Mercedes-Benz CLA 200: Exemplary Driving Dynamics

Mercedes-Benz has had a long history of producing top notch automobiles, a love affair that started at the industrialization of the 20th century in the 1920s that eventually culminated into a world brand, known for its luxurious automobiles and representing Germany’s world famous trio along with BMW and Audi. The CLA-Class is a new breed of vehicle to join the Mercedes-Benz stables, having only been showcased to the world in 2012 as the Concept Style Coupe and eventually into production form in 2013, merely a year on from the unveiling of the concept car. Eager customers took delivery of the CLA-Class in various engine and trim configurations from September 2013, and it took only 6 months for this new compact Merc to reach our shores.

Only two variants are being offered for sale by Mercedes-Benz Malaysia (MBM), namely the affordable CLA 200 (RM235,888) and recently introduced CLA 45 AMG. RM236k nets you a car with a healthy turbocharged 156PS engine, while the CLA 45 AMG scorcher burns tarmac with 360PS on tap out of a twin-scroll turbocharged 2-liter powerhouse. The car being reviewed here is the ligther of the two, featuring a fuel efficient M 270 DE 16 AL 1.6-liter 4-banger with Camtronic to eke out 156PS @ 5,000rpm and 250Nm of twist between 1,250-4,000rpm mated to a 7G-Tronic dual clutch transmission to move 1,430kg of mass. The aforesaid figures allow the CLA 200 to complete the century dash in around 8.5s on to an admirable top speed of 230km/h. Part of the car’s relatively good performance also stems from the fact that the CLA 200’s coefficient of drag is a very low 0.23. An even lower Cd=0.22 is claimed for the yet to be launched CLA 180 Blue Efficiency with revised A-pillars among other wind-cheating revisions, but it remains to be seen if we will ever get to see this iteration on domestic shores.

Mercedes-Benz CLA 200: Resembling the Looks of a Million Dollar car

This isn’t the first time that MBM has introduced a brand new variant that dips below RM300,000, undercutting the marque’s bread and butter C-Class variants by a fair margin and clearly firing a salvo at the competition with all guns blazing. The recently unveiled reimagined A-Class currently goes on record as being the most affordable Mercedes-Benz one could buy directly from the manufacturer in this country. Having said that, the A-Class appeals to a different set of buyers, a group that values performance over looks; while the front of the A-Class looks very distinguished, the rear of the car doesn’t do much for the brand in terms of prestige and snob appeal, unlike its pricier cousin being reviewed here. Where the A-Class looks like a typical Continental hot hatch from the hind quarters, the CLA-Class inherits its rear design from the more exotic variants in M-Benz’s lineup, i.e., the latter looks more Mercedes than the former. Even in front, the A-Class carries a more hot hatch look while the CLA-Class looks like a page taken out of the SL-Class’ docket. Some may prefer the sportier look of the A-Class while others may opt for the classier, retro-inspired CLA-Class. Horses for courses as they say. our Senior Writer prefer the latter design maybe because age is catching up, but in his defense, if he’s to buy a Mercedes-Benz it had better look like one!

From the side of the CLA 200, you will notice the references to a shooting brake design, albeit with four doors instead of two. The finely sculpted side profile gives prominence to the front, juxtaposed by a very gentle sloping roofline that extends to the back, where we can see the inferences to classic coupe styling. Short windows and high doors lend a hand in creating an illusion of a low-slung roof, but get inside and you will realize that it’s not that low after all. The provided 18-inch 5-twin-spoke alloy wheels in high sheen black finish adds a dose of bling and class to the side profile of the CLA 200, filling up the sizeable wheel arches nicely.

Right round the back, the flowing shoulder lines of the car come together to unite the rear combination lights, which are one of the most attractive tail lights on any car, let alone any Mercedes-Benz. The fiery eyes of the CLA 200’s rearlights set them apart from most cars on the road while being unmistakably a Benz. For lack of a better term, the CLA 200 indeed does have a sexy butt. The combination of curves and lines at the rear solidify the rear stance of the car, which is one of beauty and brawn rolled into one.

Inside the Mercedes-Benz CLA 200

The retro design doesn’t stop here. Those familiar with the interior design of the A-Class will immediately recognize what’s cooking inside the CLA-Class, for they are nearly identical, save for subtle nuances here and there. The attractive, circular air vents are uncommon in today’s vehicles, taking a cue directly from Mercedes-Benz’ SL/SLK/SLS range of dream machines. Craftily, Mercedes-Benz fashioned the interior of the CLA-Class to give owners a taste of the good life minus the hefty price tag, perhaps to offer up and coming hotshots a taste of luxury and a clear upgrade path for the future.

