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Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict. 

You don't have to look very far through your chosen news feed to realise that the world is changing fast. Court jesters are vying to be world leaders, cars are planning to drive themselves, a one-bedroom flat costs more than a Lotto win used to be worth. 

It's the same with the Australian car market, of course; just take a look at the sales figures. Mercedes is on a roll, boxing both Audi and BMW around the ears and even outselling mainstream Japanese manufacturers in certain high-volume segments. It's a situation my 20-year-old self would have scoffed at. And now they're going after young people, like me, back then. Young people!

The bare facts are fascinating. Last month, Mercedes sold 330-odd CLAs, just 40 units fewer than the A-Class hatch. 

The CLA's only direct competitor, the A3 sedan, is subsumed in the A3's overall sales figures of just under 600, but we reckon about half of those are the booted four-door. And remember, the A3 starts at a price that's more than $11,000 cheaper. Badge is important to buyers in this segment, but there has to be more to it than a three-pointed star. Surely?

Price and features

The Hungarian-built CLA 200 sedan kicks off the range at a not insubstantial $52,500. For that you get 18-inch alloys, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, sat nav, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, automatic LED headlights, auto wipers, keyless entry and start, fake leather interior, auto parking, heated electric folding mirrors, variable ratio power steering and sports suspension.

The stereo and other information duties are handled by Mercedes' COMAND interface via console-mounted rotary dial and an eight-inch screen perched on the dashboard. Unlike rivals Audi and BMW (in this segment at least) the CLA also has Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and comes standard with DAB+ digital radio (which we found extra flaky around Sydney). The COMAND system also comes home a distant third for usability behind those two rivals.

Design

The CLA's design polarised passers-by during its week on the driveway. It's unmistakably Mercedes, for sure, with its melted front and rear look and vertical croissant silhouette. It looks tiny, certainly visually smaller than the (shorter) A3 sedan, partly due to the way the silhouette is pinched in by the rapidly falling shoulder line.

There are some fun details - the vestigial wing created by the boot deck, the LED daytime running lights and the funky 3D-look grille. Less fun is the gigantic Mercedes logo in that same grille and the flat-faced alloys look cheap. Thankfully, chrome is kept to a minimum, helping the shape speak for itself.

Astonishingly, the boot swallows 470 litres, just 10 litres off the larger C-Class.

Inside is extremely cosy but pleasant all the same. The seats look terrific front and rear and they even somehow get away with the white leather look in our test car. It's not an especially practical interior, however, and there are too many buttons, some of which look and feel cheap, especially the "metallic finish" items.

Also, the COMAND screen obscures the warning lights for the collision-mitigation system, which is probably for the better because they look cheap too.

Bottom line is, in a premium-priced interior, cheap moments like plastic metallic garnish are jarring. There are some nice touches, like the textured finish that sweeps across the dash to break up the grey expanse, but it feels nasty; a similar finish in a BMW isn't made of plastic.

Front-seat passengers have plenty of room but the rear is tight in all directions, particularly head space.

Practicality

The CLA's tight dimensions limit the amount of storage available. There are cupholders front and rear for a total of four but there's only room for bottles up front - the rears don't even get door pockets. Those front cupholders are small, too, so don't expect a 7-11 Big Gulp to fit.

A decent-sized glovebox is completely filled by the manual, but there are two covered storage compartments in the centre console, as well as narrow door pockets in the front doors. There's almost no storage in the back, but then again, it's unlikely the CLA is big enough for a family car.

Astonishingly, the boot swallows 470 litres, just 10 litres off the larger C-Class.

Engine and transmission

The CLA 200 is powered by a 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder good for 115kW and 250Nm. Neither of which are earth-shattering numbers when you consider that Hyundai will sell you a Tucson with 130kW and 265Nm, which is a very unstressed tune of that engine.

Despite the engine's modest outputs, the CLA is a nimble little thing, with a short wheelbase making it feel pointy.

A seven-speed twin-clutch transmission sends power to the tarmac via the front wheels and helps move the 1430kg CLA from 0-100km/h in 7.9 seconds, a decent effort with those power figures.

Fuel consumption

Mercedes claims a combined cycle average of 5.6L/100km and we came commendably close in mostly city and suburban driving at 7.1L/100km, some of it with a heavy right foot.

Stop/start is available to help keep the consumption down.

Driving

Mercedes-Benzes drive in a very distinctive way and that's mostly down to the transmission. It's a very positive shift, which makes the car feel sportier than it might otherwise with BMW's ZF-sourced eight-speed box or the more pernickety 7-speed DSG in the A3. The variable rack steering - an amazing inclusion in an "entry-level" model - is unobtrusive, although when running in its least aggressive mode it's a bit light, which does make for easy parking.

It's also a very quiet car, again belying its size.

Despite the engine's modest outputs, the CLA is a nimble little thing, with a short wheelbase making it feel pointy. It has all come together quite nicely and despite running Sport suspension, the ride is more than acceptable, with modest body roll and no diving under braking.

It's also a very quiet car, again belying its size. The CLA is a small vehicle and to pull off such refinement is no mean feat, especially when you consider Audi's MQB-based A3 has had a truckload of development cash spent on it across all of its brands and it's still not as quiet.

Safety

Nine airbags (including knee airbag), forward collision mitigation (high and low speed), active bonnet, driver attention detection, ABS, stability and traction controls and blind spot detection. 

The CLA scored five ANCAP stars in 2013 via its arrangement with EuroNCAP.

Ownership

Mercedes offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, along with three years roadside assist. You'll only have to visit a dealer once a year or every 25,000km and service pricing is capped at $1980 over three years, which sounds like a lot, but it actually includes consumables, unlike some other service regimes.

Verdict

The CLA is a good car with some interesting inclusions to justify its price, but some are unlikely to mean much to the people who buy them. Like the A Class, the CLA is all about attracting a younger buyer while maintaining Mercedes' luxury vibe. It does this quite well, apart from a few styling mishaps and cheap cabin-material choices, while delivering an impressive driving package for a small front-wheel drive sedan.

Whether or not The Youth are interested in a four-door sedan for $50K-plus with limited access to the rear remains to be seen, but badge aside, the CLA 200 is a fine entry point for the CLA range.

Do you like the polarising look of the CLA, or would you prefer a more traditional Benz? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 pricing and spec info.

Pricing Guides

$44,990
Based on 112 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$31,980
Highest Price
$69,999

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
CLA200 1.6L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $31,980 – 46,800 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2016 CLA200 Pricing and Specs
CLA45 AMG 2.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $58,880 – 69,999 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2016 CLA45 AMG Pricing and Specs
CLA200 CDI 1.8L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $31,790 – 38,280 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2016 CLA200 CDI Pricing and Specs
CLA200 d 1.8L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $32,450 – 38,610 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2016 CLA200 d Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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