Mercedes CLA Coupe Review
The CLA Coupe mixes the practicality of a saloon – rear doors and reasonable back seat space – with the style and sophistication of a coupe, and in a relatively compact package. It serves as a more stylish alternative to another Mercedes-Benz, the A-Class saloon, and while it can’t match the A-Class for interior space, it nails the visuals. This is a car that looks great, comes with lots of high-tech equipment, the choice of petrol, diesel or hybrid power, and gives you a composed, comfortable drive too.
Select's rating score* - 3.7 / 5
Strictly speaking, a coupe has two doors and usually a sloping roof, to give a sporty look. But in recent years, car designers have appropriated the coupe ethos (and the name) and started using it on four-door cars. What would once have been called a saloon is now known as a four-door coupe, and that applies to this Mercedes-Benz.
The CLA was first introduced back in 2013, and this all-new, second-generation model arrived in 2019. Underneath it shares a lot of mechanical bits with the A-Class, but features a sloping roofline and more rakish styling to compete with similarly swish-looking rivals, such as the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe or the Mazda 3 Saloon.
There are two distinct types of CLA Coupe. The regular models come with a choice of petrol or diesel engines, as well as a plug-in hybrid option. They’re set up more for comfort that pinpoint precision on the roads, although they do handle nicely.
But if you want something with more performance and excitement there are two versions from Mercedes-AMG, which is the company’s tuning arm. The CLA 35 and the CLA 45 S are powered by big-horsepower petrol engines to add considerably more drama to the driving experience.
You can also get a CLA in an estate-like shape, called the Shooting Brake, which is to an estate what the four-door coupe is to a saloon – similar, but with more emphasis on style.
The CLA Coupe is pitched as a more premium offering than its sibling, the A-Class Saloon, and that means it comes well equipped as standard, with three different trims to choose from. All contain Mercedes’ impressive MBUX infotainment system, which dominates the interior with a huge touchscreen that controls virtually every information and entertainment system in the car, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to connect your mobile phone.
You can also control it with your voice by saying ‘Hey Mercedes’, and it’s one of the best voice control systems on the market. Even the entry-level AMG Line model has big 18-inch alloy wheels, as well as a wireless charging pad to keep your phone battery topped up.
The non-AMG models of the CLA Coupe come with a choice of engines. For petrol, the range starts with the CLA 180, which houses a 1.3-litre engine with 134bhp, and is followed by the CLA 200, which has the same engine but tuned to give 161bhp. This reduces the benchmark 0-62mph acceleration time from 9.0 seconds to 8.2, but impressively keeps the same fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
For a bit more poke still, the CLA 250 has a 2.0-litre engine with 221bhp and drops the 0-62mph time down to 6.3 seconds, which is pretty brisk. If you want a balance to performance and price, this could be worth looking for, but otherwise the less powerful engines should suffice for everyday use. The CLA 180 has enough oomph for most people, and there isn’t a huge difference between it and the CLA 200, but the latter could appeal if you do want a little bit extra.
When it comes to diesel, there’s just one option, and it’s the CLA 220d. This is a 2.0-litre engine with 188bhp, which gives you plenty of performance. With improved fuel economy over the petrol cars, this could be the model for those doing regular long journeys.
Alternatively, you can check out the CLA 250e plug-in hybrid, which mixes a 1.3-litre petrol engine with an electric motor, to give a very punchy 215bhp. The electric parts are heavy, so the hybrid isn’t quite as quick to 62bhp as the regular CLA 250, but the ability to plug in the car to the mains and charge the battery means you can do shorter journeys (up to 44 miles) on electric power only, which will dramatically reduce your petrol bills. If you have somewhere to charge it, this could be very appealing, but if you don’t, you’re just hauling around a heavy, empty battery and burning extra fuel while doing so.
All the standard CLA models have a comfortable ride quality and handling that, while it won’t inspire you to seek out country roads instead of the motorway, does inspire confidence and keeps things stable through the corners. The CLA 250e plug-in hybrid features even more comfort-focused suspension.
