Driven: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

Matt Hubbard takes you inside the all-new Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class.

The CLA is Mercedes’ compact ‘saloon coupé’. It is front wheel drive and features transverse mounted engines mated to 7-speed automatic, or 6-speed manual, gearboxes. The design of the CLA is influenced by Mercedes’ own CLS, and, in photos at least, Mercedes seems to have succeeded in producing another handsome car.

In the metal, the CLA doesn’t look quite as good as in photographs. In fact it’s quite a strange amalgam of lines. The beltline, flanks and rear look great as flowing creases taper towards the trunk – and meet underneath it. However, the front section, and in particular the large corporate grille, don’t work quite so well.

It definitely suits less strong colors such as white or silver. The car I drove was red, and it was tough to find an angle from which the CLA looked as good as in the photos, except for from the rear. It also suits the 18-inch wheels you see in the photos. In anything else, the ordinariness offsets badly against the sweeping lines of the body.

Enough criticism. The CLA is a well-conceived car, just one that suffers when it’s not in the right colors and wheels to really highlight its shape.

The interior feels pretty special. It’s well laid out and ergonomically designed and has just enough aluminum trim to keep it feeling premium. The car I drove featured the optional Exclusive Package, which adds the aforementioned trim, black roof lining, heated seats and what I initially thought was leather trim atop the dash and doors. It turns out this is called Artico and is essentially leatherette, or fake leather. The Artico looks OK but doesn’t feel right and is a bit of a poor show by Mercedes. That said, the interior is a lovely place to be. Everything looks and feels right – except for the Artico.

The seats are both supportive and comfortable. The raked roofline reduces rear headroom somewhat, but two adults can sit in the back quite comfortably.

I was super impressed with the Mercedes CLA on the road. Despite being front-wheel drive, it is pretty finely balanced. It’s got a superb ride – really smooth. Motorway miles are eaten up at a steady pace. I tried both the 6-speed manual and 7-speed automatic gearboxes and couldn’t decide which was better. The manual is smooth and precise. The auto has sport, eco and manual settings, and all are fine without any jerkiness or sluggish behavior.

The CLA isn’t an enthusiastic driver’s car. It goes around corners quite well and is pretty well balanced. However, despite promising ingredients, it isn’t a hooning machine. The steering could have more feel – it is a tad over-assisted. Having said that, it’s generally a great car to just drive and spend time in.

The Mercedes CLA is a pretty fine car. It looks good in the right colors, the interior is a good place to spend time in and the ride is fine. You won’t be setting fast lap times in it, and rearward visibility is restricted by the coupe lines, but I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a stylish, economical, mile-muncher.

[Note: Hubbard test drove European versions of the CLA-Class, not the CLA250 set to be sold in the U.S.]

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Check out The Driving Life’s previous coverage of the CLA 45 AMG at the 2013 New York International Auto Show and the CLA-Class at the 2013 North American International Auto Show.

Be sure to check out additional photo galleries of Mercedes-Benz at the 2013 New York International Auto Show.

About the author

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, Matt Hubbard is a lifelong car fan with a particular passion for design, aesthetics and driving dynamics. He owns Speedmonkey, a UK-based automotive website. Matt is also a huge F1 fan and has watched every single race since the start of the 1994 season.