Thursday, April 3, 2014

Devon test drives a CLA


Audi and Mercedes both are offering four-door sedans for buyers who can't afford the more expensive A4 and C-class offerings. The CLA is the stylish of the two and offers that Mercedes quality at a lower asking price. But does this mean that you get what you pay for with a cheap Mercedes?

Performance: The CLA only offers two engine choices. It's a no brainer here as to which engine is the pick of the range. The CLA250 which is the cheaper of the two offers a turbocharged four-cylinder producing 208hp. Top of the range CLA45 AMG offers the same turbocharged four-cylinder producing 355hp. Most buyers will pick the CLA250 because it's cheaper to buy and makes the most sense financially.

On the road: The CLA suspension is set up towards comfort which is fine if you desire a smooth ride. The car still shimmies around over rough surfaces. The sports suspension sharpens handling but the ride comfort is much firmer and produces a choppy ride over rough surfaces. The AMG is great fun but is much harder to live with. There is little wind noise at highway speeds, there is a lot of road noise on patchy road surfaces. Both engines are smooth in operation but the AMG has a contagious exhaust that makes it hard to drive casually.

Behind the wheel: The driving position is good for drivers of all sizes. With plenty of adjustments for both driver's seat and steering wheel. This is sadly where the positives end. Just like all other Mercedes, you have to operate many functions by scrolling through menus with a single control dial in the center console. The lay out isn't very user friendly and is just too distracting to fully operate while on the go. The swooping roofline means that rear visibility is poor. There's plenty of room in front for two with so-so rear passenger space. You'll have to becareful not to bash your head when getting in the back of the CLA. The boot is fairly large but its shallow and makes loading bulky items tricky.

Equipment: The CLA250 comes with decent kit for the money. Although you'll have to pay extra for Bi-xenon headlamps and a sport package which makes the CLA look sportier. Attention Assist is standard as well as 17-inch alloy wheels, start/stop system and Bluetooth hands-free interface. Top of the range AMG offers unique AMG trim, all-wheel-drive system and Bi-Xenon headlamps.

Buying & owning: The CLA looks pricey compared to the A3 sedan. Many of the features you'll most likely want pushes the price higher. At least the running costs will be decent if you stick with the front-wheel-drive variant. Resale value should be strong too thanks to good looks and the legendary Mercedes badge.

Quality: Interior quality and materials used feel upscale but don't feel as classy as the A3. Plus there are some areas that feel cost cutting. What worries us even more is the fact that Mercedes continues to score low in reliability surveys even though they have improved dramatically over the years. It's still not as good as Audi and BMW.

Safety: 10 airbags come standard as well as Attention Assist which monitors drowsy drivers. Optional is Bi-xenon headlamps on the CLA250 as well as blind spot warning detection. Deadlocks and an imobiliser come standard to keep theft at bay.

The CLA is a great entry level luxury sedan for those who really want the Mercedes badge but can't afford the more expensive C-class. Even though it is a great car all round, it still makes us wonder is it really worth considering? There are many indirect rivals that offer more kit for similar money and there's the Audi A3 which offers a few extra bits standard for the same price tag. Unless love the looks and can over look the short comings of the CLA this is the car for you. Otherwise we suggest looking at the A3 and top of the range indirect rivals.

Likes: Stylish inside out. Smooth turbo engine. AMG is a total hoot to drive. Mercedes at a low price what's not to like?

Dislikes: You'll pay an arm and leg to get the features you'll most likely want. AMG version is expensive. Reliability is still iffy and there's too many better indirect rivals.

Devon's Choice: The CLA250 is a no brainer here. If you want a cheap Mercedes this is the version to go for. However, you'll have to pay extra for features that you'd most likely want. They don't come cheap either!

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