Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake road test
ADMIT it, you're looking and you like it.
It's Mercedes' new CLA Shooting Brake (old-school speak for wagon), and its edgy good looks and unique lines can't help but draw the eye.
An exercise in form over outright function, the long-tailed CLA eschews conventional wagon dimensions to retain the Benz CLA's 'four-door coupe' (Merc's term) styling, but with a bigger bum brings more practicality and arguably even more style.
The Shooting Brake is now the fifth member to join Merc's compact car family; a hugely successful exercise that has seen the premium car maker score big sales in the segment and reach out to a much younger market than would typically consider a Benz.
Built on the same platform as its A-Class, B-Class, CLA and GLA stable mates, the Shooting Brake comes in four variants: the 200 115kW 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol; 200 CDI 100kW 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel; 250 Sport 155kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol; and performance beastie 45 AMG with 265kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder.
All are turbocharged, all feature a seven-speed automatic and while the 200 and 200 CDI have power delivered to the front wheels, the performance options feature Merc's 4MATIC all-wheel drive.
Starting at $52,400 the CLA Shooting Brake isn't a cheap car, but is nearly ten grand cheaper than the sublime C-Class offering from Merc's stable.
The result is a cabin that is not the last word in luxury - the CLA does feature a few hard plastics that would lead to grumbles from traditional Benz buyers - but it is beautifully laid out, has enough soft touch finishes to satisfy and has an overall youthful, sporty feel to it.
Front sport seats are wonderfully supportive, but again, this is no C-Class and they are certainly on the firm side. All CLA grades receive electric lumbar support, while the Sport and AMG get the full electric seat adjustment.
A sweeping silver chrome or aluminium dash panel and turbine-esque air vents make for a pleasing design, while the centre-mounted 8-inch infotainment tablet (think iPad) is of ideal size and level, but personally, I'd prefer if it were touchscreen.
Tick one of the Exclusive Package option boxes ($1490) and the 200 and 200 CDI receive the full leather treatment with desirable contrasting colour stitching - something as standard for the Sport and AMG cars.
Buyers of the top two grades - which Mercedes believes will make up the greater volume of sales - also enjoy a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
On the road
With four different models you do get very different drive experiences, but there are some shared features across the range.
Getting the negative stuff out of the way, the ride in all models is particularly harsh over some of our poor roads (we road tested on Melbourne's fringes), and felt especially jarring through the solid sport seats.
All non-AMG CLA Shooting Brakes ride on 18s (the AMG uses 19s), and while they look superb on sport suspension under the Merc's arches, don't expect C-Class ride comfort.
The electric steering doesn't provide brilliant feedback either, so accurate turn-in is not the easiest, but positively when you start throwing the Shooting Brake around a bit the grip and balance make for a rewarding experience, amplified the more you move up the range.
The CLA 45 AMG feels more predictable steering-wise, and as a package is a standout performance car in its own right, and the driver would more readily accept that crashy ride considering its race-bred talents.
The AMG, as with all in the CLA Shooting Brake range, is at its best when selecting Sport mode to quicken up the seven-speed DCT's changes, helping the gearbox feel as sportingly natured as the suspension setup.
Our test route was a bit short of variation and open stretches to truly test the performance models, but both the Sport and AMG cars have entertainingly quick power plants - the AMG a genuinely hot thing (if not as rapid as the much-loved A45 AMG) - and both with a delicious exhaust bark when playing in the high rev ranges.
The $66,400 250 Sport with 155kW and 350Nm of twist is the best all-rounder for the price (the AMG is $90k before on-roads), and as a package is the one buyers should aim for with excellent performance from a great engine, all-wheel drive and heaps of standard inclusions.
The 200 petrol and diesels are the frugal and less inspiring drive offerings, but will prove attractive to those placing more emphasis on the Shooting Brake's style and value rather than performance.
What do you get?
For typical C-Class buyers considering a cheaper CLA Shooting Brake, be aware you won't get the full Benz treatment of added goodies, but there's still plenty to enjoy.
The 200 petrol and diesels have sat nav, keyless start, reversing camera, faux leather sport seats, shift paddles, dual zone climate, park assist and sensors, automatic tailgate, and on the safety front, attention, blind spot and collision prevention assist.
