Driven: Mercedes-Benz CLA220d

Personally, I like my saloons large and in charge, but there’s something to be said about a compact sedan with just the right amount of performance and all the good looks.

During my week with this compact diesel saloon, I was enquired not once, but twice about the price – to which I’d simply ask, “how much do you think?” Both predictions were well over double the actual value of the car – far north of a million rand. There’s something to be said about a well pressed stylish black suit, especially when there’s some muscle beneath it.

What is it?
Meet the smallest Mercedes sedan coupe in the catalogue, the CLA 220d, where the CLA nomenclature refers to the second coming of the four-door coupe iteration of the A-Class triumvirate. While the A-Class sedan favours a more three-box shape, the CLA gets a teardop profile much like a tiny CLS. That 220d suffix refers to the sensible drivetrain that lives under its black bonnet, a turbocharged 1950cc four cylinder diesel engine. It makes a respectable 140kW and 400Nm, returns an environmentally friendly 117g/km of CO2 and, according to the manufacturer, sips just 4.5l of diesel per hundred kilometers. But then, that doesn’t take my driving style into consideration does it? But we’ll get to that in due time – first, let’s discuss those sultry curves.

How does it look?
Well, it’s a looker that’s for sure, wide and slow slung, with a shark-like front-end dominated by an aggressive grille. The overall aesthetic is both macho and sensual, a muscular frame covered in tight sinew, stretched over provocative lines, swelling and cascading like liquid metal. The whole thing sits low on mighty AMG 18 inch hoops at each corner, thanks to the comfort suspension.

What about living with it?
I like it very much, and judging by everyone else we’ve encountered its having a similar effect overall. By this I mean its sharpened looks are having no trouble turning heads. Right. Flappy paddles, these command the eight speed DCT auto box, the link between the engine and the front wheels. The link between it and me however is a leathery steering wheel. Nappa leather specifically, and the sports seats and cabin materials too get a mix of cowhide and black microfiber. The rest of the dark cabin is pleasantly luxurious for what is essentially the bottom rung of the Mercedes Benz coupe model lineup, with bags and bags of technology, copious amounts of toys of a comfort and entertainment nature. On that note, meet MBUX, the digital multimedia brain that connects your smartphone like never before in a Benz. Mood lighting and an array of upmarket tactile surfaces and switches make for an incredibly premium experience. Not bad for what started out as a humble hatchback.

How does it go?
Flatten the brake pedal, thumb the start button and the four cylinder clears its throat and burbles into life. Yes – we’ve come to grips with far more than 140kW in our sporty passenger cars in recent times, but this is a turbodiesel so it comes with 400Nm, and that kind of torque makes the CLA feel as though it has large reserves of performance underfoot. Indeed, it certainly has enough to gratuitously consume winding kilometers of asphalt, as I’m doing now. But the other half of its job remains looking good while it does so. Which I’d argue, it does very very well. Still, there’s more than enough here to keep the speed demon interested, especially if you enjoy carving up mountain passes as much as you do cruising down boulevards. The low suspension feels supple when you need it to be,yet firms up and maintains its composure when you’re in the pursuit of apexes. Just know, that when you eventually settle into a more pedestrian rhythm, or seek to blend in with the posh crowd, the CLA has your needs well taken care of.

Should you buy one?
R666k gets you this particular 220d model –  but then it is a lot of car. Mind you that’s without any style packs such as the Progressive Line or the AMG Line that’s been fitted to our test car at a R50k premium. Mercedes will even sell you an Edition 1 style pack but that gives onlookers ideas that you’re driving a performance car, which our diesel-powered test car simply isnt. It doesn’t stop there with Night Packages, Parking Packages, Engineering and Navigation packages. Add to that custom leather options and more and you can rest assured that your CLA will be a pretty bespoke animal, as long as you have a ton of cash to throw at it initially.

I remember when owning a Mercedes-Benz sedan was a sign of great prestige. Similarly, a Mercedes-Benz sedan was also a sign of great age – they were your dad’s car, or grandpa’s. Or your grandma, aunt, uncle – my point being that they were for an older generation. No, if you wanted a sportier sedan, you’d do your shopping next door at the BMW dealership. Audi wasn’t even a blip on the radar. Well, as you can clearly see by the slippery black silhouette below, times have changed.

Quick stats: Mercedes-Benz CLA220d
Price: R666,900
Powertrain: 1.95l turbodiesel awd,  140kW, 400Nm, 8-speed auto

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