Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - CLA - 250 Sport 4Matic
Strong performance, sporty handling, surefooted all-weather grip, front-seat comfort
Room for improvement
High entry price, tight rear seat packaging, expensive options, firm ride with some tyre noise, droopy design
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14 Nov 2014
LET’S face it, the Mercedes-Benz CLA is an acquired taste.
If you are into compact coupe-like sedans with an emphasis on bold styling and a brash attitude, Mercedes pretty much has this market cornered.
And looking at the long waiting lists, who are we to judge?Yet the CLA 250 Sport 4Matic adds some welcome engineering depth without having to fork out nearly $90K for the 45 AMG 4Matic version, thanks to a detuned version of the latter’s 2.0-litre turbo four-pot screamer as well as the company’s clever and lightweight all-wheel drive system.
To find out how it drives, Mercedes flew us all the way to the beautiful north island of New Zealand where unseasonably inclement weather awaited to blow and/or wash away any superficiality that might hide an inferior car.
And, true to form, the 250 Sport 4Matic looked and felt right at home across the stunning wet and windswept landscape.
With a considerable 155kW of power and 350Nm of torque channelling between the front and rear wheels, there is no way anybody can complain about any lack of performance from the blown 2.0-litre unit, particularly as the standard-issue 7G-Tronic DCT dual-clutch transmissions makes for a slick and speedy companion.
Even though the latter included wheel-mounted paddle shifters to help make the most of the three-mode Eco, Sport and Manual gearbox modes, we preferred the default first setting, simply because it is rapid enough without the software-instigated insistence that each gear ratio be held right up to the red line. That’s fine when belting up a mountain switchback, but trundling through small Kiwi towns, the accompanying racket can be tiresome.
No qualms about the steering and handling set-up though, for the 250 Sport 4Matic glides through turns with poise and grace, backed by a solid and secure feeling that makes you glad for the AWD engineering going on underneath.
Indeed, if you are a keen driver, you will likely enjoy engaging in some hot-hatch style shenanigans racing down a winding road. Mercedes has set the chassis up to be pointy and responsive, without any torque steer or kickback that blights some other front-drive-biased performance cars.
Downsides? Away from calming smooth roads, on certain rough bitumen, the tyres transmit too much noise, rumbling surface info into the cabin, while making for a bumpy ride.
And, being a CLA, rear-seat space is not commensurate with a sedan that is longer than the C-Class from the next size up.
But that’s not being fair to the Mercedes, for a swoopy low-roof four-door coupe is what the W117 is all about.
It is why people are waiting months and perhaps even years to get into one.
So, keeping in mind that if the CLA is really want you want rather than the company’s benchmark C-Class series, the 250 Sport 4Matic is the speedy and sporty sweet-spot addition to a range of cars that seems to know what the market around the world really wants.
We’ve flown back to Australia more impressed than expected – and maybe even a tad intrigued. It’s not for us … but we get it. If you are keen, you should too.
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