For the extra $13,500 to move into the 250 Sport (our pick) you get the fabulous 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive, but also a classier cabin with fully electric heated seats, red contrasting stitching and seat belts, flat-bottom steering wheel, panoramic sunroof and AMG-engineered sports suspension and body styling.
The CLA 45 AMG is a whole other animal basically, but besides all the performance niceties, uprated brakes, exhaust and suspension, you get an AMG instrument cluster with race timer, digital radio and Harman Kardon sounds.
The CLA in its four-door sedan-that-wants-to-be-a-coupe guise is easy enough on the eye, but in Shooting Brake form it's even more compelling. At just $1500 more for the wagon, the extra practicality on offer should make it a no-brainer: go the extra space.
It is a funny old shape though, and adding cargo into the rear will be awkward considering the design of the encroaching rear lights. It's not your typical wagon design with that drooping roof line, so while the Merc C-Class has a maximum of 1510-litres with seats down, you get only 1354 litres with the S' Brake.
That form over function bit is noticeable when sitting astern. You get 40mm extra rear headroom over a normal CLA, and as a six-footer I was reasonably comfy, but it does feel a bit claustrophobic with the roof line bearing on down.
Look up 'niche' in the dictionary and you'll find the CLA Shooting Brake.
There are no direct rivals to compare it to, but those considering Mercedes' own C-Class Estate (from $63,400) should take a look, or perhaps style shoppers after a five-door Range Rover Evoque (from $49,995).
If you're targeting the AMG Shooting Brake, compare to an Audi S3 Sportback ($61,100) or S4 Avant ($108,500), and don't forget the VW Golf R Wagon is landing soon.
If you're one of the younger set Mercedes is so keen to attract to models like the CLA, don't expect to run your Merc as cheap as you did your Hyundai or Suzuki. Positively, service intervals are long and service plans are available, but you are in a premium brand now.
As for fuel economy the 200 CDI and CLA 200 are both excellent fuel misers at 4.3litres/100km and 5.7 litres respectively, but using the Sport and AMG as they were intended will bring happiness and fuel bills in equal measure.
So niche are these Shooting Brakes that you won't want for attention. Design is subjective of course, but Merc has always done wagons well, and this CLA version is gorgeous from front and in profile. The rear is on the droopy side, but certainly striking and to some eyes still pretty. For the beautiful people, it could be this season's must-have.
Merc's own C-Class is so damn good in sedan and wagon guise that the CLA Shooting Brake has much to live up to.
It's more striking and cheaper than its three-pointed star stable mate, but it does fall down in the premium feel, ride comfort and steering stakes.
In isolation however it's a fascinating offering that is better looking and more practical than the four-door CLA for not much more money.
If you're in it for the style alone the 200 and 200 CDI are a lot of car for the money, the AMG is a brute but expensive, so the 250 Sport is the ideal style/performance choice.
What matters most
What we liked: Delicious styling, only $1500 over normal CLA so still good value, performance and gorgeous exhaust note in the Sport and AMG variants.
What we'd like to see: A less harsh ride for Australian roads, more steering feel, less compromised loading area in the back.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is at 25,000km (20,000km for AMG) or annually, and service plans are available.
Model: Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Shooting Brake.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive compact executive wagons.
Engines: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol generating 115kW @ 5300rpm and 250Nm @ 1250rpm (CLA 200); 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel with 100kW @ 3200rpm and 300Nm @ 1400rpm (CLA 200 CDI); 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol with 155kW @ 5500rpm and 350Nm @ 1200rpm (CLA 250 Sport); 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol with 265kW @ 6000rpm and 450Nm @ 2250rpm (CLA 45 AMG).
Transmissions: 7G-DCT 7-speed automatic or AMG Speedshift DCT 7-speed (CLA 45 AMG only).
Consumption: 5.7 litres/100km (CLA 200); 4.3l/100km (CLA 200 CDI); 6.9l/100km (CLA 250 Sport); 7.2l/100km (CLA 45 AMG).
CO2: 134g/km (CLA 200); 114g/km (CLA 200 CDI); 160g/km (CLA 250 Sport); 168g/km (CLA 45 AMG).
Bottom line (before on-roads): $52,400 (CLA 200); $52,900 (CLA 200 CDI); $66,400 (CLA 250 Sport); $89,900 (CLA 45 AMG).