March 2013

Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 180 Sport

The CLA's looks have clearly been influenced by the larger CLS

March 2013

picture of car from the frontpicture of car from the rearpicture of car interiorpicture of car in detail

Overall rating

3.5 out of 5 stars


  • Striking profile grabs your attention
  • Driving position offers great view of the road
  • Ride quality is good and not too firm
  • Modest pace fits car's personality


  • Can prove expensive when options are added
  • Some cabin materials could be of a higher standard
  • Rear view is compromised by saloon boot
  • Auto gearbox option could be more responsive

Mercedes has become the master of filling niches in the car market. Its original CLS drew gasps and got people wondering if there really was room for a large four-door coupe. Mercedes proved the critics wrong and, in an attempt to repeat this feat, it's produced s smaller version to complement its C-Class saloon, called the CLA.

With it having adopted the 'baby' CLS tag, the CLA is Mercedes' attempt at tempting buyers away from the conventional three-box compact executive saloon format. This CLA boasts a more streamlined profile than comparable cars from the likes of BMW or Audi, and there's a determined effort by the firm to attract the minds and wallets of younger drivers.

Visually the CLA is a striking car. Its sloping roofline and coupe-like profile ensures that it'll always be viewed as a more sporting alternative to the C-Class. Although a fraction longer than the C-Class, the CLA still gives the impression that it's compact enough to slot easily into city life.

Keeping with the affordable theme, Mercedes has adopted a four-cylinder engine policy for the CLA. Be it diesel or petrol, performance of the standard cars is reasonable without being extraordinary. This situation can be improved upon of you choose the AMG variant which, along with the A-Class, is the first example of a four-cylinder AMG model.

The A-Class connection continues inside the CLA's cabin, with the two cars sharing many design and layout attributes. The unfussy fascia layout is complimented by a thin colour screen that is your main contact point for audio, navigation and other infotainment functions. Surprisingly, despite the car's low-slung profile, cabin space is more than acceptable - even in the back - ensuring that the CLA is as practical as it is stylish.

Our verdict on the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 180 Sport

With its striking and streamlined appearance, the CLA offers a more stylish take on the conventional compact executive saloon. For all emphasis on the design, practical compromises are minimal, with there being sufficient room in the cabin to ensure the CLA appeals to a wide audience. With the focus on four-cylinder power, AMG variant aside, performance is modest. However, the CLA is a competent all-rounder with the advantage of looking a darn sight more attractive than its rivals.


Day to day the CLA is unlikely to cost a fortune, although the real world economy performance of the petrol variants isn't spectacular. More importantly it will cost a little to bring the CLA up to a good standard, as the car's options list is a long and tempting one.

Space and practicality

Realistically the car will only seat four adults and taller rear passengers may find it a little cramped on longer journeys thanks to the car's sloping roofline. Cabin oddment storage space isn't in short supply, while the car's boot is a good size even if the aperture is on the small size.

Controls and display

Fans of the A-Class will feel at home in the CLA as the various controls and displays are shared between the two cars. As with increasing numbers of modern Mercedes models, the one column stalk design is easy to adapt to, and the major functions are well integrated into the limited number of buttons on display. The main dials and central screen deliver information in an unfussy, easy to interpret manner. Only the fiddly electric handbrake button disappoints.


The CLA's cabin is a refreshingly quiet environment when you're not pressing on. The car's seats are supportive and road noise is usually minimal until you fully extend the engines - only then can the noise levels rise. Cabin space is reasonable, ensuring you don't feel squashed when all the seats are taken but rear headroom can't match that of a conventional saloon.

Car security

An alarm, immobiliser and remote central locking are standard here, while items in the CLA saloon's boot remain out of sight - a major plus over a hatchback - and there's a decent size glovebox for hiding valuables if required.

Car safety

Safety provision in the CLA is well catered for, with ESP and a host of other electronic systems taking care of you. Most of the time the systems prove unobtrusive, but under extreme conditions they should prove their worth.

Driver appeal

In regular non AMG guise the CLA delivers a competent and refined driving experience. Its performance won't worry BMW but the front-drive CLA can be entertaining on the right road. Conservative power outputs mean performance is brisk not rapid, and the auto gearbox option could be more responsive. Overall, though, he car strikes a good balance of pace and refinement.

Family car appeal

Hatch will always trump compact saloon and Mercedes' A-Class is easily the better proposition here thanks to a more versatile boot space and higher cabin roofline. In contrast, the CLA has a more grown-up, executive feel to it and the car was never designed with a family in mind.

First car appeal

The regular CLA should prove an appealing option, as it's easy to drive and running costs should be modest. You'll need deep pockets to acquire one and reverse parking could be easier.

Quality and image

While you'd be right to expect fit and finish to be excellent at this price point, some interior plastics are not as plush as some rival offerings. The CLA-Class is targeted with attracting younger buyers but the bright trim in the cabin can't compensate for a disappointing amount of hard plastic.


Despite the CLA's obvious four-door layout, there are few issues with accessibility. One bonus is that the doors are relatively short, which means that opening them in confined spaces is easy. The seats are positioned at a very reasonable height making it easy to get in and out. The boot lid opens with minimal fuss, although the aperture could be more generous.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

All models feature a large colour display mounted high up on the fascia, CD player, speed sensitive volume and Bluetooth as standard. Factor in the sat-nav option plus MP3 player connectivity and the system is a comprehensive one. Based largely around a rotary controller by the gearlever, the intuitive system is simple to use and sound quality is also impressive.

Colours and trim

The CLA's works well in a variety of colours Opt for one of bright hues available and it looks impressively extrovert, if that's what you want. Look past the vast swathes of dark plastic and the car's cabin isn't as sombre as models higher up the Mercedes food chain.


Unlike with the shorter hatchback A-Class, the CLA complete with stubby saloon boot requires a little more thought. The parking sensors are a welcome addition, while plenty of assistance for the steering helps matters, as does the car's good size mirrors.

Spare wheel

Space saver fitted as standard.

Range information

Petrol engine options - 1.6-litre (147bhp); 2.0-litre (211bhp, 355bhp). Diesel engine options - 1.8-litre (136bhp, 170bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual gearbox, seven-speed dual clutch gearbox. Trim levels: Sport, AMG Sport, AMG 4MATIC.

Alternative cars

Vauxhall Insignia Larger and cheaper but now a polished product

Audi A3 Saloon offers all the familiar attributes of the A3 hatchback

Volkswagen Jetta Compact saloon lacks CLA's brand image but is a solid performer

Volvo S60 Leftfield alternative offers unique Swedish charm

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