The Mercedes CLA is available with the choice of two chassis set-ups: Comfort and Sport. Sport sees the car sit lower to the tune of 20mm at the front and 15mm at the rear. On the road there is a pronounced difference in ride quality.

Don’t be fooled by the Comfort tag applied to the softer set-up: it is just on the sporting side of firm, and crashes and rocks over bumps and crevices, dashing any lingering hope that Mercedes-Benz might have used the CLA’s longer body as an excuse to broaden the dynamic appeal of the tetchy A-Class.

Matt Burt

Matt Burt

Executive Editor, Autocar
There's not much in the way of genuine excitement here

Mercedes' fettled AMG Line chassis set-up is even more inflexible in its refusal to compromise for the state of British roads, all too often disregarding basic civility for a stern, never-ending grasp on proceedings.

Arguably, this being the more thrusting end of the range, buyers might be more partial to the stock AMG character. At least the letters offer a warning of what is to come. The non-traditional customer – of the kind expected to be captured in the CLA’s visual tractor beam – may indeed prove to be more inclined to the flip side of the coin, where the model’s fumbling low-speed ride fast-forwards into a heightened sense of reflex.

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As such, the car is capable of the same scurrying changes of direction that made the A-Class seem a punchier steer than its rivals from BMW and Audi

Either way, chassis control is generally good even if the natural progression to understeer occurs rather more quickly than expected – particularly in the CLA 250 4Matic. But most drivers are unlikely to get that far because this isn’t a drivers’ car. The steering lacks the sporting intent illustrated by those coupé looks and it simply doesn’t offer enough communication.

On the plus side, thanks to the grip of those wheels and tyres, the CLA stops well. From 70mph, in dry conditions, it pulled up within half a metre of our class-leading BMW 320d and more than two metres sooner than the BMW in the wet. 

For many potential buyers, the lack of dynamic polish won’t matter much. The promise of the first car in this segment with Hollywood A-list looks will appeal far more. But four doors and a much bigger price sticker put the CLA far closer to the larger, scarier fish in the tank above.

The shark-nosed 3 Series – our merciless performance and dynamic benchmark – savages the newcomer, not just in circuit-derived lap times but also in a subjective everyday experience. Its own superior brand of athleticism is fused with an ability to react not only to driver input but also to whatever conditions it encounters underfoot.

But mimicking only one dimension of what a modern saloon car should be capable of is unlikely to be sufficient to snare more than stragglers – even among undecideds.

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