I have found it difficult not to swoon when I spot a Mercedes-Benz CLA on the road. In 2014, the company wowed us with the CLA45 AMG - but most of us had to wait till January 2015 to see what the purer form of the car looked like. It was amazing to see the 4-door coupe design, first popularised by the CLS, to have been bestowed on a smaller platform.
In line with its international update, Mercedes-Benz has now launched the CLA facelift in India too. But how do you make something that is already beautiful, even more so?
You can't, without making at least some people unhappy. That is exactly what the company has done, why bother changing a recipe that is so successful? The Mercedes-Benz CLA, along with the A-Class hatchback and the B-Class hatchback have opened up the brand to a whole new segment of buyers - those who aspire to own a car with the three-pointed star badge on the hood but at a lower budget.
The CLA facelift is priced from Rs 31.40 Lakh for the 200 CDI Style, to Rs 34.68 lakh for the 200 CDI Sport. We are testing the 200 (petrol) Sport, which is priced at Rs 33.68 Lakh. All prices mentioned here are ex-showroom Delhi.
As said before, Mercedes-Benz has played safe with the design of the CLA - you have to look at the details to find out the differences. At the front, the headlights have been modified - the CLA is now offered with all-LED headlamps as standard equipment. The removal of a chrome strip from the top edge of the headlamp unit makes the new CLA look sleeker than before. The 3D-effect grille with the large logo remains unchanged, the bumper has been redesigned, though. The bumper now gets a chrome strip on the lip.
No changes have been made to the sides - even the 17-inch alloy wheels remain the same as before. The frameless doors are a design highlight, helping the car stand out even at standstill. At the rear, the changes include the reworked taillamp elements and the new bumper with rectangular tailpipe finish and a lower extension. The reworked taillamps may divide opinions, the older design was quite attractive.
In terms of design, the changes on the inside of the CLA facelift are as subtle as the exterior. The three-spoke steering wheel with multimedia and telephony controls, the propeller-like A/C vents, the dual-tone interior theme with textured silver dashboard insert, and other elements are exactly the same.
The CLA facelift gets a bigger 8-inch colour screen, replacing the 7-inch screen from before. The infotainment system linked to this new screen supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, though our repeated attempts at testing this proved futile. The screen doubles up as a reverse camera display; the CLA 200 Sport is not offered with rear or front parking sensors which were there on the pre-facelift model.
The buttons on the lower centre console are silver finished, they were black on the previous model. Mercedes-Benz has added a new button to control the 'Dynamic Select' functionality. The Dynamic Select program, which can be accessed through the MMI controller on the lower centre console or changed directly with the dedicated button, changes the engine and steering characteristics as per the needs of the driver. The instrument cluster background is now reminiscent of the CLA45 AMG. The instrument cluster design remains the same though; it gets two large deep-set analogue dials with a large colour MID screen in-between and smaller TFT screen on top.
The CLA's cabin feels luxurious and is remarkably designed with enough detail to keep you occupied for hours on end. However, the one thing that cannot be masked is that it's a relatively compact cabin. The front seats are generous for adults of all sizes and are six-way electrically adjustable with memory settings. The rear bench is best suited for two adults - the CLA isn't wide enough to seat three abreast. The centre tunnel runs through the cabin and adds to the middle passenger's woes. There is a three point seatbelt available for the one sitting in the middle at the rear though. The CLA's coupe body style doesn't help the rear headroom either. However, two six-footers can sit one behind the other with enough knee-room and leg-room for all.
The panoramic sunroof, offered as standard equipment in the CLA facelift range, makes the cabin feel less claustrophobic. The CLA 200, even in the top of the line 'Sport' trim, does not feature automatic climate control or rear A/C vents - which seems to be a glaring omission. The keyless-go (with a start/stop button) may be a good feature, but you still have to use the buttons on the key to lock/unlock the car.
Engine and Transmission
The engine options on the CLA remain unchanged - a 2.1-litre, turbocharged, 4-cylinder diesel motor developing 136PS of maximum power and 300Nm of peak torque and a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, 4-cylinder petrol motor developing 183PS of maximum power and 300Nm of peak torque are available. Transmission option is limited to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission for all variants.
The CLA 200 Sport we are testing is powered by the 2.0-litre petrol motor. The turbocharger helps the motor develop torque low down in the rev range (peak torque is developed from 1,200rpm to 4,000rpm!), which helps it surge forward as soon as you press the throttle. The motor is not the most silent at lower speeds, but the growl as the speeds increase can make you smile.
Mercedes-Benz claims a 0-100kmph time of 7.8 seconds and the CLA feels agile to do justice to those figures in the real world. The only kink, if you are an enthusiastic driver, is the 7-speed dual clutch transmission. The DSG used in Volkswagen group cars has lightning-quick shifts that has raised expectations. The DCT in the CLA seems lethargic in comparison, though it is no slouch if experienced in isolation. The engine-gearbox combination struggles to slot the best ratios in stop-start traffic and you have to modulate the throttle to keep yourself from flying into the back of the vehicle in front.
Drive and Handling
The CLA's suspension is tuned for comfort and is non-adjustable. The 'Drive Select' function only lets you adjust the steering feel and throttle response. Mercedes-Benz has tuned the suspension to be compliant enough to take on most road conditions - whether be smooth flowing roads or broken tarmac, but made it stiff enough to stop it from wallowing at higher speeds. The CLA takes most bumps and potholes in its stride without much noise or vibration being transmitted to the cabin, though the sharpest of potholes can be felt.
The CLA is fun to drive, the steering weighs up nicely as speeds increase while being easy enough to manoeuvre at city speeds. It is an electrically-assisted unit and so, it does not offer much in terms of feedback. The 17-inch wheels shrouded with 225mm-section Yokohama Advan tyres are very grippy. Combined with a rather well-balanced suspension, the CLA feels confident enough to take corners at silly speeds. That said, the CLA displays typical traits of a front-wheel drive car; there is understeer at the very limit - though most drivers will find that limit hard to reach on normal roads.
If things go awry, the Mercedes-Benz CLA is fitted with 7-airbags, an 'Attention Assist' program, Anti-lock Braking System, Electronic Stability Program, Anti-Slip Regulation and other active- and passive safety systems.
The update has allowed Mercedes-Benz keep the CLA fresh for it to remain in the limelight. Its youthful design and luxurious interiors will continue to woo customers till the next model comes along. Though the Audi A3 may look like a better value-for-money offering, the CLA's aspirational value is intact. What bothers me though is the fact that Mercedes-Benz had to make some compromises to make the CLA seem 'new', and these compromises appear too stark to be ignored.