Mercedes-Benz CLA 200: Sporty four-door Coupé Extends Appeal

By Lee Pang Seng
CAPITALISING on a successful model concept by extending its appeal to reach out to more buyers seems to be the current trend among some carmakers. The Mercedes-Benz CLS was introduced in 2003 to pander to those who wanted a sporty looking four-door coupé without losing the driving comfort of the E-Class (W211) that it was based on. It came to be a niche model that had its share of appeal and volume sales, and according to Mercedes-Benz, a good number of imitators as well.

In fact, a new CLS model is already on the cards for 2015. As market feedback has also revealed a demand for the sporty four-door coupé from those who wanted a more compact version, Mercedes-Benz decided the time was right to ‘down-size’ the CLS to extend its appeal further. And thus, the CLA was born.

Some body styles appear to carry the image better in smaller packages and we feel the CLA brings out the coupé flair better than the CLS. There is a sense of tautness about its sporty lines and a higher sporty aura in the compact build of the car, something that Alfa Romeo does rather well with its range of cars, albeit in a punchier and bolder fashion.

In aerodynamic efficiency, the CLA boasts of having a slippery body that sets a ‘new world record’ for series production automobiles. With an aerodynamic co-efficient (Cd) value of 0.24, few could argue with that claim. This manifests itself on the highway with a quieter ride and greater stability at high speed and less engine power to propel the car to gain speed, thereby saving on fuel consumption.

The interplay of convex and concave surfaces is best noted on the subtle dome bonnet that comes in the raised central section rather in a dome by itself. It is, perhaps, an elegant way to bring out the sporty side of the CLA against the conventional models. Adding to its new face are the ‘black pins’ radiator grille and the characteristic ‘flare effect’ from the LED (light emitting diodes) daytime running lights and headlamp styling.

Dimensionally, the differences are telling: the CLA sits on a 2699mm wheelbase, which is shorter than that of the C-Class cars as per the example of the CLS that sits on a shorter 2855mm wheelbase against the E-Class. The CLA measures 4630mm in length (CLS 4915mm) and 1777mm in width (1875mm) although it is about the same in height at 1432mm in height (1430mm). This has made for a lighter four-door coupé at 1430kg (1730kg), helped no doubt by the use of lighter but stronger material.

The CLA comes with the usual range of engine options that you would find with the C-Class, including a very hot 45 AMG for those who truly love driving in the fast lane. We were loaned the less exciting CLA 200 for a few days to relive the merits of four-door coupé motoring in a more compact form.

The CLA 200 is the base model that has a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine with electronically controlled direct feed piezo injectors. Its oversquare configuration sees to an 83.0mm bore against a short 73.7mm stroke to displace 1595cc. Output is respectable at 115kW (156bhp) at 5300rpm and 250Nm developing very early at 1250rpm and holding till 4000rpm. The transmission for this rear drive CLA model is a seven-speed 7G-DCT automatic unit.

On paper, Mercedes-Benz says the CLA 200 has enough oomph to impress on its performance: 0-100km/h in 8.5 seconds, a top speed of 230km/h and a combined fuel consumption of 18.1-19.2mpg (5.2-5.5 l/100km). Of course, exhaust emissions is very low too, though that again will depend on the fuel used.

The CLA 200 is clearly ideal for those who like to mosey along in a fast looking car without the need for real speed. And it is set up for such a driving style. Once you start up the car (no push button start though), it is programmed to be in Eco mode. It will take longer to pick up the pace if you ease on the accelerator pedal unless you floor it for some quick overtaking.

If you disengage Eco mode, the engine becomes more responsive to accelerator pressure, which we found more likeable as we could feel the car’s readiness to sprint, almost like a jackrabbit. The fuel consumption would suffer as the engine is then primed to run at higher revs for that more immediate uptake of power and reduce turbo lag considerably. However, it was something that we needed to do each time we started the car as we had not found out (through lack of initiative and a morbid fear of all these new electronic controls) if it could be turned off permanently!

Another item that we found increasingly annoying were the sensors that go abuzz when they detect someone, a vehicle or something close to the car at all four corners. Its novelty, a standard item found in other Mercedes-Benz models as well, soon wore off and we were only too happy to turn it off, turning it on only when it suited our purpose. Again, we did not know how to turn it off permanently, if ever it could be done, and we had to do it each time after starting the engine.

We didn’t have much highway time with the CLA 200 apart from a few brief sprints that took us beyond 140km/h easily on open stretches. The early torque that came in early was useful in the pick-up-and-go acceleration when we needed to proceed from a trot to a canter. The few times that we had the opportunity for some standing acceleration, the CLA 200 proved it had the pace to surge ahead from the lights.

A new standard feature is the radar-based warning system in the Collision Prevention Assist. A triangle-shaped icon showed up on the instrument panel when we came too close to a vehicle in front and this function was activated from a speed of 7km/h. It would initiate precision braking if we stepped on the brake pedal. This icon, in red, would go off once there was a comfortable distance to the vehicle in front. We found it a little distracting, especially in flowing traffic, but learnt to keep our distance where possible to avoid it coming on.

There wasn’t much noise filtering in during the highway drives and a normal conversation could be conducted without getting hoarse. The rustle and turbulence of the wind around the windows and front roof section was clearly subdued as an audible testimony to the CLA’s low body aerodynamic factor.

The suspension is similar to the C-Class being a wishbone MacPherson strut front and an independent four-link rear. Mercedes-Benz says a CLA-specific design is the flexible decoupling of the rear axle carrier to benefit ride comfort. Wheel carriers and spring links are made of aluminium to reduce overall vehicle weight. The steering is an electromechanical system. The tyres are 225/40 R18 rubbers fitted on 7.5Jx18 alloy wheels.

On the move, the suspension handled the variety of bumps, potholes and rumble strips nicely without conveying impact harshness to the passengers. The ride was firm, which was expected, but the good cushioning of the road impacts made it a comfortable one for all on board.

However, when we went at crawling speeds over the deeper ruts, potholes and bumps that were part of our daily fare, the hardness of the suspension setting was heightened to the point of being a little jolting. The suspension components also sounded clunky in tackling the road impacts. We decided to go even slower over these road surfaces to avoid the ‘harsh’ impression.

From our experience with Mercedes-Benz models, as well as having owned a model bought used for some eight years, we have no doubt that the CLA’s forte is on the highway, cruising easily at easy engine speeds to gain on fuel economy while revelling just as effortlessly at full bore if you are a hurry. The CLA 200 is an interesting proposal for that sporty look and decent performance at its price of RM235,888.

Photo Gallery