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Test driving the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

The CLA-class, with its delightfully unusual styling, is all set to raise the style quotient in the premium segment

A whole generation of cars, in a variety of sub-segments has spawned ever since the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class made its debut back in 2004. The big saloon, with a swooping roofline created a fantastic success story for itself, leaving a trail of clues for rivals to flatter M-B with imitation. A democratic representation of the CLS’s revolutionary expression in automotive design, the CLA is out here to redefine what one should expect from a premium car in its price range stylistically.

Design and style
It holds the world record for being the most aerodynamically correct production automobile, saving precious fuel every inch it moves and killing less butterflies in the process. Sharing its face with the swashbuckling A-class to a large extent, the CLA has a swagger of its own. Low, squat with an aggressive snout, those power bulges on the bonnet and a pair of boomerang LED daytime running lights — the CLA looks decidedly sporty.

Curvy, all-LED tail lamps add a lot of oomph to the hind side, especially when litCurvy, all-LED tail lamps add a lot of oomph to the hind side, especially when lit

The shape of its grille is the same as the A-Class. The glittery diamonds on the latter have been replaced by glossy black studs here for distinction, and a bit of cost saving too. The avant-garde grill features a satin silver slat with shiny chrome on top, holding the big triple pointed star with pride in the middle, making the CLA look absolutely smashing from the front. Aggressive central and side air dams further enhance the CLA’s sporty appearance. Those pronounced creases atop the bonnet, or what Mercedes prefers calling power domes have been used outside of an AMG product for the first time.

Classy, five-spoke two-tone 17 inch wheels, wrapped around by 225 section tubeless tyres. PICS/AMIT CHHANGANIClassy, five-spoke two-tone 17 inch wheels, wrapped around by 225 section tubeless tyres. PICS/AMIT CHHANGANI

On the sides, in addition to that sharply dipping roofline, the two creases shared with the S-Class and the C-class make an appearance on the CLS as well. The greenhouse is lined with thick, hi-quality chrome. The 5-spoke two-tone 17 inch wheels look sporty and add vastly to the CLA’s appeal. The boot deck looks particularly good, with its integrated spoiler. Those frameless doors look astonishing too, but that’s something you get to behold only when the car is at a standstill and the doors are swung open.

Doors with frameless windows look astonishing, but one can only notice them when they are swung openDoors with frameless windows look astonishing, but one can only notice them when they are swung open

The rear is dominated by that curvy LED tail-lamp, which looks fantastic when lit. A black diffuser beneath the rear bumper, accentuated by chrome and flanked by twin trapezoidal exhausts lends the CLA’s rear a distinctive, premium, aggressive air.

Powertrain and performance
The CLA, upon its launch will be offered with two engine options. Petrol power comes in the form of an 1991cc 4-cylinder petrol engine with 181bhp of power produced at 5,500 rpm. The engine also produces 300 Nm of torque between 1,200-1,400 rpm. There is also a 2143cc turbo diesel on offer with 136bhp of power output @3,600-4,400 rpm with torque output rated at 300Nm between 1,600 and 3,000 rpm. Both engines come mated with the 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission with ECO, Manual and Sport modes to select from and steering mounted pedal shifters for manual shifts.

The freestanding central screen is now bigger at 17.8 cm, more hi-resolution and boasts a bunch of new featuresThe freestanding central screen is now bigger at 17.8 cm, more hi-resolution and boasts a bunch of new features

We drove the CLA in both the options during Mercedes’ media drive event. Let’s begin with the less powerful diesel engine first. The power output of 136bhp isn’t too high and resultantly the diesel powered CLA isn’t a particularly quick car. There is a fair bit of engine noise filtering into the cabin too.

The upside however, is the linear nature of the engine, delivering bushels of torque from as low as 1300 rpm and endowing the CLA with great cruising capabilities with very low consumption. The diesel CLA does its 0-100km/h sprint in a little less than 10 seconds, which isn’t very quick. The ARAI-certified fuel efficiency of 17.9 kmpl is segment leading though. As we discovered during the drive, the 2.1 litre engine is a fine companion for stress-free, relaxed cruising with a high fuel efficiency output. It’s got ample torque for reassuring overtakes when required; it doesn’t like being hustled though.

The 2.0 litre petrol variant, however, is a fine performer. The 0-100km/h timing for this one is 7.8 seconds, and the fuel efficiency figure, at 15.04 kmpl is impressive for the engine size. Redlined at 5,700 rpm, this engine isn’t a particularly high revving one, but has plenty of shove at hand. Unlike the relatively unhurried diesel, the petrol powered CLA feels sporty and intent. The difference in acceleration is very evident right from the word go. With its higher output and no forced induction, the petrol engine feels a more natural option for the athletically styled CLA. We could have done with a sportier sound note and bit more rev-happiness for the engine though.

As mentioned before, both engines come mated with the 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission. It does a great job of swapping ratios efficiently and intelligently in the auto mode and doesn’t leave much to complain about for everyday driving. Response to kickdowns takes a teeny bit, which is acceptable in most cases, but sometimes when you’re really gunning for it, makes you wish it were that slight bit quicker. The petrol variant, quite naturally, is the pick of the two options for its superior performance. The diesel CLA is practical and efficient, but it can’t bring that wicked grin to your face.