The cockpit features a minimalist design with just a simple console under the center air vents to control a multitude of functions including radio/disc, navigation, wireless telephony and a button to cycle between Sport, Eco and Manual drive modes. Under the center console, the CLA 200’s budget aspirations begin to show, in the form of a fully manual climate control system, which is fine and dandy, considering the extensive list of accoutrement for relative chump change.

In the pilot’s seat, a solid and well-designed steering greets your eager hands. Take a moment to relish the cross-stitched Nappa-leather clad steering with perforations at the crucial 9-3 o’clock positions. Part of driving pleasure comes from a comfortable steering wheel, and this regard the CLA 200 felt every bit a Mercedes-Benz as its more expensive siblings. Look beyond the steering wheel and feast your eyes on the highly legible meter cluster with a very useful multi-information display that details the car’s operating parameters. An optimistic speedo goes all the way to 260km/h, which is 30km/h higher than the car’s rated top speed. An equally optimistic tacho redlines at around 6,250rpm, which is a good 1,250rpm above the engine’s max output at 5,000rpm.

The electrically-adjustable front seats are again similar to what you would find in an A-Class hatch, which are of the semi-bucket variety with excellent grip and ergonomics. The unified headrest, while looking great, also gives the CLA 200 extra street credibility. Over at the back, headroom is compromised due to the lovely sloping roofline, but unless you’re over 6’5” tall, your head will not touch the roof; the claustrophobic effect is merely academic. Also, the rear seats sit two adults rather comfortably, with the seat squabs offering reasonably good support. Meantime, the unified headrest design from the front continues at the back, albeit not as pronounced.

Mercedes-Benz CLA 200: Cruisin’ in the 1.6

The CLA 200 is not the most comfortable cruiser on our pothole ridden tarmac, owing partly to the use of Bridgestone Potenza RE050A RFT (Run Flat Tyres) in 225/40 R18 configuration. RFTs are notorious for their stiff handling and unforgiving nature, but in return you get a set of rubbers that stick to the tarmac with nary a squeak while charging hard into a corner. The chassis is also very well put together, the kind of chassis that you would expect from a Mercedes-Benz, regardless of price point. Having said that, the CLA isn’t sprung like a regular sedan within the marque, feeling more like a track-inspired machine than a boss’ daily driver, which is ironic, or perhaps a deliberate attempt to tempt customers away from the other German marques eschewing performance above everything else.

The turbocharged M 270 DE 16 AL engine does a half decent job of pulling in excess of 1.4 tons of metal. In Eco mode, the 7G-tronic dual clutch transmission tends to react a little too sedately for the writer’s tastes, in its program attempt at making every ounce of fuel count. However, once he managed to overcome the idiosyncrasies of Eco mode, all that needed to be done was to take a moment to anticipate the late kickdown to take things up a notch.

On takeoffs, the seven forward ratios are spaced narrow enough for a quick getaway, but once past 120km/h the relatively conservative output of the engine begins to show up. Sure, it will get up to 230km/h. Eventually. The thing is, the chassis and suspension setup are able to take a lot more punishment which the frugal 1.6-liter isn’t really up to the task. The writer thinks the 360PS CLA A45 AMG will really liven things up and properly test the limits of his testosterone. Then again, the CLA A45 AMG comes with 4MATIC all-wheel drive and a Speedshift DCT 7-speeder and AMG sports suspension.

The audio system in the CLA 200 deserves a paragraph on its own so here goes. The Audio 20 CD system in the car features Bluetooth connectivity, CD player with an optional 6-disc changer, RDS tuner and traffic information decoder, integrated 14.7cm TFT color screen. Although no official figures are available, the writer believes there are at least 7 speakers on board, with what he believes is a center speaker built into the dash. Sound quality has always been a feature in Mercedes-Benz cars, and the CLA 200 did not disappoint, even with its modest asking price. Bass was tight and well controlled, vocals were sweet and well defined and it plays LOUD without losing composure. Part of the trick of a good ICE system is the insulation for the doors, and you could play the system rather loud without any unwelcome rattling. If I had to nitpick, I’d say the audio system in the Lexus ES250 had a slightly more open soundstage, but for dance and electronic music, the system in the CLA 200 is really something else.

As a reviewer, our time spent with any car is limited to a couple of days tops. And every once in a while we get to try out a car that is really special, a car that we’d hope to be able to keep for a couple more days just because. The Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 is one of those cars. The combination of stunning good looks, impressive kit list and superb handling make this car one of the most memorable rides we’ve ever been in. But, here’s the catch, due to the comfortable asking price of RM235,888, the waiting period for a Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 is approximately 12 months.

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