finished A3. The dashboard has some stylish touches, such as the propellor-style air vents, but the tablet-style screen in the middle looks like it's been bought from Halfords and stuck on as an afterthought. It’s easy to find a good driving position, though, and the cabin is well insulated from noise.
Like for like, the model costs around £4,000 more than the A-Class hatchback, with which it shares mechanical parts. The extra money doesn’t buy much more standard kit but it’s hardly sparing. Air-conditioning, 18-inch alloy wheels, parking assistance, sports seats and that seven-inch touchscreen media system are all standard. There are just two core trim levels called Sport and AMG Line, the latter costing around £2,000 more.
The model comes with lots of safety equipment including Collision Prevention Assist and has a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating. Do bear in mind, however, that the car was tested in 2013 under a much less challenging test process than the current system. As a result, cars with five-star crash ratings gained in the last couple of years may be notably safer than the CLA.
The CLA is a safe and secure car to drive without being especially rewarding. That said, it has better body control and feels sharper than the A3. Be careful of larger-wheeled versions which feel much firmer, however.
There are no surprises in the engine department with the usual mix of petrol and diesel engines on the table. Although noisy, the 220d auto is the best all-rounder, managing 67.3mpg and, depending which wheels are fitted, costs £20 to tax (for models registered before 1 April 2017). It has enough power for easy overtaking, and is quiet while crusing at a steady speed.
In addition, there’s a seriously quick version called the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45, which cost more than £40,000 when new and the ride is extremely firm - something your passengers might find annoying as they crunch over bumps.