Looks great and rides well
Mercedes' sleek, yet big-booted version of the svelte CLA saloon has had a mixed reception since it arrived a couple of years ago. Despite being lauded for its looks, it has never really achieved the success of its four-door sibling. Now the CLA has been updated, and Mercedes is hoping small changes will increase the Shooting Brake's popularity.
Determining the new CLA from its predecessor is no simple task. Look closely, and you'll spot a diamond-pattern grille, new lights and updated exhausts, but you won't find much else on the exterior. Delve deeper inside and you'll find some new features on the infotainment system, but there's almost nothing you'd notice from a casual glance.
Despite the lack of changes, though, it's still stunning to look at, and it is an undoubtedly premium product. The cabin is looks great, with chrome accents and classy metallic trim sweeping across the dashboard.
The engine range comprises a host of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines. The most popular will likely be one of the 2.1-litre diesel engines found in our test car. There is also a choice of gearboxes, with the six-speed manual supplemented by a seven-speed automatic.
On the road, the car is comfortable and economical, but it struggles slightly when driven hard, with the front-wheel-drive set-up causing it to understeer. Base models are sensibly priced, but better-equipped models push the sticker price up substantially.
The CLA Shooting Brake's facelift is so small that most won't notice. It seems destined to remain a niche product, but whether it deserves to be is another question. It's a gorgeous-looking thing, and it's comfortable, but the driving experience and some of the cheap cabin plastics let it down somewhat.
The CLA is a premium car, and it comes with a premium price tag. The GBP25,575 starting price isn't so bad, but you can go well above GBP35,000 before you even so much as look at the options list. Go mad with it and you could be looking at a bill for at least GBP40,000. You shouldn't need to raid the options too much though, because the CLA is quite well equipped.
The CLA Shooting Brake is the roomiest of the A-Class-based cars, but the sloping rear window and swooping roofline mean it isn't as practical as it could be. In all, the boot measures 495 litres, which is only slightly larger than that of a Honda Civic. The cabin is equally cramped, with the roofline cutting rear headroom and a surprising lack of legroom for taller occupants.
Driving the CLA Shooting Brake is generally a fairly easy task, particularly with the automatic gearbox, although customers selecting that particular transmission might find the steering-column-mounted gear selector a little odd at first. The instruments, on the other hand, need no introduction. The dials are simple and clear, yet still classy, giving you all the information you need and nothing more.
Mercedes' emphasis on comfort has continued with the CLA, which offers a supple ride and the seats offer more padding and support than their looks would suggest. If you're going to do long motorway miles, there's little this side of a C-Class that's so compliant. If you opt for one of the diesels, though, beware that the incessant grumble from the engine bay may grow tiresome.
Central locking is a standard feature on the CLA, so you know that all the doors are locked when you press the button. All the now-commonplace security systems are there, too, such as the alarm and immobiliser. Better-equipped models also get keyless entry, allowing you to open the car without ever touching the key.
The updated CLA is yet to be tested by Euro NCAP, but the pre-facelift car received an impressive five-star rating. Like the A-Class hatchback on which it is based, it scored particularly well on adult occupant protection and received a solid score for safety assistance technology, although that section of the test has been toughened since that test took place in 2012.
Inheriting the A-Class platform also means the CLA is lumbered with a front-wheel-drive layout, meaning it feels less agile than you might hope for. It isn't awful, but there's quite a lot of understeer if you push too hard and the steering is a little numb, but it isn't all bad. There's a good weight to the steering and visibility is good, making it easy to place on the road.
The CLA Shooting Brake is, technically, a family car, but it's less capable of carting a family and its paraphernalia than you might think. The build quality should cope with the rough and tumble of family life, and there's certainly enough space for a school run, but it'd be too cramped for long-distance touring.
Estates aren't generally popular with the youth of today, but the CLA Shooting Brake's looks might tempt a few. The relatively uninspiring entry-level engines should be relatively cheap to insure, too, while parents will be reassured by the five-star safety rating.
Thanks to the three-pointed star adorning the bonnet, the CLA would be desirable no matter how it looked, but the baby CLS aesthetic makes it a real head-turner. The rakish rear window sits well with the taut lines of the front end, while the cabin gets a smart look thanks to sizeable chrome accents and the big screen. Sadly, though, the odd area of so-so plastic trim lets it down.
Because the CLA sits on the same wheelbase as the normal A-Class hatchback, it suffers from a lack of room for rear doors. To accommodate them, the front doors have to be quite short, meaning that taller drivers will find the B-pillar gets in their way as they get out. It makes getting in a slightly more physical experience than it should be, too.
The CLA's cabin is identical to that of the A-Class, so the iPad mimicking infotainment screen remains mounted atop the dashboard. Whatever it looks like, though, it isn't actually a touchscreen. Instead, it is controlled via a sort of wheel-cum-joystick arrangement on the centre console. It isn't the most intuitive of systems at first, but it's one that you get used to as you spend more time with the vehicle.
There's a good choice of colours available for CLA customers, ranging from the common whites, greys and blacks to the more individualistic red and blue shades. Sadly, there's no room in the range for the bold Elbaite Green seen on the A-Class, but the darker colours, stand out better against the brightwork found on the grille, wheels and window lines.
Reversing cameras are offered on even the most basic CLAs and parking sensors are available on other models, so there's little room for excuse when you're parking this particular Mercedes. Some models also get a self-parking system that can measure a space, then guide the car into it with the steering while the driver controls the speed with the pedals.
Emergency tyre repair kit supplied as standard.
Petrol engine options – CLA 180 (120bhp); CLA 250 (215bhp). Diesel engine options – CLA 200d (134bhp); CLA 220d (175bhp). Transmission options: Six-speed manual, seven-speed automatic. Trim levels: Sport, AMG Line, AMG