The Mercedes CLA is essentially a 4 door saloon version of the A Class, which means it's front wheel drive. I drove the CLA 220 CDI Sport (diesel) and the C 180 Sport (petrol) back to back.

How does it look in the metal?

The best photos I've seen of the CLA were in Mercedes' initial press photos. The lines and styling are very strong. It works along the flanks and towards the rear but the front end is a bit of a mess. The grille and snout could do with being 10% smaller. It also looks better in less strong colours like white or silver.

What's it like to drive?

Great. I was super impressed. Despite being front wheel drive the CLA is pretty finely balanced. It's got a superb ride - really smooth. Motorway miles are eaten up at a steady pace. I tried both the 6-speed manual and 7-speed automatic gearboxes and couldn't decide which was better. The manual is smooth and precise and the auto has sport, eco and manual settings and all are fine. Eco doesn't kill the performance (as it does in the C 250 CDI). Neither engine is particularly strong, which is a pity, but the diesel is more powerful by some margin.

Does it go round corners OK?

The old adage says BMWs are for driving whilst Mercedes are for being driven in. That doesn't ring true nowadays but the CLA isn't an enthusiastic driver's car. The ride is good, it goes round corners quite well and is pretty well balanced but despite promising ingredients it isn't a hooning machine. The steering could have more feel - it is a tad over-assisted. Having said that it's generally a great car to just drive and spend time in.


What's the interior like?

Pretty fantastic. Both cars I drove had an aluminium strip around the upper dash which is an expensive optional extra - £1970 for the Exclusive package which includes the aluminium trim, black roof lining, heated seats and what I initially thought was leather trim atop the dash and doors. Turns out this is called Artico and is essentially leatherette - fake leather. It looks OK but doesn't feel right and is a bit of a poor show by Mercedes. That said the interior is a lovely place to be. Everything looks and feels right (except for the Artico).

What's the stereo and entertainment system like?

Mercedes COMAND is a little more simple these days. It works well and the stereo sounds good. DAB (digital) radio is a £420 optional extra, which is a bit of a con. It should be fitted as standard. You can connect smartphones by cable or bluetooth. The steering wheel mounted controls are easy to use. The only problem I found was hopping between the navigation system (which got its knickers in a twist at one point and kept telling me to turn round) and the radio. Sometimes I could do it all by the main COMAND knob but sometimes couldn't and had to press the dash mounted buttons.


Petrol or diesel?

Diesel. Absolutely no question. The 180 Sport is actually a 120hp 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol. It's just not got enough power and doesn't sound very good for a petrol. It returned just under 40mpg. The 220 CDI on the other hand is a 2.2 litre diesel with 170hp and feels much better, plus it returns over 50mpg. I don't think I've ever recommended a diesel before but it is the only engine to go for in the CLA. It even sounds slightly better than the petrol. Ideally Mercedes would offer a larger, more powerful petrol engine - hang on that'll be the CLA 45 AMG!

Has it got any flaws?

One major flaw. The pedals, and in particular the brake pedal, sit too high. I also found this in the B 220 CDI and it's a real pain. The accelerator sits quite low to the floor and the brake is 2 inches higher. I'm 5 foot 10 and like to sit far back and low. I drove through some traffic jams and was getting pretty tired and irritated with the high brake pedal. Visibility is slightly limited by the B pillar if you are a taller driver, and the rear windows are quite small so you'll be relying on mirrors rather than turning round to see what's aft. Other than that the Artico and high cost of optional extras are the only other flaws.

Should I buy one?

If you can live with the brake pedal then yes. Go for the diesel and you'll be pretty happy with your choice. It's a great car with a fantastic ride. The Mercedes CLA is definitely recommended.

What are the specs?

Mercedes-Benz CLA 180 Sport
Engine - 1.6 litre turbo petrol
Price - £24,355
Power - 120bhp
Torque - 147lb ft
0-60mph - 9.3 seconds
Top speed - 130mph
Economy - 50.4
CO2 - 130g/km

Mercedes-Benz CLA 220 CDI
Engine - 2.2 litre diesel
Price - £29,355
Power - 168bhp
Torque - 258lb ft
0-60mph - 8.2 seconds
Top speed - 143mph
Economy - 62.8
CO2 - 117g/km

I even did a video review - my first ever! Done in one take on my iPhone