Driven #28: Mercedes-Benz CLA200 CDI

2014 was a great year for Mercedes-Benz India with an array of exciting new launches and record sales that crossed 10,000 units for the first time ever. The German luxury car-manufacturer isn't keen on losing this momentum and has lined up quite a few interesting launches this year too. Just a month into 2015, the onslaught has officially begun with the launch of the beautiful CLA-Class, the most-affordable sedan in the brand's current lineup. That makes this a crucial model for Mercedes-Benz, one that's expected to bring in not just the volumes but also attract first-time customers to the brand.

Though the performance-oriented CLA45 AMG was launched in India last year, it basically targeted a niche clientele, leaving the mainstream customers to be catered to by the newly-launched CLA200 in petrol and diesel guises. So, is the CLA ready to shoulder the responsibilities that the erstwhile C-Class carried? Or, is it just a style rebel with little in the form of substance? We spent a few hours behind the wheel of the CLA200 CDI trying to find that out. Read on, to know what we think.


When images of the "Concept Style Coupe" that vowed audiences at the 2012 Beijing Auto Show trickled down to our desktops, we were spellbound by what we saw and went to the extent of calling it 'the sexiest sedan ever'. When the production model was unveiled at the 2013 Detroit Motor Show a year later, we were stunned at how the 'four door coupe' magic, pioneered by the original CLS, had lent itself to the CLA. Now, almost three years later, our thoughts on the CLA hasn't changed one bit. And we aren't alone here, mind you. Wherever we went, onlookers gawked, stole closer peeps and shot pictures.

The CLA shares its frontal design with the A-Class but Mercedes-Benz has given the sedan a few thoughtful and effective design flourishes for differentiation. The studded grille, for instance, is now black with a thick chrome louver holding a large 'three-pointed star' logo. The sculpted hood with four muscular slashes look sporty as does the bumper with sharp detailing at the edges and around the air dams. But the silhouette is where all the drama lies. Characterized by a sloping roofline that wouldn't look out of place on a sportscar and three prominent character lines running the length of the car, the CLA oozes style when viewed from either sides. Despite their best efforts, the familiar mirrors with those slingshot LED indicators and the stylish 5-spoke alloys fade in comparison. The drama continues at the rear where the waistline merges seamlessly with a rather small boot lid that comes integrated with a chunky lip. Dual, chrome-tipped exhaust pipes at the ends of a bumper diffuser adds to the racy look of the CLA.

As is the norm with all luxury cars these days, the headlights and taillights sport distinct detailing that makes the CLA stand apart. The Bi-Xenon headlights with their characteristic kinks are straight out of the A-Class and is, in fact, being adopted in one form or the other throughout the Mercedes range. But, the real show-stealers are those stunning taillight clusters. Not only is the organic shape of those lenses appealing, they also look fabulous when illuminated with thin streaks of LEDs. And, how do we begin to describe the beauties that those frameless doors are? Words just wouldn't do justice. See them in flesh to know what we mean.

Build quality, fit and finish are top notch with the CLA exhibiting true-blue Mercedes traits in these aspects. The doors are thick, close with a solid reassuring thud and presumably stiffer to withstand the additional stress that the absence of frames would bring along. The windows are engineered to lower themselves a bit when the doors are opened and raise back to position once the doors are shut. Pretty neat! All four doors and the two rear veiw mirrors have puddle lamps that light the surface you are about to step on to, a pretty useful feature at night.


Step inside the CLA with your eyes closed and we wouldn't be surprised if, for a moment, you mistook it for an A-Class or a B-Class. The CLA shares most of its interiors with the other MFA siblings that we have seen and driven before. Again, there are some useful add-ons that make the CLA's cabin look and feel more appealing.

The dashboard, that's straight out of the A-Class, looks brilliant and is livened up by the brushed aluminium finish in the middle and a lower half that's painted biege. Though getting a bit repetitive now, the turbine-shaped air-conditioner vents look fantastic, feel great to touch and operate and reeks of quality. With so many buttons on the trot, the center console looks crowded initially but is actually fairly simple to live with. With the COMMAND controller likely to be used for most of the phone and infotainment controls, there are just three buttons there that you would want to use frequently - the hazard activator, the driving mode selector and the start/stop switch. Beneath them are the air-conditioner controls. The sporty, three-spoke steering wheel is great to hold with perfect contours for the thumbs and houses an array of buttons for controlling the Multi Information Display (MID) screen and audio. To the left of the steering wheel are two stalks, one at the top for operating the lights, wipers and indicators and the other for engaging cruise control. To the right is the unique gear selector stalk that's simple and intuitive to use.

Though it looks aftermarket, we like the floating COMMAND screen that looks as if its stuck onto the dashboard. When we drove the A-Class, we had a lot to complain about how outdated the system really was. That is taken care of in the CLA. The 17.8-cm, high-resolution screen has Mercedes' latest generation telematics system and comes with features such as a SD card-based Garmin navigation system, the app-based Mercedes-Benz Radio, Bluetooth telephony and the owner's manual amongst others. It also doubles up as a high-resolution parking assist screen as soon as the reverse gear is engaged. The grid lines are dynamic and change with steering inputs. Depending on what we choose, vehicle settings can be controlled either by the COMMAND controller or the MID toggle switch in the steering wheel. The instrument cluster is made up of twin elliptical pods on either sides of a colour TFT multifunction screen. Apart from the usual odo reading, trip summary and fuel-efficiency readouts, the screen also has a nifty ECO indicator and a charge indicator for regenerative braking. A highlight of CLA's cabin is the Harmon-Kardon Logic 7 surround sound system that offers excellent sound quality on the go.

