Mercedes CLA-class (C117)


Debut: 2013
Maker: Mercedes-Benz
Predecessor: No



 Published on 4 Apr 2013 All rights reserved. 


The rising trend of German premium manufacturers, i.e. Mercedes, BMW and Audi, keeps going in the past decade or two, and it has no signs to end in the foreseeable future. Premium cars should have been relatively exclusive in order to keep the premium prices they ask, but the German is clever to avoid the bottleneck by expanding to different segments. When they have occupied all existing segments, they start inventing new segments. That is why we see new concepts like "Sportback", "4-door coupe", "Gran Turismo" and "Shooting Brake" in recent years.

The front-wheel-drive MFA (Modular Front Architecture) platform is crucial to drive the expansion of Mercedes-Benz. Last year, its first product B-class sold 150,000 copies. When production of new A-class picks up, their combined sales could reach 300,000 units. In addition to the new CLA, the forthcoming CLA Shooting Brake and GLA compact SUV, one can see the MFA cars will have a potential volume exceeding 500,000 units a year!



The new CLA is really eye-catching. You may call it a four-door coupe version of A-class, or simply a mini CLS. It shares the slim front end with A-class, but thereafter it differs completely. A swoopy roof line tops four heavily tapered frameless windows to deliver a coupe proportion. Heavy sculpture at the sides and the banana shape of side glass add further to its sporty aesthetic. Undoubtedly, this striking look will make it a big hit on the market!

Equally impressive is aerodynamics. The streamline shape, underbody paneling, aero-enhanced mirrors and wheels all contribute to the drag coefficient of 0.23, which overtakes the E-class Coupe's 0.24 to set a new world record for production cars. Entry-level CLA180 BlueEfficiency Edition is even sleeker at 0.22. Mercedes proves that great designs do not necessarily compromise aerodynamics.

Strangely, although the CLA apparently sits under C-class in Mercedes family rank, it is actually slightly larger – some 40 mm longer and 7 mm wider. Never mind, the next generation C-class will grow larger again like its rival 3-Series and A4, so it will liberate space for the CLA. Thanks to its cheaper FF architecture, all-four-cylinder motors (no six will be offered) and extensive component sharing with its MFA siblings, not to mention the fact that it is produced in Hungary, the CLA is destined to be the most affordable Mercedes saloon and attract younger customers to the Mercedes-Benz ownership, something like the original 190E. The USA is expected to be its largest market. For years Mercedes USA has been requesting a sub-$30,000 model to be sold. Now its prayer has been answered.


Contrary to visual impression, the CLA has the same width, height and wheelbase as A-class. However, the extra curvature of its body shell eats into cabin room, so it is even more cramped than the hatchback. The front is okay, but rear passengers suffer from a tight headroom and shortage of legroom. Six footers will find the rear seats merely bearable for short trips. Moreover, outward visibility, especially to the sides and rear, is seriously hampered by the shallow glass, thus it feels rather claustrophobic. Besides, entry to the rear seat is made difficult by the seriously sloping C-pillars. Perhaps that is a good reason for owners to upgrade to C-class following the growth of their children and incomes.

The dashboard, center console and pretty much all the interior are carried over from the A-class. On the plus side this mean attractive styling, good ergonomics and not lack of comfort/safety features. On the flip side, some plastics under sight level and on the doors are rather cheap for the premium prices it asks. An Audi A3 interior looks higher quality.

The boot has a large volume of 470 liters, but the high sill and small opening compromise accessibility.


Predictably, the CLA shares most mechanicals with A-class, including engines, transmissions, suspension and steering. On paper, they look highly advanced. For example, the 2-liter turbo engine on CLA250 has piezo direct injection, twin-variable cam phasing, twin-balancer shafts, on-demand lubrication/cooling and automatic stop-start. It produces 211 horsepower and as much as 258 pound-foot of torque to enable 0-60 mph to be done in 6.4 seconds, while top speed is nearly 150 mph. The 2.1-liter turbo diesel on CLA220CDI is punchy (170 hp / 258 lbft) yet super economical (67 mpg combined, 109 g/km of CO2). The 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox, variable-ratio electrical power steering, (optional) 4matic 4WD system with Haldex electromagnetic multi-plate clutch and multi-link rear suspensions are also classy features. The car certainly has all ingredients to excel.

Unfortunately, like the A-class, it doesn't work as well in reality. Despite of great performance figures, the CLA250 doesn't feel as quick on the road. This is due to a number of reasons: a dull soundtrack, a flat torque curve and lack of enthusiasm for rev. The twin-clutch gearbox also lacks sparkle because its gearshift is too slow, no matter in manual or auto mode. There is a frustrating delay between hitting the paddles and the actual gear engagement. Perhaps the Mercedes-built gearbox was designed at a tight budget, or perhaps simply because Mercedes lacks experience in this technology. The diesel engine works fine normally, but it is old-school noisy at both idle and high rev. In short, the powertrain lacks polish.