For those looking for more performance, there are three AMG models to choose from. The first is the CLA 35, which comes with all-wheel drive for increased traction and a powerful 302bhp engine. The suspension is also beefed up and much firmer, which makes for a stiffer ride but dramatically improved handling. If the CLA 35 is a proper hot hatch – and it is – then the CLA 45S is basically magma. It’s available in two guises, both with a massive 415bhp, which is power that only supercars could boast a few years ago. You’ll also get further improved stiffness and sophistication in the suspension for scalpel-like steering and handling. It’s an absolute rocket ship and considerably more engaging that its closest rival, the Audi RS3 Saloon. Choose between the CLA 45S or the CLA 45S Plus, the latter of which has yet further improved suspension and lots of performance and luxury extras.
With several engines to choose from, the running costs of the CLA Coupe vary, and so can fit into a variety of budgets.
The lower-powered petrol models will usually be more affordable to lease, and will cost less per fill-up, but won’t get as good fuel economy as the diesel. Officially, both the CLA 180 and the CLA 200 will return 46.4mpg, although the real-world consumption is likely to be slightly lower. The CLA 250 Coupe has an official figure of 41.6mpg.
The CLA 220d diesel’s big selling point is its fuel economy, which is 56.5mpg, and is likely to be of most appeal to those doing bigger mileages. We’d suggest you crunch some numbers to see if the slightly higher lease cost and the higher price of fuel at the pump will be offset by the savings you’ll make in mileage.
The plug-in hybrid CLA 250e may not be the cheapest to lease, but if you use it correctly you could make big savings on fuel. Make sure you have somewhere to plug in, keep the battery charged up whenever possible, and if you do mostly shorter journeys you could make the petrol supply last for an age. The official fuel economy is up to 282.5mpg, but this is largely academic as how you use it will make a big impact. If you can avoid using the petrol engine as much as possible, and treat it like a convenience feature that’s there if you need it, you’ll get great fuel economy.
It should almost go without saying that the AMG models, with their performance focus, will be more expensive to run. The official fuel economy of the CLA 35 is 36.3mpg, while the CLA 45S is between 31.8mpg and 32.2mpg depending on which model you go for. However, if you drive them as they were designed to be driven, you’ll be lucky to get anywhere near that efficiency.
When it comes to carbon dioxide emission, the plug-in hybrid CLA 250e has by far the lowest official CO2 figure; just 23g/km. For company car drivers, this will put it in the 6% bracket for Benefit in Kind Tax (2020/2021), thanks to its 44-mile electric-only range. This bracket is set to rise by 1% each year.
Next up is the diesel CLA 220d with an official figure of 132g/km (29% BIK bracket), while both entry-level petrol cars – the CLA 180 and CLA 200 – are close behind at 138g/km (30%). The CLA 250e sits at 154g/km (33%).
The AMG cars are some way further back; the CLA 35 emits 177g/km, the CLA 45S 200g/km and the CLA 45S Plus 202g/km. All are in the top 37% BIK bracket.
In the decades-old battle between the big three German premium brands, Audi has always had the edge on Mercedes-Benz and BMW when it comes to interior quality. But Mercedes may have just taken top spot for this size of car, as it’s produced a beautiful environment for CLA passengers to sit in, with great-feeling materials that are all solidly screwed together.
The design is the same as the A Class, but that’s no bad thing, as it’s modern, sharp and dominated by a wide infotainment screen that merges into a digital display behind the steering wheel. There’s plenty of adjustment in the driver’s seats, which get progressively more comfortable and adjustable as you rise through the trim levels. AMG models get sports seats that offer more lateral support through the corners. They also get a different steering wheel and some flashy graphics on the screens.
The CLA’s party piece is its big widescreen infotainment system, which looks like someone elongated an iPad and stuck it on the dashboard. It’s attached to a digital display in place of regular dials. You can control the various systems on the touchscreen, via a touch pad between the front seats or through buttons and touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel. You’ll need to take your time and figure out everything that the system can do, but once you’ve got the hang of it it’s straightforward to use.
The ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice system is good too. Sure, it’s not at the level of something like Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant, but in a world of disappointing in-car voice control features, this is one of the best and will let you switch between screens or change settings without fiddling through menus.
Upgrade from AMG Line to AMG Line Premium, and your infotainment system will get a clever augmented reality feature on the navigation. This overlays directions on a live video feed of the road ahead, to make it clearer where you need to go. The jury’s out on how effective it is, but it’s certainly a great party piece.