The front seats are electrically adjustable and comes with a memory function to store three positions. This, together with the steering that's adjustable for reach and rake, makes finding the ideal driving position a simple affair. The seats themselves are quite snug and offers excellent comfort, albeit lacking adjustable head restraints. Space at the front is impressive, a fact further accentuated by the long travel range of the seats. While its all good until now, things get different when you step into the rear seat. This is where the 'form over function' ideology of CLA hits back. Both legroom and headroom are just about adequate for two well-built adults, with the high front seats and the sloping roof line making it a bit claustrophobic for rear passengers. This is where the panoramic sunroof helps bringing in much-needed light and airiness to the cabin. Third passenger would be a real squeeze unless you would want someone to feel really uncomfortable with limited width and a high floor hump. While the boot space at 470 liters appear impressive in the photograph that we shot, do remember that the space saver spare tire would be strapped onto the boot floor restricting the usable space.

The CDI Sport variant that we drove is the most expensive of the lot and comes with a full complement of safety features like Antilock Braking System (ABS), Brake Assist System (BAS), adaptive braking, Hill Start Assist, Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), Dynamic Cornering Assist, Attention Assist, Acceleration Skid Control and six airbags.


Powered by an inline, 4-cylinder common-rail diesel engine with a displacement of 2143 cc, the CLA200 CDI produces 134 horsepower between 3600 to 4400 rpm and a peak torque of 300 Nm from as less as 1600 to 3000 rpm. Mated to the 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission that transfers power to the front wheels, Mercedes-Benz claims a top speed of 220 km/h and a 0-100 acceleration time of 9.8 seconds.

Turn the ignition on and the CLA settles down into a well-muted groan. Refinement is acceptable but not spectacular as you would expect a Mercedes to be, particularly at higher revs. There are three driving modes to choose from - Economy (E), Sport (S) and Manual (M). In the default Economy mode, the engine is tuned for better fuel economy and upshits take place quite early in the rev range. The shifts are seamless for the most part but there were circumstances when the tranny was looking out for the right gear before slotting in eventually. The Sport mode brings some respite by holding onto each of the gears longer. The Manual mode is even better as the transmission doesn't upshift until redline while the steering-mounted paddles make the actual job of shifting cogs interesting. Needless to say, downshifts happen automatically if we fail to use the paddles appropriately. Having said all that, we can't help but feel that the CLA deserves more power and torque to go with its rich looks and luxury car tag. The last a Mercedes customer would want is to get smoked off the line at a traffic signal by a humble Chevy Cruze.

A major concern on the A-Class was its harsh ride quality at low speeds. With the CLA sharing its underpinnings with the A, we were not expecting the ride quality to be much different. Boy, were we in for a surprise! Engineers at Mercedes-Benz have softened the suspension of the CLA significantly and the result is a much-improved ride quality that's more in line with the other rear-wheel drive sedans in the company's lineup. The CLA absorbs most bumps and potholes with minimal fuss, filtering only the larger ones onto the cabin. In fact, the ride is so plush that we hardly realized doing triple digit speeds on several instances. As speeds build up, the CLA rides even better and stayed comfortable and composed at all speeds. Another aspect that's improved over the A-Class is ground clearance, a specification that Mercedes-Benz is unwilling to declare. The CLA cleared the biggest of speed-breakers albeit with a bit of caution exercised, the same ones that the A-Class scraped its underbelly on.

Handling is quite good too and doesn't appear to be affected much by the soft suspension set-up. No, the CLA isn't as accurate and doesn't turn as well as the A-Class but that's only to please the enthusiasts amongst us. For normal everyday driving, the CLA's dynamics are more than competent and leaves little to complain. The steering is accurate and the car responds eagerly to our inputs, a wee bit of understeer not withstanding. Straight line stability is particularly impressive to the point that we were grinning ear to ear when an empty bit of straight road came up, allowing us to floor the pedal. Just like the A-Class, braking is splendid and the CLA sheds speed unceremoniously with minimal impact inside.

Extensive periods of idling and spirited driving meant that the CLA returned a not-so-impressive fuel economy of a shade under 8 km/l during our drive. But, when ambling around town in Economy mode, the CLA returned just above 12.5 km/l, which isn't bad considering the weight of the car.


| Engine Type: CDI (Common-rail Direct Injection Diesel |
| No of Cylinders: 4 |
| Displacement: 2143 cc |
| Maximum Power: 134 bhp @ 3600 - 4400 rpm |
| Maximum Torque: 300 Nm @ 1600 - 3000 rpm |
| Transmission Type: 7-Speed Automatic |
| Tires: 225/45 R17 |
| Brakes: Ventilated Disc (Front), Disc (Rear) |


* Stunning design and styling
* Excellent build quality
* Extensive feature list
* Ride Comfort


* Limited rear seat space
* Less powerful compared to rivals


With the new-generation C-Class moving to a higher price bracket, Mercedes-Benz badly needed a sedan in the vicinity of 30 to 40 Lakh Rupees, which is where the CLA perfectly slots in. It's gorgeous styling apart, the CLA is built like a vault, offers top-notch safety, comes loaded with features that run into miles and has a plush ride quality. Yes, it is priced higher than what was expected, the power output from the diesel engine is nothing to brag about and the space at the rear is limited. But then, these aren't going to stop a prospective customer from signing up for the CLA. As a lifestyle car for a young urban family or as a second or third car in a premium garage, the CLA makes immense sense. There are few better ways of arriving at a destination in style than getting down from the CLA. For that reason alone, we would excuse those few shortcomings, rob a bank and line up for the CLA.

Photography: Bharath Rengaraj


  1. Arvi merc should have focussed on rear occupants' comfort rather than overkilling the rear design. Loading gap also adds to annoying factor.

    1. But then form over function is what has given the CLA its distinct identity and its just wow.