It happens quite rarely that the key factor in selling a car is its appearance, but this is the way it is with the CLA from Kecskemét. The streamlined design is a bull’s eye and it gets people so enthusiastic that they almost forget to ask the price. The concept with its frameless door windows and its spectacular lines is for it to become a niche model that is bound to draw attention.
It probably won’t surprise the new Mercedes fans that this car is the world champion in aerodynamics at the moment. To be more precise, the CLA 180 Blue Efficiency model set the high score with a cw-value of 0.22. With that score it’s officially the most aerodynamic production vehicle in the world. We tested a CLA 180 with the 90 kW (122 PS) basic engine and standard equipment, so unlike the record holder version this did not feature special A-pillar geometry, optimised underbody and rear axle panelling, radiator shutter, aero wheel trims and serrated wheel spoilers on the front and rear wheel arches.
Experts say that the most important factors for reducing air resistance are the full underbody covering, lowered suspension and the right tyres and wheels. For that reason, even the shape of the side mirror cover is optimised for air resistance. The aerodynamic optimisation of the body is also a way to reduce fuel consumption and exhaust gas emission, without the need to use lightweight materials such as carbon, aluminium or magnesium, which require a lot of energy during their production process.
The patented Mercedes solution for this question is the curved plastic profiles mounted in front of the wheels. They guide the air stream past the tyres and prevent the air from swirling. The engineers in Stuttgart have calculated that a driver of a vehicle with a cw value reduced from, let’s say, 0.3 to 0.25 can save 0.7 litres of fuel on each 100 kilometres. The effect of aerodynamics on the fuel consumption grows exponentially at higher speed: at 200km/h the car would need to be a tonne lighter to reach the same saving effect.
The model we tested was closer to consuming six litres every 100 kilometres than the five litres specified by the manufacturer. However, if you buy a CLA you are not doing it to save fuel: low consumption value is a part of the package, and customers’ favourite model in this category (aside from the tuning class AMG) is the most powerful CLA with a two-litre turbo engine of 155 kW (211 HP).
Mercedes-Benz bases its new strategy strongly on the compact class, within that the CLA and GLA as new categories are still positioned over the B-Class. Despite having similar engines and equipment packages, the CLA still costs about one million forint more than the B-Class. Not only the 500 employees who were hired as extras in Kecskemét to produce the exclusive models are profiting from the extra revenue, but also the two dozen Hungarian suppliers who are receiving several hundred million euros of extra orders.
Well, how did our test car do? The platform is the same as the A-Class but CLA is superior in terms of length with its 4.63 metres. The people I know would call the front look of the “Stretch Coupé” something like “brutal”; it takes some time for the passengers to walk to the other doors and get inside.
The sport seats are very comfortable and you get the typical Mercedes feeling, secluded from the world outside. The heavy driver’s door contributes (whether by intention or not) to that feeling because it tends to slam back when opened. The multifunctional steering wheel is handy, the dashboard is arranged for a nice overview, and we hope that the free display will literally sink into the background soon.
The continuously sluggish or even freezing navigation system is a mess – this was a real weakness for the premium model. People usually complain that the Coupés are narrow, making travelling in the back less comfortable. The handy counter-argument of the manufacturers is that nowadays usually only 1-2 people travel in a personal car.
The CLA has two individual places in the back with a kind of emergency seat in the middle, which is quite narrow. However, when we tried driving with five people, the person travelling in the middle had the most comfortable place, because the two people on the “side seats” always hit their heads against the roof – this is the disadvantage of the flat roof design. You could almost be better off in the trunk, which has a capacity of 470 litres, with loading edge positioned a bit lower but still allowing easy loading.
You can always find something to complain about but the main purpose of a car is driving it – and the CLA is a real top experience for the driver. Fortunately or not, we could not activate the security techniques included in the production series, like the drowsiness detection system or the radar-controlled crash protection.
The comfort suspension with its cushioning was not really designed for Hungarian roads. The Start-Stop worked flawlessly. (It happened to me for the first time that when a Sprinter rolled up next to us at a red traffic light, we experienced a situation where two vehicles were standing next to each other waiting for the green light with the engine turned down, in the middle of otherwise so noisy Budapest.) The CLA lay on the street flat as a plank; no wonder that Lewis Hamilton once said this vehicle is so handy that sometimes he can drive it using only three fingers.
Mercedes-Benz Hungária offers a global warranty for four years, which covers all maintenance work until reaching 120,000 kilometres, without any extra costs arising for the client. They also offer drive safety training as a special extra.