Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - CLA - Shooting Brake
Performance of CLA45 AMG, practicality of wagon body style, cargo capacity, unconventional design
Room for improvement
Noisy diesel, ageing centre stack controls, seven-speed dual-clutch can hold gears, cabin quality not quite up to Benz standards
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10 Jun 2015
MERCEDES-BENZ decision to introduce a range of compact cars based off a new front-wheel drive platform a few years back has clearly paid off.
The ubiquitous MFA modular platform, which has spawned the latest-generation B-Class and A-Class hatch, GLA crossover and CLA four-door coupe, now accounts for more than one third of all Benz passenger car and SUV sales in Australia.
In fact, the MFA models have accumulated 4964 sales so far this year, from a total of 12,144 units shifted to the end of May.
So it makes sense that Benz would look for other opportunities, or niches, to explore in a bid to further increase its volume at the lower end of the premium market.
Which brings us to the CLA Shooting Brake, a wagon version of the CLA four-door coupe that’s set to arrive in showrooms this month.
Benz has mimicked the specification of the coupe but added a $1500 premium for Shooting Brake versions, so it kicks off from $52,400, plus on-road costs for the base CLA200 petrol and ends up at $89,900 for the performance-honed CLA45 AMG 4Matic.
From front on, the Shooting Brake carries the same face and low-slung stance of the coupe, but it becomes a sleek wagon with compact dimensions from the B-pillar back that, aside from its CLS Shooting Brake big sibling, looks like nothing else on the road.
While the size of the CLA ensures it won't steal sales from the E-Class Estate buyers, it offers more than enough cargo space if you want a little bit extra flexibility and room to carry bigger loads on occasion.
Lift the automatic tailgate – which feels super lightweight – and there is a neat cargo area offering up 495 litres of space, which is five litres more than the C-Class Estate. When the rear seats are folded it expands to swallow 1354 litres. The C-Class in that configuration can take 1510 litres.
It also features Benz's odd 'cargo' position, which pushes the rear-seat backrest forward slightly to boost capacity to 595 litres.
In this state, the German brand says you can still fit three occupants in the back seats, but they will be sitting forward rather awkwardly it is not a seating position anyone would be able to endure for very long.
For taller folk, there is not a lot of rear legroom, but the additional 40mm of rear headroom over the coupe is welcome. The sloping rear window means it is difficult to see outside, but shorter occupants should have not problems.
Regardless of the practicality benefits over the CLA coupe people will buy the Shooting Brake on looks alone, and out of the two body styles, we think the wagon wins.
Elsewhere in the cabin, the centre stack controls are a little busy for a modern Benz. The number pad for phone use is a little Ford Fiesta, which itself resembles a Nokia mobile phone from the early noughties.
While the materials appear to be high quality, the overall feel is not of the same level of the C-Class, which, given the compact models serve as the entry point to the Benz range, may not be surprising.
Visibility through the tiny rear screen is not ideal, but thankfully the CLA features a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors as standard across the range.
Our brief drive of the CLA in Melbourne's outer north-east started in the warmed-over CLA250 Sport 4Matic (all-wheel drive), which is technically the mid-range option at $66,400.
Benz claims a 0-100km/h time of 6.8 seconds for the CLA250, which sounds about right. It is quick off the line and likes to be pushed, but it stops short of being an all-out performance model. More on the AMG later.
The 4Matic all-wheel drive system is offered as standard on CLA250 Sport, and while it mostly keeps you attached to the road, there was some lights skipping over uneven surfaces.
The ride is a little on the firm side, perhaps unsurprising for a model dubbed 'Sport', and we found the 7G seven-speed dual-clutch transmission held gears for way too long.
Inside, sports seats, red stitching and jazzy red seatbelts hint at the 250's sporting nature.
The CLA25 Sport strikes a perfect balance, performance-wise, for buyers wanting a bit of zing without terrifying your passengers, or having to cough up $90k.
Stepping into the CLA45AMG, you can see where the extra $23,500 goes, with serious body-hugging sports seats, a sexy, chunky sports leather/dinamica three-spoke steering wheel and more kit.
The 265kW/450Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol unit has already proved itself under the bonnet of the A45, GLA45 and CLA45 AMG coupe, and it is just as sweet when matched with a wagon.
Performance from a standing start is blisteringly quick (0-100km/h in 4.7s), and the soundtrack is a delight. The AMG gets an AMG Speedshift seven-speed dual-clutch, which is a solid match for the engine, although it also holds gears on occasion.
Flicking to Sport mode brings a spectacular crackle and pop sound from the exhaust on down shifts, resulting in some confused/impressed looks from pedestrians, and even more hectic acceleration.
The 4Matic system keeps the Shooting Brake firmly stuck to the blacktop, and corners are handled with joyful ease. Steering is on the heavy side but is as sharp as a tack. The AMG goes precisely where you point it.
We did not get time at the wheel of the base C200 petrol unit ($52,400), or the C200 CDI ($52,900), but as a passenger in the diesel, we noticed that a reasonable amount of noise from the 100kW/300Nm 2.1-litre turbo-diesel unit penetrates the cabin, while those reflectors embedded into the road were also noticeably felt and heard.
It's difficult to pick the sweet spot in the range given we haven't driven the base variants – that may have to wait for a full road test – but the performance capabilities of the CLA45 AMG put it right at the top.
In terms of overall packaging, the CLA Shooting Brake offers buyers something different, and the standard equipment list for each variant is impressive, but cabin quality and noise, vibration and harshness levels are not up to Benz's usually high standard.
Comparing it against the other Benz compacts, the Shooting Brake is perhaps the most next most practical model after the B-Class tall-boy hatch.
Volkswagen's Golf R wagon is on the way Down Under and could provide a cheaper alternative to the CLA45. But for many, the lure of a Benz badge will prove too strong. For anyone else looking for a statement car that offers real-world practicality, the CLA Shooting Brake could be worth a look.
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