DRIVEN | Mercedes-Benz launches its new A-Class sedan and emotional CLA
Mercedes-Benz has sold a great many A-Class units since launching its front-wheel-drive range back in the late 1990s. How many? Six million.
With A-Class, the German luxury vehicle brand has been able to capture a much younger audience and now the local product portfolio has been bolstered by the addition of Mercedes-Benz’s latest A-Class sedan and CLA coupe.
Although both vehicles ride on the brand’s new fourth-generation A-Class platform, the CLA coupe is longer, lower and wider by 139mm, 7mm and 34mm.
Differentiating the A-Class sedan and CLA in terms of appearance are larger headlights on the latter and a bonnet with two pinch lines. Around the rear, the CLA also features reshaped taillights, more akin to the aft illumination found on Mercedes-Benz’s new CLS.
Customers have a choice of wheel sizes, but Mercedes-Benz has decided upon a 17-inch alloy wheel as the default and truth be told: those are perfect for local conditions, providing adequate air volume and tyre sidewall to roll through potholes without harm. If you wish, there are 18- and 19-inch diameter alloy rim options too.
MBUX as standard
The A-Class sedan and CLA both feature Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX digital assistant and cabin infotainment as standard, whereas this remains an optional extra on the A-Class hatchback. Dual 7-inch infotainment screens relay all relevant information, and there is the option to upsize those to 10.25-inches.
Noise insulation and vibration damping is good but the MBUX system remains an exercise in frustration when using voice commands. This is not an issue isolated to Mercedes-Benz.
All voice-prompted digital cabin assistants have a very low execution rate on commands and the automotive industry appears unable to deliver a solution which can offer users a seamless experience.
The absence of metal and flood of average plastics are also an issue that has plagued A-Class since its inception and even on these latest variants, you don’t really feel that promise of scaled-down Mercedes-Benz quality.
Practicality is good, with the A-Class sedan spacing boot capacity of 420-litres. Amazingly, the CLA coupe has better boot space than its sedan sibling, with 460-litres, which compensates for the slightly tapered rear passenger headroom in the sloping roofline A-Class.
Potent 2.0-litre performance
Mechanically the new A-Class sedan offers two engines, both of which will be familiar to A-Class hatchback owners: a turbocharged 1.33-litre and boosted 2.0-litre. The smaller engine is good for 120kW and 250Nm, whilst the 2.0-litre capacity turbo motor registers 165kW and 350Nm.
The only traction configuration is front-wheel drive and both the A200 and A250 Sport tempo speed and economy via Mercedes-Benz’s agile and intuitive seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
As a driving experience, these latest A-Class offerings are thoroughly convincing. The W177 structure has enabled Mercedes-Benz engineers to deliver a wonderfully adaptable driving experience.
Ride quality and handling dynamics are thoroughly representative of the best Mercedes-Benz values and you never feel you are piloting a compact front-wheel-drive car, except when enjoying the parking convenience of its smallish exterior dimensions.
Mercedes-Benz is anticipating customer migration within its own product ladder, with those buyers who ordinarily would have considered a C-Class, now reassessing the value offering and considering A-Class sedan ownership.
What about the coupe?
CLA is a more niche offering. Mercedes-Benz’s marketing research predicts an 80% conquest rate, with most of its customers for the sloping roofline A-Class being new converts to the brand.
Curiously the CLA, which is the more strikingly styled car and should appeal to a customer who values dynamics, is only being marketed with the smaller petrol engine and a diesel powerplant as its lead.
The CLA 220d is powered by Mercedes-Benz’s 2-litre turbodiesel, producing 140kW and 400Nm. It is credibly swift and highway cruising economy should gift it very generous range, but surely the 165kW 2-litre turbo-petrol would be a more appropriate specification?
In a world where the traditional sedan configuration has been displaced by crossovers, SUVs and hatchbacks the A-Class sedan and CLA are almost peculiar products. But in the South African context, they serve a very specific purpose.
The reality of having a lockable boot space for laptops and valuable items is a uniquely South African security concern. For those customers who don’t desire to take their laptops, or an activity bag, with them each time they park their vehicle, the A-Class sedan and CLA offer a more convenient overall ownership experience than any comparable hatchback or SUV, which a glass section tailgate.
Pricing for the new A-Class sedan starts at R533 500, which gets you an A200. If you’d prefer that mechanical specification in CLA, the price rises to R570 500.
Mercedes-Benz’s A-Class A250 is positioned at R604 800, whilst the CLA 220d trades at a slight premium to that, retailing for R612 800. Mercedes-Benz has confirmed that its AMG 35-series derivatives of the new A-Class sedan and CLA will be introduced locally, in due course.