Merc’s entry-level sedan gets a nip here and tuck there to bring it up to date, and mount a stronger challenge to its rival, the Audi A3.
What is it?
Mercedes has been on a rampage of refreshing it cars to bring them in line with the new overarching design philosophy that will define its cars for the foreseeable future. And the latest to receive this treatment is its most affordable sedan, the CLA.
Don’t feel bad if you have to squint your eyes and scratch your head to figure out how exactly this car is different. The changes, admittedly, are very subtle. The only changes up front are new headlamps, now full LED with its modules in the company-standard ‘leaf’ design, and a light redesigning of the bumper with a new chin-mounted chrome insert. In profile, the changes are nil, even retaining the same 17-inch alloy wheel design, and round the back, the only novelties are re-profiled taillights and a differently shaped chrome strip between the differently styled exhaust tips.
Not that the CLA needs too many cosmetic changes – it looks rather swanky as is, with that bold face, swooping roof, muscular character lines and neat tush. This refresh, as explained, is more a move to bring the CLA in line with the rest of the Merc family rather than actually shaking things up in order to boost sales numbers; still, it’s worth noting that Mercedes has shrewdly beaten rival Audi to the market, with the A3 facelift expected only sometime next year.
What's it like on the inside?
Your eye-squinting and head-scratching will continue when you step into the cabin. Changes are limited to a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen (the previous one was a 7.0-incher) for the updated COMAND infotainment system (it now gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), a few trim and colour changes, a redesigned instrument cluster and the incorporation of Drive Select, Merc’s driving-mode system. The CLA always had driving modes, but Dynamic Select simply offers a new interface and the added capability of toggling steering and engine response between ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ individually.
Like the exteriors, the interiors didn’t really need a substantial overhaul in the first place. You are generally surrounded by good-quality materials, be it the soft-touch plastic on the dash, sturdy plastics elsewhere or supple seat leather. The design is equally outstanding, what with the sporty turbine-like air-con vents, clean and intuitive buttons, high-def screen and red-needled instrument binnacle.
The seats are a particular attraction in the CLA. The front seats, both electrically adjustable, are buckets with one-piece backrests that hug and support you, and come with adjustable thigh support. Bucket seats are what you find in the back too (thus limiting comfortable seating to just two), and while they are firm and supportive, they are a tad too upright. Legroom is adequate, not outstanding, headroom is sparse and the slit-like windows make everything feel even more cramped. However, that's the price you pay for style. The boot, at 470 litres, would have been adequately roomy had it not been for the space saver abolishing most of the usable space.
Equipment includes Merc’s latest COMAND media system with USB, Aux and Bluetooth options, cruise control, a rear camera (albeit without parking sensors), a large panoramic sunroof, driving modes and automatic headlights. On the safety front, the CLA comes with six airbags, adaptive braking, hill-start assist, ABS, Merc’s Attention Assist system, and an electronic stability program. Certain features such as automatic climate control, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and go, and rear AC vents are conspicuously lacking though.