The sporty appearance of CLA might suggest a stiffer suspension setup. However, as the A-class is already criticized for having a harsh ride, Mercedes has to set the CLA softer. It fitted larger rubber bushings at its subframe and retuned the damping to be more forgiving. Does it work? On regular roads, yes, it does ride smoother and quieter. On poorer surfaces, it is still too firm to be comfortable. How about the Sport suspension option? Even harsher. You had better to avoid it unless you regularly drive on Autobahn-grade motorway. With the standard suspension, the CLA still displays good body control, grip and resistance to understeer, but it is not especially agile or communicative. The variable-ratio steering is reassuringly quick and precise but never feelsome. Overall, the car feels composed and obedient but rather uninteresting to drive. Even by the standard of front-wheel-drive cars, it is not especially entertaining.

Therefore, the CLA is far from perfect. Its dynamic aspect is a let down considering its sporty pretensions. Its strongest selling point is the beautiful shape. Everything else is not quite as remarkable. If you cannot resist its beauty, choosing a lower power model with manual gearbox and standard suspension will be the smartest buy.
Verdict: 
 Published on 27 Jul 2013 All rights reserved. 
CLA45 AMG


AMG is going to sell 30,000 cars worldwide this year, of which 10,000 will be the new CLA45 AMG. It goes without saying that the CLA45 AMG is the twins-sister of A45 AMG. They share the same MFA platform, the same M133 four-cylinder turbo engine with a jaw-dropping 360 horsepower, the same 7-speed DCT gearbox, the same 4-wheel-drive system, the same heavily-modified suspensions, brakes and steering etc. Even the 0-60 mph claim is identical at 4.4 seconds. You can see them as the same wine contained in different bottles. The only question is: which bottle looks nicer?

That depends on your view. CLA is a striking design and the AMG version is no exception. It is a miracle that the family hatch basis can be derived into a CLS-4-door-coupe lookalike. On the downside, its waterdrop proportion has its visual mass concentrated to the front thus is not as well balanced as the A45. Moreover, the CLA45 doesn't look remarkably different to the lesser CLA models, so if what you pursue is a stylish coupe look, you can save the money and go for the regular CLA. If you want to the ultimate expression of hardcore performance, I would say the A45 is the smarter choice.

The same goes for the driving experience. Although both cars are mechanically equivalent, there are still minor differences in tuning. The CLA45's largest market is to be the United States, so it is tuned to the taste of American customers, hence a slightly softer suspension and a quieter exhaust note. The differences might be small, but enough to separate a good driver's car from a great one. Because more softness has been built into its suspension, it reacts a little less keenly to your steering input and less crisply to road bumps. Don't get me wrong, its ride quality is still hardcore compared with most other rivals in the mid-price 4-seater coupe class, so no one will cross-shop it with a BMW 4-Series coupe. Meanwhile, the A45's pops and crackles in exhaust sound is toned down to make it easier to live with, but the CLA basis is still hardly a good example for refinement.



To American buyers who have no knowledge about A45, they may be pleased with the CLA45's astonishing pace, all-weather traction and a handling beating any Audis S or RS-badge cars with transverse engine. However, the old BMW 1-Series M is more fun to drive. Ditto the crude but V8-powered Ford Mustang Boss 302. BMW 435i is a better all-rounder even though it is nowhere as fast. You might say the AMG has the advantage of offering four doors and four full-size seats, but its rear seats are not as easy to get in and as roomy as genuine sedans like 335i. This mean its rivals should be actually coupes.

Moreover, the CLA45 is very expensive, i.e. 10 percent more than the A45 and even more than 435i. Add a few desirable options and it will be in the territory of M3! For a family hatch-based model powered a four-cylinder engine, its value is really questionable, especially when it is not as thrilling to drive as the cheaper A45.
Verdict:
Specifications





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power

Max torque

Transmission
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)

0-100 mph (sec)
CLA220CDI
2013
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4630 / 1777 / 1432 mm
2699 mm
Inline-4, diesel
2143 cc
DOHC 16 valves
VTG turbo
CDI
170 hp

258 lbft

7-speed twin-clutch
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
225/40R18
1450 kg
143 mph (c)
7.7 (c)

-
CLA250 (4matic)
2013
Front-engined, FWD (4WD)
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4630 / 1777 / 1432 mm
2699 mm
Inline-4
1991 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
Turbo
DI
211 hp

258 lbft

7-speed twin-clutch
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
225/40R18
1405 kg (1465 kg)
149 mph (c)
6.4 (c) / 6.3* (6.1*)

16.7* (16.9*)
CLA45 AMG
2013 (2016)
Front-engined, 4WD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4691 / 1777 / 1416 mm
2699 mm
Inline-4
1991 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
Turbo
DI
360 hp / 6000 rpm
(381 hp / 6000 rpm)
332 lbft / 2250-5000 rpm
(350 lbft / 2250-5000 rpm)
7-speed twin-clutch
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
235/40ZR18
1510 kg
155 mph (limited)
4.4 (c) / 4.2* / 4.2** / 4.5***
(3.8*)
10.6* / 10.5** / 10.8*** (9.4*)




Performance tested by: *C&D, **MT, ***Sport Auto





AutoZine Rating

General models


CLA45 AMG



    Copyright© 1997-2013 by Mark Wan @ AutoZine