Mercedes-Benz closed the calendar year 2014 on an all-time high. Having sold over 10,000 units in a calendar year, it was the best ever sales performance by the brand in India. Come 2015, Mercedes-Benz wants to continue with this momentum have have almost 15 new models (including facelifts) to be launched in India. The brand is continuously expanding its footprint across the country with more dealerships planned in 2015 as well. As of date, Mercedes-Benz has a good lead over Audi & BMW when it comes to the number of dealerships in India. Wrapping up a successful year, the German marque has addresses 2015 as the year to ‘Live the Best’. With products such as the CLA, GLE planned in segments untapped, there surely is potential for growth and Mercedes-Benz could crawl up to the #1 luxury spot towards the end of 2015 outselling Audi. In mid-2014, the brand launched the performance-spec CLA 45 AMG in India giving a hint of what’s in store to rival the popular Audi A3. Compact luxury cars are gaining popularity as customers who were previously paying upwards of Rs. 20 lakh for a Japanese sedan now preferred to own a badge with much more snob value, even though it was a bit more pricey & a little cramped inside.
Based on the MFA (Modular Front-wheel drive Architecture), this is the 4th car sharing this platform to be launched in India. The A-Class, B-Class & GLA-Class which were launched previously use the same platform. Although front-wheel drive dilutes the driving performance by a noticeable margin, the MFA range of cars are expected to be cost effective. Mercedes-Benz has also announced that it will bring the CLA sedan to India via the CKD route. This makes the CLA the first MFA based product to be locally assembled in India. Moving forward, the brand is looking at locally assembling the A-, B- & GLA-Class based on the demand. As of date, the CLA is a CBU attracting in higher taxes and a higher price tag.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA is a stunning looking car, no doubt. There’s only one rival, the Audi A3 already on sale in the market while BMW can only watch from the sidelines since they have nothing to offer this side of Rs. 30 lakh in a sedan body-style. One-on-one, the Audi A3 looks very pale when compared to the CLA. With the coupe like styling, rimless doors & curvaceous lines all around, the CLA is a very flamboyant sedan out there and the A3 is no match when it comes to exterior styling. There is a good chance that those who were still looking at D2 segment sedans will now jump their price bracket a bit more to look at these German baby luxury cars. So can the CLA make a cut and spearhead the sales performance for Mercedes in 2015? We took it for a spin to find out…
We’ve extensively reviewed the CLA 45 AMG, and hence, this review will focus only on the changes in the CLA 200.
If you like to arrive in style, you can’t go wrong the the Mercedes-Benz CLA. While the Audi A3 lacks in turning eyeballs on the streets, the CLA simply shines in this department. Yes, the front end is reminiscent of the A-Class, and it is hard to tell looking at the car only from the front if it has a boot slapped at the back.
At the front, compared to the CLA 45 AMG, the styling department hasn’t lost too much of flare. The CLA 200 gets a single-blade front grille in silver with the three-pointed star in the centre making a statement. Behind, the grille is identical to the 302 diamond-like pattern, but is seen in black & not the shiny chrome seen on the A-Class. We guess Mercedes will offer this grille as an optional accessory. All three cars, the A-Class, the CLA 45 AMG & the CLA 200 sport slight revisions in the front bumper. On the CLA, the lower lip is flushed with the bumper gets a sporty skirt like cut on either ends. The CLA does not get front fog lamps. Headlamps are identical to the CLA 45 AMG with LED DRLs & bi-xenon projector setup. Bonnet also carries forward the same crease lines.
17″, 5-spoke, silver & black alloy wheels dominate the styling department from the side. The two crease lines on the doors make the overall design look very progressive. The CLA 200 gets chrome weather strip around the windows. On the window sills however (lower end), we found this chrome (silver) weather strip to be a bit larger than we’d prefer. B-pillar gets a gloss black panel, but this is a dust magnet and needs constant cleaning. ORVMs get the typical ‘C’ shaped LED turn indicators. The car comes equipped with a panoramic sunroof with partially blacked out roof.
Just like the A-Class, the CLA also squats low. The LED tail lamp setup is beautiful and if you park the Audi A3 next to the baby Mercedes, the CLA blows away the Audi in this department. There is no spoiler-lip on the boot and the CLA continues with the clean curvy lines. On top, it gets a black sharkfin antenna for the radio. Rear bumper has been redesigned to sport two exhaust tips in chrome on either ends. The lower end of the bumper is blacked out with a silver diffuser like panel adding to the sporty character.
