Browse over 9,000 car reviews

Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2013 Review

Once you've had a Benz in the driveway, you're not willingly going back to the farm.
EXPERT RATING
8
Looking for a used Mercedes-Benz?

Buy with confidence; all Mercedes-Benz Certified Pre-Owned vehicles come with a factory backed warranty, 100 point safety check, comprehensive service history and 24hr roadside assistance.

You might as well skip this. You're going to buy the CLA no matter what the likes of me say. Such a meeting of relative affordability and outright desirability has seldom been seen. The CLA will, as one observer pungently put it: "Sell its tits off," when it arrives for Christmas.

For what it's worth, you're unlikely to regret investing in the cheapest ever Mercedes four door. Though at some $50,000 it's a good deal dearer than the same under the skin A-Class hatchback, the CLA sedan - or four door coupe as it is styled - is a good deal more evocative and cooler than something so utilitarian as a hatchback.

VALUE

We're barely used to the reality of a fully equipped, good to drive Benz priced substantially under a basic Commodore. Such is the entry A-Class. Carsguide has gleaned that this new and madly stylish departure will start just north of $50K - eight grand under the ridiculous luxury car tax and nine under the Mercedes C-Class, which sells its chest assets off despite it.

Benz has been here before, albeit with the two door and too poor CLC, a device to give hairdresser's cars a bad name. The CLA is cut of a very different cloth, essentially an A-Class in a classier suit, but with all that's substantial about that landscape altering model.

Standard is a seven speed twin clutch automatic transmission driving a choice of four cylinder turbo petrol or diesel engines and multimedia screen possibly with satnav. The probable starting price is higher than we expected, but Mercedes promise a bountiful kit level, though the desirable options will be plentiful and costly.

Initially we'll see the two turbo petrol variants - the entry CLA 200 and the stove hot 250. The former can be optioned with sports suspension and 18-inch wheels to match the latter's handling if not its punch. A diesel follows next year if you must go that way, as does the CLA 45 AMG with all-wheel-drive and blistering performance. You'll go that way if you can.

TECHNOLOGY

Of the opening lineup, the 250 is that which all with petrol in their veins will desire. The 200 is the one almost everyone will buy and feel satisfied by. Both have a three mode drive system that at a button's push shifts engine response between normal, sport and manual which is operated within strict limits by shifting paddles.

While most Mercedes except SUVs remain rear wheel drive, its latest models suffer little from the fact of the one end doing both the steering and driving. All variants get Direct Steer which is smart enough to react to changes in grip, gradient and gratuitous driving.

Few cars punch so cleanly through the air. The term "drag co-efficient" may mean nothing to you; suffice that the sharp angled CLA's is one of the lowest of any production car and a major contributor to its exceptionally low fuel use and emissions.

The newest versions of Merc's multi-media system brings photo realistic map display, an additional Bluetooth profile to enable net access via iPhone and real time traffic data. Connoisseurs need to know that while the A250 Sport was developed from the get go with the input of that mighty tuning arm AMG, the top CLA lacks that. Mind you, we who drove between Marseille and St Tropez reckon that counts for close to nothing, so adept is the newcomer. Anyway, CLA 250 Sport to sit beneath the full on AMG model is on the way.

DESIGN

Basically this is the A-Class in a shell sculpted down from the imposing CLS, the model that started the mania for so-called four door coupes. The effect of those accents concentrated in a smaller shape - though one longer than the current C-Class sedan - is confronting.

"Aggressive" is invariably used to describe the styling of sporting cars - for once the adjective is warranted. Seen live in the metal the CLA is stunning. The shapely nose mirrors that of the hatchback, but we're assured that not a panel is shared.

The inside story is, to our eyes, yet more successful even with the lurid and mercifully optional yellow stitching and striped seats of our test 200. The cabin is otherwise a model of class and taste, from the bare centre console and largely unadorned but quality expanses to your front.

