Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake

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Price: $66,400 + on road costs
Engine: 2.0L 4cyl turbo-petrol
Safety: lane departure warning + 9 airbags + semi-auto braking
Economy: 9.0L/100km
Value: * * * *

The Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake is an interesting study in styling and practicality. It’s added a unique dimension not only to Mercedes’ range of prestige cars but to the small car class as a whole.

In essence, this car is trapped somewhere between a station-wagon (the traditional body for the ‘shooting-brake’ style over the decades) and a hatchback, a Jekyll and Hyde approach in which most aspects are very good but a few won’t appeal to everyone.

The CLA was launched in Australia as a 4-door coupe, and this wagon version comes with a large hatchback-style power-operated tailgate behind a use­ful although not massive boot. A ski-hatch and 60/40 split-fold rear seats add to the versatility.

But this practicality cannot compensate for its coupe-like elements of thick body pillars and a sloping roof that cause annoying blind spots, a situation not helped by the dark-tinted windows. Parking sensors, blind spot assistance and a rear-view camera ease some of these problems, but no electronic gadgetry can fix the awkwardness of the oddly shaped rear door openings.

The CLA Shooting Brake has come to Australia with three petrol versions and a diesel, and with nothing else quite like it among premium small cars it’s being offered with a reasonably hefty price tag. The starting point is the 1.6L turbo-petrol CLA 200 at $52,400 plus on-road costs, while for just $500 more there’s a similarly equipped 2.1L turbo-diesel 200 CDI. Then it’s a much bigger step up to our test car, the $66,400 CLA 250 Sport 4MATIC that gets a 2.0L turbo-petrol engine and all-wheel-drive. Topping the range is the exciting 265kW 2.0L turbo-petrol CLA 45 AMG at $89,900 plus ORC. Each model has a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission set up for the respective engines’ characteristics.

Equipment levels

For this money, expect premium equipment levels, especially on the safety front. All CLAs have nine airbags, which means side airbags for the outer rear passengers and a driver’s knee airbag, plus a worthwhile range of Mercedes’ advanced features to help avoid a collision or reduce its impact. These include radar monitoring of the gap to the vehicle in front with warnings and semi-autonomous braking, monitoring of driver behaviour and steering inputs to detect fatigue, and an active bonnet to reduce pedestrian injuries. The AMG version has adaptive cruise control that regulates speed to maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front, and lane-keeping assistance that warns if you wander off line.

The CLA 250’s interior presentation continues the familiar Mercedes layout and high-quality feel. Most controls are well placed and easy to use, but we are not convinced about the gear selector on the steering column where it can be mistaken for indicators or wipers.

Interior size

Excellent front seat adjustment caters for drivers of all sizes, although tall drivers may disagree because overall it is a compact car. When the front seat is right back (which won’t be required for the majority of drivers), there’s almost no leg room for rear passengers. And having the front seat in this position prevents the split-fold rear seat being laid down.

Three adults can fit across the back seat but it’s a squeeze, and the sloping roofline limits rear headroom, although it better than in the coupe version.

Performance differences

There are significant performance and driving differences in these CLAs. All are equipped with sophisticated direct-injection turbo-charged engines that, in varying degrees, deliver a good balance of performance, fuel economy and low emissions. The base CLA 200 with its 115kW of power and 250Nm of torque will satisfy many buyers’ needs. Stepping up to the 250 Sport, though, you appreciate the 2.0L engine’s extra 40kW and, more importantly, another 100Nm of torque. It pulls strongly and is a far more enjoyable drive all round. The 7-speed automatic maintains a smooth-flowing delivery, however the gearshifts are not always as responsive or as sharp as they could be. Yet when needed, acceleration is relatively rapid for this type of vehicle.

The 250 Sport Shooting Brake runs on 18-inch AMG wheels with low-profile run-flat tyres. The chassis set-up and lowered, well-controlled suspension (engineered by AMG), along with the added traction of constant AWD, give the car a secure feel on the road. By today’s standards, the steering is slightly heavy but it gives good feedback and is reassuringly precise. To go with this, the 250 also has excellent braking performance and we consistently recorded exceptionally short stopping distances from 80km/h.

Given the vehicle’s slightly sporting nature, the ride is well controlled but also surprisingly compliant. There is just the occasional thump over large bumps that reminds you the suspension is quite firm. Tyre and road noise varies noticeably with changes in road surface, and while it’s not excessive, at times it’s higher than you’d expect in an upmarket car.

For the sporting enthusiast

And then we have the CLA 45 AMG Shooting Brake, a serious piece of kit aimed at the sporting enthusiast. It is dressed for the occasion, has breathtaking performance and the dynamic package to match, including a superb braking system. With its acclaimed 265kW/450Nm engine, it employs similar running gear to the A 45 AMG hatch that won the Australia’s Best Cars category for Sports Cars $50,000-$100,000 last year.

The car does not come with a spare wheel, only a repair kit for the run-flat tyres. A space-saver spare wheel is available as a dealer fit option.

The verdict

Mercedes has created a unique spot in the top-end, small car segment with the extra versatility and load-carrying potential of the CLA Shooting Brake. Despite minor compromises, where fashion takes pre­cedence over function, it is an appealing package. There’s a good spread of performance, on-road dynamics and equipment levels across the four-model range.

Rear light view of a Mercedes CLA 250 Sport
Front view of a Mercedes CLA 250 Sport driving
Front seats and dashboard of a Mercedes CLA 250 Sport
Open boot and rear view of the Mercedes CLA 250 Sport
Written by Greg Hill
October 01, 2015