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Mercedes-Benz CLA 2020 review: 200

The second-generation CLA is hands-down the best designed small sedan on the road.

The recipe for a four-door coupe has always been simple – take one four-door sedan, then apply a fastback body design, essentially trading backseat space for swooping style. It's a feat of design and marketing that Mercedes-Benz was among the first to master.

The CLA 200 is one such member of the Benz four-door coupe family, and arguably one of its best examples - it's definitely one good-looking car.

But is there substance with the style? My three kids and I had the CLA 200 for the week to see whether it has the practicality to match its looks.

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✅ What does it look like?

The second-generation CLA is hands-down the best designed small sedan on the road, and light years better looking than the generation it replaced. Importantly, this CLA is larger in all dimensions - apart from the height, which has been lowered. It's an incredibly well-proportioned car.

While the Jupiter Red paint finish would not be my first choice, it’s well complimented by the smart-looking 19-inch AMG black alloy wheels ($1390 option). If it weren’t for the badging on the rear you’d be forgiven for mistaking this test car for something more performance focussed.

The CLA is an incredibly well-proportioned car. The CLA is an incredibly well-proportioned car.

The colour palette continues inside the cabin with red and black Lugano leather used for the seats and doors. Elsewhere, the high quality fixtures and finishings abound throughout - in combination with clever ambient lighting- create a premium feel in the cabin, particularly at night.  

For me, the car’s technology is the show stealer, with the two MBUX-equipped 10.25-inch screens providing a hi-tech window into a world few other auto brands can match. Graphic quality is outstanding, and there are myriad of ways drivers can customise the interfaces to their tastes, with the ability to interact via voice and/or touch commands.

The multimedia system comes with sat nav, digital radio plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The multimedia system comes with sat nav, digital radio plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

✅ How does it drive?

While the 19-inch rims suggest more performance intent, the CLA 200 provides a far more modest experience that's well adapted to city and suburban driving.

Under the hood lies a 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine providing outputs of 120kW and 250Nm, sending drive to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission. The power is ample for a car of this size.

The 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine produces 120kW/250Nm. The 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine produces 120kW/250Nm.

The acceleration time of 8.2sec from 0-100km/h puts it in the sedate sedan category, and proved more than adequate to propel the four of us around town. The CLA gave a good account at higher speeds, with mid-range acceleration proving more than punchy enough, too.

The CLA was driven in Comfort mode for the majority of the week, which provides a more compliant ride than Sport. Gear changes were smooth and intuitive, with wheel-mounted paddles on hand for greater control. Steering was direct and well-weighted regardless of the speed.

✅ How spacious is it?

There’s ample space for front seat passengers, with head room extended by 17mm, but it's more of a squeeze for adults in the rear. The CLA left its mark early, though, as I managed to smack my head against top edge of the sloping C pillar when plonking myself in the rear seat. Sat behind my driving position, my head rested slightly shy of the roof line with only a slither of knee room behind the seat in front (I’m 180cm).

  • The colour palette continues inside the cabin with red and black Lugano leather used for the seats and doors. The colour palette continues inside the cabin with red and black Lugano leather used for the seats and doors.
  • My kids were not troubled at all by the back-seat space. My kids were not troubled at all by the back-seat space.

My kids who are 10 (twins) and 13 were not troubled at all by the back-seat space, with good visibility for them out of the rear windows.

The 460 litres (VDA) of boot space easily accommodated the weekly shop and all the kids' gear, with the useful 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats on hand to increase cargo space. Thoughtful additions back there include tie-down hooks, a 12-volt outlet, stretchy storage pockets and a cargo net. The CLA comes with run-flat tyres so there’s no spare tyre.

  • Boot space is rated at 460 litres (VDA). Boot space is rated at 460 litres (VDA).
  • Boot space is rated at 460 litres (VDA). Boot space is rated at 460 litres (VDA).
  • Boot space is rated at 460 litres (VDA). Boot space is rated at 460 litres (VDA).

✅ How easy is it to use every day?

Putting aside its size for a moment, the CLA’s combination of thoughtful technology and practicality is clearly evident. We'll cover technology in more detail later.

My kids in the back had access to a centre fold-down armrest with two cupholders, bottle holders in the doors, map pockets on the front seat backs, and adjustable air vents. Up front, storage includes two cupholders in the centre console, a lidded bin/armrest between the seats (including twin USB ports), an overhead sunglass holder, decent door pockets with room for bottles and a medium-sized glove box.

On hand to help navigate the local supermarket car park were a suite of parking aids, including passenger mirror with reverse parking position, reversing camera, plus ‘Parking Distance Control’ (front and rear).

✅ How safe is it?

The CLA 200 contains a colossal amount of active and passive tech and as such was awarded the maximum five ANCAP stars in 2018.

The list of active safety tech is extensive, with ABS, stability and traction controls, AEB, driver attention monitoring, blind spot monitoring (with exit warning assistant), crosswind assist, active lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition and auto high beam.

For greater peace of mind there are nine airbags including side airbags for rear seat occupants, a 'Pre-Safe' accident system and an 'Active Bonnet' feature which automatically tilts to minimise pedestrian injuries.

For parents with small kids there are three child restraint/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, and two ISOFIX anchors.

✅ What’s the tech like?

The standard tech on offer in the CLA 200 is head and shoulders above the competition, with a huge options list also available.

Standard features include dual-zone climate control, the twin 10.25-inch digital media and instrument screens, active cruise control, auto headlights, keyless entry and start, LED headlights, DRLs and tail-lights, sat nav, rain-sensing wipers, wireless phone charging and nine-speaker audio including digital radio as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The car’s technology is the show stealer, with the two MBUX-equipped 10.25-inch screens. The car’s technology is the show stealer, with the two MBUX-equipped 10.25-inch screens.

A highlight of all this tech is the way driver and passengers are able to seamlessly interact and engage with it. What may look daunting at first quickly proves to be intuitive and easy to navigate, providing an impressive user experience.  

The ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control was a favourite with my kids, who are well accustomed this type of tech, but they were quick to lose interest when they discovered it did not possess Siri-like abilities.

The impressive ‘Mercedes me Connect’ app provides owners with always on connectivity to their CLA, allowing them remotely lock/unlock the doors, track and locate the vehicle, retrieve maintenance and service information, and more, all via their smartphone.

✅ How much does it cost to own?

Starting price for the CLA 200 is $59,500 with Mercedes offering an extensive list of neatly packaged options for buyers keen to add extra touches to their ride.   

Our test car came with five option packages totalling an additional $12,340, pushing the final price to $71,840. These include the ‘AMG Exclusive Package’ ($3190), the ‘Communications Package’ ($2490) - Burmester 590W, 12-speaker ‘surround sound’ audio, the ‘Seat Comfort Package’ ($1290) - electric front seats, memory function for driver’s seat, exterior mirrors and head-up display, and the ‘Vision Package’ ($2490).


The Wrap

The CLA 200 is a sophisticated design package featuring top-notch levels of tech and safety. While the back-seat space may be on the small side, there are plenty of practicality, style and comfort perks that make the CLA worthy of consideration as your family taxi. 

Likes

Coupe design
Next-level tech
Premium cabin

Dislikes

Pricey
Rear headroom
Ride bordering on too firm

Scores

Dan:

4

The Kids:

3.8

$59,500

Based on new car retail price

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