Did you know that the CLA sedan is the most aerodynamic series production car currently on sale? The aero-performance of 0.25 COD is even better than the CLA 45 AMG allowing the CLA 200 to simply glide. A lot of wind tunnel testing has been involved to achieve this.
If you like to show-off a bit, which is the case with luxury cars in India, and desperately want a poser, there is nothing better than the CLA 200 in the segment.
On the inside, everything is a familiar territory if you’ve been inside the A-Class. The CLA will be offered in two interior colour schemes, beige + black & all-black. We prefer the beige & black combo since it makes the cabin look & feel airy. With sloping roofline and the interior room on the limited side, the all-black interiors do lead to a little feeling of claustrophobia.
Dashboard layout remains the identical to the A-Class. The silver face-plate between the beige & black interiors adds to the premium feel and the AC vents as mentioned earlier are one of the best looking units seen on any car in India. The 3-spoke steering wheel is different compared to both the CLA 45 AMG & the A-Class. The steering gets silver accents on the central spoke (downwards) and has chrome surrounds for the steering-mounted controls. Wrapped in leather, the steering wheel is contoured to rest your thumb while driving. For those who like to have some fun, you also get paddle shifts. Instrument cluster gets a twin-pot layout with silver & black detailing and a MID in the centre. Stereo head unit is slightly revised with the ‘eject’ & ‘clear’ buttons making to the top centre. The Harman Kardon Logic 7 450 watt surround sound system works well and the sound quality is very good. The infotainment screen mounted above the centre AC vents is now the 5th generation telematics infotainment unit with a higher resolution. It comes with navigation as standard via a Garmin SD card. Reversing display is also shown here with an option to toggle between 3 camera angles. We guess there are some differences between the petrol and diesel variants since our petrol model did have a dual zone climate control while the diesel model during the media drives did not get climate control or rear AC vents.
Seats are identical to the A-Class, but are wrapped in leather on the CLA. Both the front seats get electric adjustment with memory function. Seats provide very good support and get adjustable lumbar support too. Ideal seating position can be easily found thanks to the good seat adjustment range couple with the rake & reach adjustment for the steering wheel. Headroom however is a big concern, and taller drivers will have no option but to ride with their seats lowered all the way. Sliding driver armrest has a storage spot underneath with a USB port for the infotainment system.
The wheelbase of the CLA is longer by 62mm compared to the Audi A3, which is evident once you jump on to the rear seats. The benefits are handed out in the legroom department. Not that it is a very spacious luxury sedan, but even a 6’2″ driver can sit behind his own driving position without his knees scraping the front seat. Also, the front seat back has been carved out for additional legroom. Mercedes should have avoided the use of hard plastics behind the front seats, which would have made it a bit more easy on your knees for times when you hit your leg hard. Rear AC vents are either optional, or limited to the petrol model only. Under thigh support on the rear seats is strictly average and nothing to write home about. Also, if the driver has his seat placed down all the way, there will be negligible amount of foot room left. The prominent transmission hump is a 5th occupant repellant and the CLA is primarily for 2 at the back, with seating 3 becoming a squeeze. The sloping roofline looks fantastic from the outside, but eats up the headroom on the inside. Taller occupants would at times find their head almost touching the roof.
Ambient lighting in the CLA sets up the mood very well. Amber illumination under each neck restraint and all door handles looks fantastic at night. Even the floor gets illumination making sure you step-in right at night.
Boot space is sacrificed for the space saver spare wheel. With this in place, you will be able to carry 3-4 medium sized bags only. Boot is accessible even from behind the centre armrest of the rear seats. The 60:40 split & folding rear seats however add to the practicality for times when you need to carry more cargo.
Engine, performance & handling:
Powering the CLA sedan are the same petrol & diesel engines being used by the GLA SUV.
Powering the CLA 200 petrol is a 2.0L, in-line 4-cylinder, turbocharged engine producing 181 BHP of power @ 5,500 RPM & 300 Nm of torque @ 1,200-1,400 RPM. The turbocharged petrol motor is super refined and almost impossible to tell if running from the inside. Driving around in the city, the car handles the stop & go traffic situations very well with the good amount of torque available lower down the revv range. On kick-down, there is no turbo lag which kills the momentum & fun factor. The engine builds revvs nicely and in sports mode, shifts the gear exactly at the redline. The 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox is butter smooth and keeps the car on a lazy revv range at all times, trying to maximise efficiency. On the highway, the petrol motor is not really explosive with power being delivered in a very linear manner. Exhaust note is also on the calm and composed side and the only way to have fun is to use to paddle shifts on the steering, there is no aural bliss involved. The petrol motor has a healthy mid-range performance and a slight tap on the accelerator is good enough for an overtaking maneuver. The petrol powered CLA 200 gets an ARAI approved fuel efficiency figure of 15.04 kmpl, which is quite respectable. Doing a 0-100 kmph stint in under 8 seconds, the CLA 200 is fast. What enthusiasts would love while flooring the pedal apart from the 181 horses on tap is the organ accelerator pedal.
