How does the CLA compare to the car on which it is based?
There are three key chassis differences between the A-Class and the CLA. First, all CLAs, regardless of engine or trim level, come with multi-link rear suspension, not the considerably less sophisticated beam axle used on most of the hatchbacks. Second, the track has been considerably widened (by 63mm at the front and 55mm at the rear) to provide a wider, more planted footprint. Third, all CLAs receive bespoke spring, damper and anti-roll bar settings that are designed to make them feel considerably more sporting than the equivalent A-Class.
The CLA is as high-tech and high-quality on the inside as it is good-looking on the outside. All the cars we drove were in top-of-the-range specification and seemed commendably plush for machines that populate the lower echelons of the Mercedes range. The interior is airy and more spacious in all directions than that of the original CLA, although four average-sized adults will still find room more adequate than generous.
All the A-Class technology comes across, including the MBUX operating system and Stuttgart's ‘Hey Mercedes’ answer to Siri and Alexa. The high-definition TFT touchscreens are easy to use, but the voice recognition software remains flawed. We drove three cars and each joined the conversation without being asked.
Also, the CLA comes with intrusive safety systems that buzz the steering wheel even when you’re close to the edge of the road and apply the brakes when it incorrectly concludes you’ve misjudged a situation. We applaud the sentiment, but it’s too sensitive. You can turn the systems off, but they default to on, so if you stop for fuel, you’ll have to switch them all off again. There’s a balance between keeping a car safe and allowing the driver command of his or her ship, and the CLA is on the wrong side of it.
How does the CLA compare to its rivals?
Otherwise, this is a car that makes few mistakes. The diesel motor is strong and sufficiently refined, the gearbox quick enough. But the chassis is the stand-out performer, imbuing the CLA with a combination of poise, grip, ride comfort and steering response absent from any A-Class, AMG A35 included.
This is a car with surprisingly few rivals, because its coupé appearance combined with four-door practicality is an undeniably appealing formula. And if you like the way it looks and can live with the over-eager electronics, you’ll find the CLA not just a highly competent every day car but a rather satisfying one, too.
It’s also the first non-AMG model based on current or previous A-Class architecture that you would describe as being genuinely good to drive. Thank the chassis modifications for that, and hope that in time Mercedes decides to roll them out across the entire A-Class family.