Minesh Bhagaloo and IOL Motoring Staff
Part of the appeal of the astonishingly graceful Mercedes-Benz CLS - now 10 years old, can you believe it? - is its length, its size and its aristocratic presence; we didn't think the design language would translate well to a smaller body.
Well, we were wrong.
The new CLA, released last week in South Africa, combines the sleek grace of the CLS with the sportier, more dramatic shape of the Concept Style Coupé to create an astonishingly slippery shape (the BlueEfficiency version, unfortunately not destined for South Africa, has a Cd of 0.22, the 'normal' models a still-impressive 0.23) with a sporty persona of its own.
To add street cred to that sporty positioning, the CLA comes with high-torque turbo engines rated at up to 125 kW and sports suspension for the Urban and AMG Sport Line - and, with quoted outputs of 265kW and 450Nm, the AMG’s two-litre turbo engine is the most powerful four-cylinder engine in series production.
It drives the all four wheels through a seven-speed AMG SpeedShift double-clutch gear-box, hauls the CLA 45 AMG to 100km/h in 4.6 seconds - and yet it's still rated for an Euro6-compliant NEDC combined fuel consumption of 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres.
Minesh Bhagaloo of our sister print publication Star Motoring drove the CLA 45 AMG at the South Afrcan launch.
"This a pukka AMG," he wrote, "offering serious levels of performance from that twin-scroll turbo, which boosts at up to 1.8 bar.
"It shredded the little airfield slalom put before it, and displayed some very tidy cut-and-thrust mannerisms through the various mountain passes on the route guide."
The entry-level 1.6-litre turbopetrol delivers 90kW, while its two-litre sister is good for 115, each driving the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox - or, for a few dollars more, a seven-speed auto.
The 2.2-litre CLA 220 CDI turbodiesel cranks out 125kW and 350Nm at a cost of only 109 g CO2 per kilometre, partly thanks to idle stop, which is standard across the range.
Two chassis and suspension set-ups are available: the comfort suspension and the optional sports suspension for sportier handling, which is 20mm lower in front and 15mm lower at the rear.
Irrespective of the suspension setup, all CLA variants come with electromechanical power steering, which makes possible various steering assistance functions controlled by the ECU, including countersteering when the car oversteers, corrective steering when one or more wheels have different levels of grip, reducing torque steer compensating for sidewinds and camber.
'COOL TOUCH' INTERIOR
Unusually, where most compact premium cars highlight their interiors with brushed-finish aluminium trim elements, Mercedes-Benz has gone for electro-galvanised steel trim throughout, including the five air-vents on the fascia, set off by black piano-lacquer-look front panel and a flush-fitting silver frame for the free-standing display screen.
All the seats have integral head restraints, and contrast stitching is an option, depending on your choice of interior colour scheme, while a fibre-optic cable in the opening between head restraint and backrest is optionally available as part of the ambient lighting.
"The interior is modern and fresh," reported Bhagaloo, "with generally high-quality finishes throughout. But, having said that, be warned, it's quite cramped in the rear. There's minimal rear legroom on offer, while that sloping roofline severely restricts headroom."
Standard-fit safety systems include drowsiness detection and radar-based collision prevention assist with adaptive brake assist, which now helps protect the CLA from collisions from a speed of only seven km/h, where previous versions were only effective down to 30km/h.
Combined with Distronic Plus, the system is able to carry out autonomous braking at speeds of up to 200 km/h when a danger of collision persists and the driver fails to respond, reducing the severity of piling into a slow or stationary vehicle.
Optional driver aids include a lane tracking package with blind spot and lane-keeping assist, as well as adaptive high-beam, but its most talked-about option is the active parking assist, which can handle both parallel and longitudinal parking.
CLA 180 - R348 700
CLA 200 - R372 700
CLA 220 CDI Auto - R397 600
CLA 45 AMG - R674 400
CLA 45 AMG Edition 1 - R749 400
Each includes a six-year or 100 000km Premium Drive maintenance plan.
We'll leave the last word to Bhagaloo - he has a way with them: "Stylish and suave it may be in the metal, but be sure that this is a knife-wielding thug under the skin, with exemplary levels of grip."
Read Minesh Bhagaloo’s full launch report in Star Motoring on Thursday.