The five circular vents are the more effective, both functionally and in form, for standing out. It isn't classist to say this defines the difference between a try hard car from the lower orders and a true patrician. It just is. Now to the caveat. No one standing more than 180cm in height will want to sit in the back. In fact, they can't.

There's also the minor matter of the driver being barely able to see out the back, so thick are the pillars and small the rear portal. Blind spot alert had better be standard. But this is, of course, a coupe, albeit one with two extra doors than usual and if functionality is too impeded for your liking, Mercedes will sell you a mechanically compatible hatchback.

SAFETY

We do tend to go on about active safety and so we should. By that we mean the ability of the car to co-operate with you in not making necessary all those airbags and crumple zones. While the five star cars rating of the A-Class will surely carry over, it's the CLA’s inherent balance and instinctive drivability that will do most to save you from yourself.

DRIVING

There has been considerable disquiet among the petrol sniffing fraternity as Benz and soon, BMW, moves away from the holy rear-wheel-drive paradigm. Likely buyers (ie: real people) are hardly likely to be bothered and even the doom mongers will be hard put to complain.

The 200, running the smaller turbo petrol engine, is going to be more than enough for most of us. Never mind that its 0-100kmh time of 8.6 seconds is more than two ticks of the clock behind the guts and glory 250. We talk about torque for the damn good reason that it's far more important than power in most modern driving situations.

This is another compact turbo petrol engine that summons all the torque has almost immediately both for efficiency in general running and rapid response when overtaking. That responsiveness is allied to refinement fully in keeping with one of Merc's luxury saloons - the CLS for example.

Hastily leaving a toll booth on the test drive (at that point it's a rat race in France) the guttural growl of the engine is almost shocking, so quiet was it till this moment. Mercedes might be after younger buyers, but it's not about to forsake its traditional virtues.

That applies to the driving experience as a whole. The 200 is not the sportster of the lineup, though the optional suspension keeps it in that ballpark. It is, however, recognisably of Mercedes DNA. You can well imagine a CLA owner for whom family responsibility has come either trading up to a C-Class or getting an A- or B-Class as a second car to fulfil life's grimmer tasks.

Once you've had a Benz in the driveway, you're not willingly going back to the farm. On the first world roads in the south of France, the CLA 200 is to all intents and purposes faultless. The ride won't thrill a traditional Benz buyer, but even on sports suspension it is absorbent without losing dynamic poise.

By no means the most involving drive (the manual mode is too apt to block selections - you're best to leave it to pick its own gears in the sport setting), it points and goes where it should when you want it to abetted by completely linear steering.

It's looking looking likely that Benz Australia will take a CLA 250 Sport over the 250 with sports enhancements we drove. That means the quicker steering, rorty exhaust and stabiliser bars of the equivalent A-Class added to an already formidable package. The 2.0-litre turbo four puts out a stonking 155kW/350Nm, the latter all from low 1200rpm.

It gives the CLA a knockout punch over the deft jabbing 200. Although the transmission's tendency to scale the gears quickly can exasperate, we'd give it an extra half star to add to lesser car's four.

VERDICT

Still with us? Looks as though you were right in the first place. Where's mine?

Mercedes-Benz CLA 200

Price: From $50,000
Warranty: 3 years/100,00km
Capped servicing: Noplpp
Resale: N/A
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 stars
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol; 115kW/250Nm
Transmission: Seven-speed auto; FWD
Thirst: 5.5L/100km
Dimensions: 4.6m (L); 1.4m (h); 1.7m (w)
Weight: 1395kg
Spare wheel: none

Pricing guides

$38,868
Based on 31 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$24,800
Highest Price
$51,993

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
CLA200 1.6L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $17,600 – 24,530 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2013 CLA200 Pricing and Specs
CLA45 AMG 2.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $32,600 – 42,680 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2013 CLA45 AMG Pricing and Specs
CLA200 Edition ONE 1.6L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $19,400 – 26,950 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2013 CLA200 Edition ONE Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.