Powering the diesel model, the CLA 200 CDI gets a 2,143cc, 4-cylinder, turbocharged motor producing 134 BHP of power @ 3,600-4,400 RPM and 300 Nm of torque @ 1,600-3,000 RPM. Fire up the engine and one can clearly tell that there is an oil-burner under the hood. NVH levels although acceptable, the diesel motor does make its presence felt at lower as well as higher RPMs. Only while cruising at speeds of around 80-100 kmph do you find the engine to be well muted. Turbo lag is well controlled and the car sprints with a slight tap on the pedal. For the price you will pay, only 134 horses under the hood sound a bit disappointing but with a 0-100 kmph stint in under 10 seconds, most of the owners would be satisfied. Power delivery is very linear and there is no turbo spool felt when you floor the pedal. While driving in manual (paddle shift) mode, although you might like to get close to the redline, the engine sounds a bit gruff while doing so. Diesel model gets an ARAI approved fuel efficiency number of 17.9 kmpl.
Both the front-wheel driven CLA models get 3 driving modes. E (economy), S (sport) & M (manual) modes manage the gearbox and the revv range at which the gearshifts are made. For times when you want to have fun, switch to the S mode as it revvs all the way up to the redline before shifting gears. Also, while on your favourite ghat section, the S mode will also offer a good amount of engine braking. Flooring the pedal from 0 kmph however kicks in the traction control system with the car hesitating a bit to shoot ahead instantly. Manual M mode allows you to take things in your hand by shifting gears using the paddle shift. If you revv to hard or drop the revv counter too low, the car will upshift / downshift on its own. In the economy E mode, the car maintains gearshifts at an ideal revv range to maximise fuel efficiency. For those who want to save that little bit extra, you also get the auto start / stop function. However, in cities like Mumbai, this gets quite annoying and will also kill your engine mounts much earlier.
The suspension setup on the CLA is suited for rear seat comfort. It is unlike the stiff A-Class and offers a much more plush ride on the Indian roads. The CLA handles bad roads with aplomb and doesn’t feel nervous if you thrown in a broken patch of road. A healthy ground clearance tackles most of the speed breakers without scraping even once. When we say the suspension is soft, don’t write it off completely as there is not too much vertical movement. The balance is just right to keep the rear seat occupants free of jerks while moving over a pothole.
On the highway, the CLA handles is a mature manner and doesn’t throw in any surprise mid-corner. If we have to say it, then yes, the Audi A3 is a bit more rich dynamically compared to the CLA, thanks to Volkswagens MQB platform. On high speeds, the CLA does feel a bit nervous due to the soft suspension and under panic braking situations, although the car doesn’t lose the rear end, it does feel that it’s on the limit. Steering feedback is average and weighs up well on high speeds. It does feel a little numb and vague around the centre. Being a front-wheel driven model, the CLA is still quite fun to be thrown around corners, but not too fast. Braking performance is adequate and the car stops in a straight line without too much drama. Thanks to the ContiSportContact 5 tyres, the grip levels are more than sufficient to push the car hard with confidence.
Scoring 5 stars in the Euro NCAP, the Mercedes-Benz CLA sedan is a safe car to commute in. It comes equipped with 6-airbags, ABS, EBD, ESP, ASC, TPMS, adaptive braking, hill hold, Pre-Safe & attention assist. Soon, Mercedes-Benz claims that the MFA range of compact cars will be very efficient on your wallet with local assembly bringing down ownership cost down to Rs. 1.99 / km for the first 20,000 km.
So if you’re in for a entry level luxury car and want an outright poser, we recommend that the CLA 200 is the best money can buy. It offers the best of both worlds between styling and performance which will keep most of the potential buyers happy. Mercedes-Benz claims to target young and first-time buyers with the new CLA, and we must agree, the car can live up to the expectations of this target audience. Does the CLA propel the sales performance for Mercedes-Benz to the #1 spot, time will tell.