Potentially going to drive a CLA45 AMG, our man was instead shovelled into a CLA220 CDI AMG Sport – and wasn’t impressed by what he found
Permit me to begin with some caveats. It’s not the Mercedes PR team’s fault that the 355bhp CLA45 AMG couldn’t make it to the wilds of West Yorkshire, and rather than leave a load of journos with nothing to do, they nobly brought along a CLA substitute… Sadly, one fitted with a diesel engine. It’s also fair to say that I’m not the target audience for the CLA either, although I’m not entirely sure who is. As they can cost well north of £30,000, the swoopy exterior looks like it would appeal to the younger age group, who I am sure in the main can only dream of being able to afford and insure this sort of machine.
In fact, this white example is £585 shy of a crazy 40 grand. Oof. Some of that moolah is courtesy of an AMG Exclusive Package inside that loads £1640 onto the price, plus £2100 for a COMAND Online system (which leaves you with a sat-nav screen that looks a bit aftermarket, perched up on high in the dash). Still, for this heap of cash, the diesel engine must be pretty powerful, right?
Um… not really. We’re toting 168bhp here, although the 258lbf.ft is a healthier figure, especially as it is made across a nice, wide plateau of low revs. Quoted acceleration is somewhat leisurely in today’s market, at 8.2 seconds, although the CLA220 can apparently crack 140mph while giving you nearly 63 to the gallon combined, and a CO2 figure that means it’s free to tax for its first 12 months and then £30 a year after that.
It’s undoubtedly a good-looking creation, both inside and out, even if the cabin is unremittingly black. The front chairs are particularly nice items, all one piece and bucket-like. One idiosyncrasy is the column-mounted shift stick, so there’s no gearlever of any sort in the centre console. But ergonomically, there are no complaints here and it feels like the genuinely premium product it is, something you couldn’t say of late Nineties Benzes.
On the move, though, things are less impressive. It’s as if Mercedes has created the sporty shell of what could be an entertaining car here, but the minute you put any pressure on any part of that construct, it cracks under the pressure and reveals the staid Benz underneath. First to falter is the engine, which is completely uninspiring if perfectly smooth. While no diesel, no matter how many cylinders it has nor how much grunt it exudes, can match a petrol for scintillating revs, this 2.1 is particularly dull. There is no point in the rev range where it feels like it comes alive, and that peak torque figure doesn’t make itself felt. The motor is paired to a magnificent automatic gearbox, however, which somewhat makes up for it – cease asking the C220 CDI to grumble up to its redline, and instead it settles into a refined cruise in which the diesel vibrations do not enter the cabin, while the transmission is the very definition of seamless in the way it selects ratios.
Unfortunately, the ride won’t play ball. It’s way too firm for something that really can’t entertain as a driver’s car, leaving you frustrated with the crashing over transverse ridges when you’re just pottering along. It’s probably exacerbated on this car by the 18in rims (£360) fitted but I suspect this would be the case no matter what size wheel you had on your AMG Sport. What makes this even odder is that the body control isn’t exactly rigid – there’s roll in the curves and traces of pitch and dive under braking.
The steering has heft but no feedback, so you quickly forget about trying to throw the CLA around, but the brakes are fine. I think there’s just enough pizzazz in the dynamics to bode well for that eventual drive in a CLA45 AMG, but the CLA220 CDI AMG Sport never convinces. You’d be better off with a non-sport CLA instead, because it will be even smoother and cheaper than this and no less exciting to drive, either.
A big problem here is the three letters of Affalterbach on this insipid coupe’s rump. While Mercedes is by no means the only manufacturer that uses its upper-end sports brand to inject some lustre into less exciting models (Audi and BMW trade on S and M respectively… sorry, that doesn’t sound quite as I intended it to), AMG is a particularly mental organisation under normal circumstances, producing thunderous V8s that speak to the big kid in all of us. To festoon AMG on what is essentially a motoring fashion accessory like this sticks in the gullet – I know it’s not a genuine AMG, but even so, the mental connection it instantly invites does not sit comfortably with the CLA220 CDI.
It’s a mass of contradictions, this CLA. It has a swoopy, rakish body to make it appeal to a younger buyer, but costs nearly £40,000 in this guise; it has very firm suspension and an aggressive AMG bodykit, but is saddled with a lacklustre diesel engine and numb steering; and it sacrifices the practicality of the A-Class it is based on in order to have that funky roofline. It’s by no means a bad car, the CLA220 CDI, but it’s certainly no jaw-dropper and – at this sort of cash – I’m struggling to see who will buy it. I wish Merc had managed to get the proper AMG version lined up for the day instead…
Tech Spec Mercedes-Benz CLA220 CDI AMG Sport
- Body Front-engined four-door coupé
- Engine 2143cc 16v turbocharged diesel four-cylinder
- Transmission FWD, seven-speed 7G-DCT automatic
- 0-62mph 8.2 seconds
- Top speed 143mph
- Max power 168bhp from 3400rpm to 4000rpm
- Max torque 258lbf.ft from 1400rpm to 3400rpm
- Fuel consumption 62.8mpg (claimed combined)
- CO2 emissions 117g/km
- Price from £31,555 basic (£39,415 as tested)
The Truth & Nothing But…
Mercedes-Benz CLA220 CDI AMG Sport
+ Nice looks inside and out, feels a quality product, drivetrain is extremely smooth in operation
– Mad price tag, no real driver enjoyment in this guise, poor ride
∴ Does nothing wrong but nothing particularly right, either. If you’re a keen driver, your money would be better off elsewhere