Road Test: Mercedes Benz CLA 180
The CLA 180 has all the ingredients to become Mercedes-Benz’ best-selling model, writes Thegandra Naidoo.
A Polo Vivo at 25, an Audi A3 at 30, and a Mercedes-Benz C-Class at 35 – that’s generally the plan of action for most university graduates. One problem, we never really plan our lives on a piece of paper. This is why we often don’t get what we want at a desired age in our life.
So, if you’ve planned on owning a C-Class in your 30s, chances are that it might not necessarily happen. Realistically, you might end up buying a house, the missus falls pregnant, and your budget no longer allows you to buy your desired car.
Thankfully, Mercedes has a solution. The CLA – the latest four door offering from the marque – is designed to appeal to younger buyers. It’s the most affordable Mercedes Sedan on sale and it’s got plenty in its arsenal to give the middle finger to Audi’s A3 Sedan and Volkswagen’s Jetta.
From the outside, it looks like scaled-down version of the CLS, and it comes in a fraction of the price. The CLA has coupe-like styling, frameless doors to enhance its visual appeal, and all the necessary bells and whistles to make it an attractive package.
The CLA 180 – which I had on test – is based on a front-wheel drive platform that it shares with the current A-Class. It’s endowed with a turbocharged 1.6L petrol engine and it’s priced from R350 000.
Interestingly, it shares the engine with a Renault. Mercedes claims performance figures of 90kW and 200Nm of torque. It’s not designed to set the world on fire, but it felt lively enough in traffic and on the open road, and offers a traditional Mercedes driving experience.
First impressions indicate that the engine is rather flat, but the turbo four-pot does wake up higher in the rev range. You might not necessarily feel the low-down torque, and if it stepped out of any comparable turbo diesel, you will definitely want more torque. It’ll sprint from 0-100kph in 9.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 210kph. During my test period, I averaged around 8.0-litres per 100km as a combined cycle.
The power is driven to the front wheels via a manual 6-speed gearbox – rather unusual for a Mercedes which are conventionally rear-wheel driven. Then again, the CLA has been designed to be a cost effective model and the FWD setup helps to keep the costs down.
My test unit was fitted with a dual-clutch 7-speed auto gearbox. It’ll set you back R17 000 but it’s worth the money. It just makes for an easier drive, without needing to clutch in-and-out, especially if you travel along Gauteng’s densely populated roads.
If you want to ride quality, the sports suspension fitted to our test car is not for you. It sits 20mm lower than the standard set-up, and it was much harder than I had expected. However, the suspension is not jarring and unbearable. It’s well composed and soaks up the bumps in the road with ease.
The suspension is part of the AMG line kit which will set you back a further R17 000. The kit also adds bigger 18” inch wheels, body kit, AMG mats and a leather-clad steering wheel. It’s worth the money because it makes the CLA so much more appealing.
On the open road, the chassis is well-balanced. Even at high speeds, there is a lack of body roll. There is mild understeer CLA, but it’s quite easy to correct. The thick-rimmed AMG steering wheel is nicely-weighted and direct. The brakes work well, and when combined with all the driver aids, it’s an easy car to drive. But, I don’t believe that it could ever be described as a driver’s car.
The interior is welcoming and visually appealing. The front seats are very supportive and it’s easy to get into a comfortable driving position. But it does make you feel rather claustrophobic. Due to low slung roofline, taller and bigger drivers and passengers might become uncomfortable. It doesn’t have electric seats at the front, but Mercedes does have an option to add an electric driver’s seats. The option, however, will set you back R7000.
The rear bench is also very small. You will battle to get comfortable due to the limited leg- and head room. It also doesn’t offer a rear armrest, but it is available as optional extra. By comparison, the Volkswagen Jetta offers better space at the rear.
The CLA comes standard with a multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, and a decent audio system with a 6-disc CD changer, among others. The media interface system will cost you R3 000, Xenon headlights another R8 000, and the Distronic system will set you back R11 000. There’s a host of optional extras, and I would assume, this is where Mercedes will make most of its money.
I might sound a little pessimistic, but there was a flaw with the interior. Many of the trim pieces didn’t line up 100%. There were also many rattles and noises which you wouldn’t expect from a Mercedes. Then again, I was behind the wheel an S-Class the week before, and it’s very difficult compare an entry-level vehicle to a flagship model.
As cars go, the 2013 Mercedes CLA 180 is pretty much in a class by itself. Despite sharing a platform with the A-Class, the larger CLA isn’t much more expensive than its hatchback sibling, and it currently retails at much the same price as the A200.
But it comes down to choice, and the CLA offers a cavernous boot, which might suit a young family who needs the bigger space. Our test unit was priced at R386 000 with all its optional extras, representing really good value for money. The CLA 180 includes a 6-year/100 000km maintenance plan as well.
By comparison, the equivalent Audi A3 Sedan will cost you R5 000 more, while the flagship Volkswagen Jetta TDI is R10 000 less. In the end, it boils down to how much you like the CLA’s coupe styling. It might be worth a wait to see the pricing on the upcoming C-Class as well.
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