There’s tech to be found under the bonnet too, particularly on the AMG models. Dynamic Select lets you set the car up in different driving modes at the press of a button. When in Sport, the steering and throttle settings change to make everything sharper. On the CLA 45S, AMG Ride Control adjusts the stiffness of the dampers depending on how you want to drive; stiffer for sportier, or more relaxed for general cruising.
You’ll need to bear in mind that the CLA has deliberately compromised its practicality in order to maximise its style, so if you need the most space possible in your small four-door Mercedes, maybe check out the A-Class Saloon instead, or the CLA Shooting Brake.
But that said, there’s still a reasonable amount of room inside the CLA. You should just be able to squeeze three adults in the back seat, but two would be much more comfortable, and taller passengers may wish they had more headroom. Up front, there are plenty of storage spaces for your odds and ends, and good-sized door pockets too.
At 460 litres the boot is a very decent size, although the aperture at the boot lid isn’t the widest. if you’ve got an eye on the CLA 250e hybrid, that has a smaller 390-litre space, due to the electric components it carries. All models have rear seats that fold in a 40/20/40 split, which means you have plenty of different set ups available to carry larger items.
The CLA was tested by safety organisation Euro NCAP in 2019 and scored the maximum five stars, with particularly high scores for child safety and occupant protection.
All models come well equipped with standard safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist. The AMG Line Premium trim features Traffic Sign Assist which displays the current speed limit on the dashboard, and a blind spot warning system is available as an option on AMG Line Premium Plus models
All models have front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a knee airbag for the driver, and there are Isofix child seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
There are three trim levels available for the non-AMG cars, starting with AMG Line. That gives you 18-inch wheels and bright LED lights, as well as aluminium interior trim details and leather-covered sports seats.
Upgrade to the AMG Line Premium model and you’ll get keyless entry so you don’t have to mess around trying to find the fob to lock and unlock the doors, as well as an ambient lighting setup inside and a bigger digital instrument display.
The AMG Line Premium Plus adds some clever multibeam headlights, which effectively let you keep full beam on at night without dazzling oncoming drivers. There’s also a panoramic sunroof and upgraded front seats with extra adjustability.
It’s worth noting that the CLA 250e is only available in AMG Line Premium and AMG Line Premium Plus.
The AMG CLA 35 is similarly specced, with standard, Premium (19-inch wheels and extra exterior styling bits) and Premium Plus (more exterior bits, upgraded suspension, Burmester sound system) trims. The CLA 45S comes in standard or Plus forms.
When it comes to ticking options boxes, you can add the Drive Assistance Package to Premium Plus trims, which give you a suite of systems that provide a limited amount of autonomous driving, taking over steering, braking and acceleration on motorways if you want it to. You can also choose from plenty of colours, both for exterior paint and interior upholstery, as well as some different wheel designs.
There’s an increasing market for four-door coupes like the CLA, and the mix of four-door practicality and a styling focus means there are quite a few rivals you might consider. The obvious one is the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, which follows the same design ethos and majors on sharp handling, but isn’t quite as comfortable or practical. Nor, according to some, is it as good looking as the Mercedes.
Other cars to consider must include the CLA’s sister car, the A-Class Saloon. This ups the practicality and lowers the style a bit, but it’s far from ugly, so if space is important it’s one to look at. So too is the estate version of the CLA, the Shooting Brake. And don’t forget about Audi’s A3 Saloon, either.
If you want a similar level of style but don’t need the premium badge, or just want to spend a bit less, check out the Mazda3 Saloon or the Hyundai i30 Fastback.
The CLA Coupe represents a niche for people that want a stylish, premium car with an iconic badge on the front, but don’t want to sacrifice too much practicality. And for those people, the CLA is a really good bet. It’s decent to drive and has a good choice of engines and trims, from the economical plug-in hybrid to the barnstorming AMG models. With a very nice interior and some eye-catching tech, it looks good both inside and out, and comes heartily recommended.
Where to next?
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top six leading independent car website reviews of the Mercedes CLA
**Correct as of 27/10/2020. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2,639.63 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.