Mercedes-Benz unveils the all-new CLA

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a weird place to stage the world premiere of a car. But that’s exactly what Mercedes-Benz did when the all-new CLA made its first appearance at Las Vegas last week. Currently in its second generation, this four-door coupe sits alongside the A-Class sedan this time around as a pricier and, of course, sexier option in the brand’s compact lineup. 

We dug deep to see what’s good and what’s not with the new CLA. Here’s what we found.

Good: MFA family keeps growing

When Mercedes-Benz debuted the Modular Front Architecture (MFA) – the inexpensive platform that drives the front wheels and underpins all compact cars in the family – traditional customers and brand loyalists cried hoarse that the brand’s purity is being diluted. Fast forward to 2018, every fourth Mercedes-Benz model sold was a compact car spun off the MFA. Yes, 609,000 out of 2.31 million customers that bought a Mercedes-Benz last year drove home a new A-Class, B-Class, CLA, CLA Shooting Brake or GLA. That’s not insignificant!

Mercedes-Benz is obviously taking note. In just over a year, the German luxury car-maker has bolstered its compact line-up with a new-generation A- and B-Class, an all-new A-Class sedan that sits alongside the hatchback and now the new CLA. There’s more, a new CLA Shooting Brake and a new GLA are reportedly in the works. With more and more customers responding with their wallets for one of these and Mercedes-Benz paying them back handsomely with newer models boasting superior styling and latest tech, the compact line-up from Stuttgart is emerging as a force to reckon with. Audi and BMW have a lot of catching up to do.  

Good: New CLA’s styling is spot-on

Let’s make a confession here. We at Anything-On-Wheels love the outgoing CLA from the day we saw the images of the Compact Sport Coupe Concept that previewed it. But, we know there are many that loathed the current car's bulbous and - cruelly, in their eyes - disjointed rear. Thankfully, the new CLA won’t polarize opinions.

The design team at Mercedes-Benz have been dishing out great looking cars the last few years and the new CLA is no exception. Be it the aggressive 'shark-nosed' fascia, the prominent power domes on the hood, the compact and flowing coupe-ish greenhouse, those frameless doors or the distinct Coke-bottle shoulder leading up to the familiar 'GT' rear end, the CLA is designed to turn heads. And it does, convincingly. If the sedan looks this good, can you imagine how the Shooting Brake would look like? We can't wait. Just ignore the cheesy orange accents dotting the launch edition.

Good: The revolutionary MBUX is even better now

Mercedes-Benz created quite a flutter at the 2018 edition of the CES bringing along it’s new-age infotainment system – the ‘MBUX’. With snazzy big screens, high-definition graphics, a customizable display, a full-colour Head-up Display, built-in navigation with augmented reality and voice control that activates on hearing "Hey Mercedes" and comes equipped with software that can actually learn, the MBUX is a technological tour de force. The new CLA, Mercedes claims, has the latest and improved version of that. 

Said to be intuitive and innovative at the same time, the MBUX promises to redefine in-car entertainment experience. For instance, the Interior Assist feature has a host of functions that could just be controlled via gestures. There's even a "Personal Favourites" feature that can be accessed by holding a hand over the center console with the index and middle fingers spread in a V-shape. The idea is to store frequently used MBUX functions in one place for quick access any time. Cars are getting intelligent and the MBUX serves as a strong reminder.       

Good: You pay more and you get more

When initial reports suggested the new CLA would have the same 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder under the hood like the A-Class, we were put off for obvious reasons. But, Mercedes-Benz has been smart enough to offer a higher state of tune in the CLA. With 221 horsepower and 350 Nm of torque, the CLA is more powerful and torquey than the A-Class sedan. 

If that’s not enough, Mercedes-Benz says there will be a host of petrol and diesel engines on offer when the CLA goes on sale later this year depending on the country you’re in. If none of that would do, wait for the bonkers AMG variant that should be in the pipeline. If the current CLA45 AMG is anything to go by, this would be well worth the wait!

Good & Bad: Interiors are fabulous but look all the same

If you've been in a Mercedes-Benz of late, you know that the cabins look and feel fabulous. It's more of the same with every new-generation or an all-new model coming in. The new CLA treads the same line too. A big free-standing monolithic screen stretches across the dashboard with two functional sections - one for instrumentation and the other for infotainment. Funky circular air-conditioning knobs are there, of course, like every other Mercedes model. A slew of top-notch driver assist functions, safety features and creature comforts - some straight off the E- and S-Class - are part of the kit too. 

Problem is, you've been in the CLA if you've been in the A-Class. You've seen the A-Class if you've seen the C-Class and so on. It's a good problem to have, no doubt. But, ask if an S-Class owner who paid five times as much as an A-Class owner feels the same way.    

Bad: A-Class Sedan or CLA? What's your pick?

Despite the “four-door coupe” tag that Mercedes-Benz bestowed on it, the CLA was always the sedan equivalent of the A-Class. Or so we thought until the second-generation model premiered. In addition to the hatchback that we’ve had for three generations, the new A-Class also had a sedan counterpart making the CLA’s positioning in the lineup a bit more difficult and confusing. Of course, the product planners at Mercedes wouldn’t agree with that statement. 

The CLA is sexier and likely to be priced and positioned higher than the A-Class sedan. It’s also a bit more powerful and expected to deliver the look and feel of a mini CLS, which it really is. In the end though, it all boils down to the rear headroom on the A-Class sedan versus the oomph factor of the CLA. Really. But, will a potential customer understand these differences? And even if he or she does, isn't this too much of an overlap within the brand?

All said and done, the new CLA has a lot going for it and is sure to be a success story it's maker expects it to be. Just bring out the Shooting Brake already, please!

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