Review: Mercedes CLA 200

On a recent trip to Germany we had the pleasure of driving the new 2014 Mercedes Benz CLA 200. Not available in the United States until September 2013 but fortunately for us released in April 2013 in Europe.   Ours was equipped with a 7 speed automatic transmission with eco stop/start technology.  The paint work was a classic gloss black, and when we picked it up from Sixt at Frankfurt Airport it had barely 400 miles on the clock.

Mercedes CLA 200 in the Black Forest

Posing with our rented Mercedes CLA 200

The design is stunning from the front and side.  The front styling is exceptionally aggressive, with looks that would force cars to pull over out of ones way on the autobahn! The side profile in black looks like a coupe, with the 4 doors not being too noticeable.  From the rear, I must confess I’ve not been a fan of Mercedes boot design of late, it does look a little pinched and unfinished from behind. Although the rear end is better than the E class I still feel Mercedes could do more, it just doesn’t seem to match the rest of the car.

Inside, the front cabin is great, the sports seats comfy, the controls understandable. The seats were bucket style sports seats, but they were comfy and supportive in just the right amounts. The down side is that being a 4 door rather than a coupe the doors themselves are narrow, and the A pillar is exceedingly thick, blocking quite a bit of visibility.   At 6ft tall I could fit comfortably in the front, but I doubt anyone would have been able to sit behind me as the cabin is lacking in length and the coupe body styling means the headroom is very limited in the rear. I couldn’t fit with the driver’s seat where I’d left it, and I reckon anybody over 5ft8 would be banging their head regardless of the legroom issues. So great in the front, but not so good in the back.

On to driving, and this car is made for speed. On the autobahn it was superb, with plenty of power. The transmission was smooth, and although I felt it lagged a little when pulling out it would power from 80-120mph easily, and still felt it had more to give when we were over 140mph. So going quickly is not a problem. Unfortunately going slowly is not so simple. Pulling away it would feel sluggish, and had the worrying habit of not seeming to respond to the throttle so the driver slowly adds a bit more pressure to the accelerator and suddenly the car wakes up and takes a leap forwards. This made narrow maneuvering in cramped European underground parking garages very exciting at times! Also, the stop/start technology is wonderfully green, but if you are used to keeping the brake fully depressed when stationary for short periods of time (like I was taught to in England) it means the engine won’t start until you take your foot off the brake, making it feel like the car is stalling every time you pull away. Laura identified the issue, as if you release the brake to about 50% the engine restarts, but the car still does not move… weird but if you’re buying a manual probably not an issue! The proximity sensor designed to warn and prevent tail-gating is an interesting feature if you’ve never seen it before, and can cause alarm when a red warning light comes on next to the speedometer when someone pulls out in front of you on the autobahn.  I can see this being frustrating for US drivers used to the bumper to bumper 60mph commutes of Interstate 95. The parking sensors worked very well, and came in useful traversing gateways through castle walls. They err on the side of caution and hit the “red warning” with about 6 inches to spare, giving plenty of time to react.

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed the car.  If I was considering buying it I might prefer a coupe format, since the larger door aperture, and the associated shift of the B pillar towards the rear would give the driver and front seat passenger easier access and improved visibility.  If you are going to enjoy some miles on teh autobahn, but have too much luggage for a regular coupe this car will definitely fit the bill!

Mercedes Benz CLA 200   7/10

Innovation 6/10      Handling&Performance 8/10       Safety&Comfort 7/10

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