Latest Merc is top CLAss
Every once in a while, there's a changing of the guard in some manufacturer model ranges and that's clearly the case with the Mercedes-Benz CLA.
A front-wheel drive saloon with a coupe roofline that's bigger than the C-Class saloon it was introduced to slot in alongside? The CLA will challenge your preconceptions, that's for sure.
The CLA is available with three engines, all powering the front wheels. There's the 1.6-litre 122bhp entry level CLA 180, the 211bhp 2.0-litre CLA 250 and the 170bhp 2.1-litre CLA 220 CDI diesel. The entry-level car gets a six-speed manual gearbox while the other two get the clever 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission.
The chassis of all these models features a MacPherson front axle and an independent multilink rear suspension, with a clever flexible decoupling of the rear axle carrier, which improves ride comfort.
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Wheel carriers and spring links consist of aluminium, in order to reduce unsprung weight.
Two chassis and suspension set-ups are available: the comfort suspension and a sports suspension for sporty yet comfortable handling.
The latter entails lowering of the body by 20 mm (front) and 15 mm (rear). The chassis is also capable of being configured for all-wheel drive which, if rumours of a hot AMG version are to be believed, isn't going to be too long in coming.
Irrespective of the selected chassis, all CLA variants come with the Direct Steer system.
This electromechanical power steering enables various steering assistance functions which are activated by the ESP stability control unit. These include countersteering in case of oversteering, corrective steering when braking on road surfaces offering different levels of grip (split-friction braking), mitigation of the extent to which the front-wheel drive influences the steering and compensation of crosswind and road gradients. It's all very clever stuff.
The CLA owes quite a debt of gratitude to the large executive CLS-Class four-door coupe in terms of styling, that being the car that pioneered the whole four-door coupe genre over a decade ago.
Beneath this CLA-Class model though, are underpinnings that belong very much to Mercedes' entry-level model, the A-Class hatch.
That car isn't bad looking these days but this one's on another level entirely.
Mercedes is on a roll right now. Cars like the A-Class, the SL, the CLS and the CLA demonstrate that it's calling the shots amongst the big German marques with the others doing their best to keep pace.
The CLA is an interesting case, aiming to show that rear-wheel drive is not an attribute that the mass-market needs in a car of this type.
Older drivers may struggle with that one, but the Generation-Y customers that Mercedes is targeting won't take issue.
As one Mercedes Executive VP noted, "We aim to reach new target groups with the CLA – including those who never intended driving a Mercedes."
So it's fair to say that this CLA is a hugely significant development for the brand. It is, in some ways, a new era for Mercedes saloon cars.
It opens a big revenue stream and frees the C-Class to be a bit bigger and more luxurious.
The most significant Mercedes model of the last fifteen years? That might very well be the case.