Ride and handling
Mercedes-Benz has worked extensively on the suspension of the CLA to ensure that it suits the requirements of the Indian customers particularly well. The ride height has also been raised marginally to let it sail smoothly over the turbulent Indian roads. And what an exemplary job have they pulled off! The CLA absolutely astonishes with its ability to flatten any impediments the notorious Indian roads may throw at it.

Of the two variants on offer here, the diesel feels a bit more nose heavy as compared to the petrol. Thanks to the added weight, it feels ever so marginally softer than the petrol version. The lighter petrol variant feels, very mildly, more firm. When pushed around tighter bends, the petrol version also feels a more neutral exhibiting less understeer. The steering on both cars is medially weighed at slow to medium speeds. It gathers weight as you build speed, though doesn’t feel as heavy as on some of the other German cars.

Just like the suspension, the steering also insulates you from the information about what’s being trampled by those Contisport tyres. The feel and feedback at the wheel isn’t something great to write home about though it’s quite precise and allows you to place the car confidently while handling bends. High speed stability in a straight line is fantastic too.

Interior and features
The CLA Class shares its immaculately built cabin with the A and B class to a large extent. The turbine-shaped five air-con vents on the dashboard, steering wheel, the door panels, the space between the seats — almost everything is shared between the three models.

There’s a very perceptible solidity about the Mercedes-Benz cabins, and the perception has only strengthened with the newer models. The quality of materials used among other things is where mainstream Mercedes cars really stand out, and the CLA is no different. So while most bits on the dash of the CLA are shared with its smaller A and B class siblings, the infotainment system, what Mercedes-Benz likes calling NTG-5 version is an upgrade over the NTG version 4.5 that the older cars ran. The freestanding central screen is now bigger at 17.8 cm, more hi-resolution and boasts a bunch of new features.

To start with, it supports two USB slots now, and also has an SD card slot which powers the maps for the upgraded Garmin sat-nav. The new screen also allows for showing photos, and playing them in a slideshow. You can now use the screen to browse the Internet using your phone’s Internet connection via Bluetooth.

A couple of new Mercedes-Benz apps have also been added to the interface, though these require a strong and constant Internet connectivity to function properly. Panoramic sunroof is offered standard, and features rain sensors for an auto-shut function on detecting water. Harman Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system comes as standard with the CLA, and as you would assume, sounds fantastic.

Also standard is a reverse parking camera. The space at the backseat, thanks to the stylish roofline, has taken a hit. The headroom is a bit of an issue and the six footers would find their heads constantly brushing with the CLA’s roof. Legroom, though manageable is not generous.

Rear seats, like their frontal counterparts, are sportily designed in a bucket shape and along with a lack of width mean that the CLA can seat only two in comfort at the back. There is no dearth of cubbyholes and small storage spaces in the CLA, what takes the cake really, though, is the 470 litres of boot space, which is unmatched in the class. Unfortunately a big percentage of that space is taken up by the space saver spare which sits atop the boot floor.

Verdict
The CLA class will be imported to India via the CBU route for the first couple of months, so don’t expect a very aggressive price tag. M-B India will start assembling the car locally by April 2015, but the prices are not expected to go down significantly even then. We’ll reserve the final word till January 22, which is the launch date of the car. What we can say conclusively for now, though, is that the CLA has style, quality and features as its strong USPs. For the style and image conscious, it doesn’t quite have a match, and if the premium segment is all about image, it should tower above all its rivals. Price to be announced.

Technical specs
Engine
 - 1,991 cc petrol/2,143 cc turbo diesel

Cylinders - 4 cyl/4 cyl
Power - 181bhp @ 5,500 rpm/136bhp @ 3,600-4,400
Torque - 300 Nm @ 1,200-1,400 rpm/300 Nm @ 1,600-3,000 rpm
Fuel efficiency - 15.04kmpl/17.9kmpl

The rivals

audi 3

Audi 3
The A3 won the World Car of the Year Award for the year gone by – so there has to be something special about it. Going by the body type, the positioning and possibly the price, the A3 is going to be CLA’s prime competitor. Balanced styling that appeals to all, a fairly powerful and efficient diesel and a sporty petrol, both mated to a very capable S-Tronic transmission make the A3 a solid proposition in the segment it represents. The space inside is not generous, but shouldn’t leave you moaning either. It’s a nice package which has great appeal for the buyers in the entry level premium segment.
Price: Rs 23-33 lakh

BMW 1 series

BMW 1 series
You know where to look if driving thrills are your focus area. The 1-series is the pick of the lot when it comes to driving pleasure. Space at the backseat is quite decent. What the 1-series lacks, though, is equipment on the lower spec variants. It’s also the most economical car to buy in the segment. In the diesel variant, the 1-series delivers a fantastic combo of great handling, ride quality and fuel efficiency. It’s not a three box body type, but should be the prime competitor from BMW to the CLA on the price front.
Price: Rs 23-32 lakh

volvo v40 cross country

Volvo v40 cross country
The Swedish car is a strong contender in the segment for those who understand the strengths of Volvo as a brand. The V40 is an unusually exciting shape for a Volvo, known otherwise for its functional designs. Cabin space is good and performance from the diesel engine is respectable. Transmission isn’t the most advanced. With its appealing style, the V40 deserves a look before you make a buy in this segment.
Price: Rs 32 lakh

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