BEFORE we go any further, let me reassure you that I am not going to talk about the song (same title as this story) that exploded over the Internet three years ago.
If said song is already playing in your head, I apologise. If you actually thought this story had something to do with it, sorry to disappoint.
Now then, back to business.
When the latest Mercedes CLS broke cover, I was impressed with the new head-turning design. But it was when I first saw the car in the flesh (metal?) that I was really stunned.
The new shark-nose design suits the CLS to a T. I think it looks great from any angle. In fact, I cannot imagine the current model not looking the way it does.
I had a hunch that Mercedes would again ensure that the CLA would be the “junior” version of the CLS. But I also wondered if the styling would look good on a smaller model.
By the looks of the CLA gracing these pages, I think it does. In fact, this CLA looks a lot better than the older one – especially its rear end.
With its longer, lower and wider dimensions, the new CLA has a “grander” presence. The “bling” grille, which first appeared in the last-gen A-Class, suits the CLA. Surprisingly, this design element hasn’t aged.
There are few surprises when I settle into the driver’s seat. As expected, I’m greeted by the MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) system and its gorgeous screens, an angled dashboard and turbine-like air-con vents.
Unexpected, though, is the large touchpad that can also be used to control the infotainment system. Compared to the touchscreen interface, steering wheel controls and control knob (found in other Mercs), it feels cumbersome to use.
More welcome, on the other hand, is the better placement of the brake pedal. In the previous CLA, A-Class and GLA, it was too “high” and close to the driver. If you were over 1.7m tall, this meant having to move the seat back further than expected while hoping your arms are long enough to still reach the steering wheel.
The CLA’s ensconced, coupe-like driving feel is similar to the CLS’. If this was the carmaker’s aim, it has succeeded.
THE CLA IS A STYLE STATEMENT – THE FACT THAT IT IS ALSO SOMEWHAT PRACTICAL IS A BONUS.
CLA200 pairs an eager drivetrain with a chassis tuned for tidy handling.
Mercedes seems to have stumbled in terms of backseat accommodations, though. The latest CLA’s wheelbase is 30mm longer than before, but overall legroom has only increased by a mere 1mm. What happened to the other 29mm?
Backseat space for two occupants is decent, but it’ll be awkward for the centre passenger, who must contend with a floor protrusion and a smaller headrest.
Strangely, there is less boot space than before, with the cargo hold shrinking by 10 litres to 460 litres. It does offer flexibility, though, thanks to its 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats.
Also smaller than before is the engine that powers the CLA200. Its displacement is now 1.3 litres instead of 1.6.
However, the turbocharged 1.3-litre is more powerful than the turbocharged 1.6, with 163hp (+7hp) and 250Nm. And despite sounding less than pleasant, it is eager, tractable and most importantly, highly responsive.
Even in Comfort mode, the CLA200 keenly leaps off the line when you put your foot down, sending both speedometer and tachometer needles surging towards the right. In the Sport setting, this behaviour is even more pronounced.
Zero to 100km/h goes by in 8.2 seconds, which is plenty for a 1.3-litre car. With 250Nm available till 4000rpm, the midC range is pretty punchy, too.
The Merc CLS I drove last year handled more like a grand tourer than focussed sports car, and the same is true of the CLA. However, owing to its smaller and lighter body, it feels light and agile.
It corners neatly, with understeer only setting in if you persist in with a ham-fisted driving style. Fitted with high-performance tyres instead of touring ones, the CLA’s agility should rise by a notch.
What the CLA does need is more steering feel and feedback. The helm is light and accurate, but if you had to string together a series of corners (won’t happen in Singapore), this could become an issue.
Most buyers, though, will have no issue with what the CLA brings to the table. Like the CLS, the CLA is a style statement. The fact that it is also fairly roomy and somewhat practical is a bonus.
So, will this Baby Shark become as popular as its predecessor?
This will really depend on how buyers react to the new A-Class Saloon, which just debuted in Singapore last month.
ENGINE 1332cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged
MAX POWER 163hp at 5500rpm
MAX TORQUE 250Nm at 1620-4000rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select 0-100KM/H 8.2 seconds
TOP SPEED 229km/h
CONSUMPTION 17.5km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 130g/km
PRICE EXCL. COE $188,088 (no VES rebate/surcharge)
STORY JEREMY CHUA PHOTOS VERNON WONG ART DIRECTION MICHAEL CHIAN