Mercedes offers the unusually-styled CLA Shooting Brake, a small estate with big aspirations. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Mercedes-Benz certainly hasn't played safe with the CLA Shooting Brake, giving it the sort of bold, exciting styling that has forged the reputation of its four-door stablemate. Look a little closer and you'll realise that the slinky roofline is a clever slight of hand from the stylists and there's real practicality on offer. Plus, with a 74mpg diesel model offered, the Shooting Brake delivers efficiency as well as style and substance.
This takes a bit of getting used to. For as long as most of us can remember, the C-Class marked the point where Mercedes got serious. Yes, there were A and B-Class models and they've got a lot better in recent years, but if you wanted a Merc that felt like an Merc, you started with the C-Class, available in saloon, coupe and estate bodies. Not any more. The CLA, introduced back in 2013, demonstrated that there was space for a proper four-door saloon at a price point below that of the C-Class. Now that range has been fleshed out still further with the introduction of the CLA Shooting Brake estate. Are you keeping up at the back?
Like its four-door saloon counterpart, the five-door CLA Shooting Brake is offered with a choice of eight engines. At the top of the range is a fire-breathing CLA 45 4MATIC model with an uprated 381bhp turbo petrol 2.0-litre engine and a four-wheel drive layout - quite a car. More conventional CLA models are powered by engines borrowed from A and B-Class models. Diesel drivers get a 1.5-litre engine used with either 109 or 136bhp in the CLA 180d or CLA 200d variants. We tried the 2.1-litre 177bhp diesel unit offered in the CLA 220d. Petrol people get a 1.6-litre turbo unit offered in 122 or 156bhp guises in the CLA 180 and CLA 200 variants - or there's a 2.0-litre powerplant with 184bhp in the CLA 220 4MATIC 4WD model that only comes with 7-speed 7G-DCT automatic transmission. This same 2.0-litre unit comes in a 211bhp state of tune in the CLA 250 variant that can also be ordered with 4WD. The chassis of all these models features a MacPherson front axle and an independent multilink rear suspension, with a clever flexible decoupling of the rear axle carrier, which improves ride comfort. Wheel carriers and spring links consist of aluminium in order to reduce unsprung weight. Two chassis and suspension set-ups are available: the comfort suspension - and a sports suspension for sporty yet comfortable handling. The latter entails lowering of the body by 20 mm (at the front) and 15 mm (at the rear). Irrespective of the selected chassis, all CLA variants come with the Direct Steer system. This electromechanical power steering set-up enables various steering assistance functions which are activated by the ESP stability control unit. These include counter-steering in case of oversteering, corrective steering when braking on road surfaces offering different levels of grip (known as split-friction braking), mitigation of the extent to which the front-wheel drive influences the steering and compensation of crosswind and road gradients. It's all very clever stuff.
Design and Build
It's always a bit of a surprise when it dawns on you that a car you love the look of isn't loved by everybody else. Such was the case with the CLA saloon which I thought was lovely, but others thought looked as if it had been left in the sun too long. The CLA Shooting Brake has also divided opinion, with some loving the swooping curves of the rear end while others thinking it still looks a bit droopy. One undeniable benefit of the Shooting Brake shape is 4cm more headroom in the rear. Access to the second row of seats is also much easier. The load compartment offers a capacity that ranges from 495 to 1354-litres. If the rear seats are moved into the more steeply raked "cargo" position, the load capacity increases to 595-litres while still leaving space for five occupants. The width of the luggage compartment, at up to 1328mm, is the class best and there are some thoughtful details such as the magnetic catch on the through-loading flap in the rear-seat backrest for long items, such as skis.
Market and Model
Mercedes is targeting the CLA at a typically younger group of buyers than C-Class customers and the interior of the car reflects this, with a more extrovert look and feel and some bold colour options. Pricing starts at around £1,000 over the four-door, which means that you'll pay around £26,000 for a CLA 200 and, if you prefer diesel, you'll need around £28,000 before your Mercedes dealer looks interested. Safety features include a radar-based collision warning system. Working with adaptive Brake Assist, which lowers the risk of rear-end collisions, the Collision Prevention Assist system gives a visual and acoustic warning to alert a distracted driver to identified obstacles, and prepares Brake Assist for the most precise braking response possible. This is initiated as soon as the driver steps firmly on the brake pedal. The Pre-Safe preventive occupant protection system comprises reversible belt tensioning, the closing of side windows and sliding sunroof and adjustment of the fully electric front passenger seat. Other features fitted as standard include Attention Assist, which monitors the duration and style of your driving and makes recommendations when you may well be driving in a fatigued state, Brake Hold function and Hill Start Assist. Options include Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Speed Limit Assist, Active Parking Assist and a reversing camera. Trim levels run from Sport to AMG Sport before topping out with the standalone CLA 45 4MATIC model. Shooting Brake-specific bits include the addition of an electric tailgate and the option of a load compartment package, which includes a lockable boot floor, 12V socket and aluminium load rails.
Cost of Ownership
The CLA Shooting Brake almost replicates the economy and emissions figures of the saloon, which means it's very, very good indeed. The kerb weight goes up slightly and, rather surprisingly, the drag coefficent of the Shooting Brake isn't quite as good. Still, it's hard to complain when you have a practical and stylish Mercedes-Benz estate that can return around 75mpg, as is the case of the CLA 200d. Look elsewhere in the range and the news is also good. Even the CLA 250 petrol model with all-wheel drive, 211bhp and a turbocharger to feed manages 148g/km which equates to around 45mpg. Only the range-topping CLA 45 4MATIC is a bit wince-inducing on fuel, but then you're buying a car that gets to 62mph in 4.4 seconds. Of course it's going to drink a bit when pressed.
The CLA is a key model for Mercedes. Bluntly put, it's a car that appeals to customers who'd never normally think of buying a Mercedes. They might feel that 'typical' Benzes are too staid and conservative, but the CLA is cut from some pretty funky cloth and the Shooting Brake is anything but traditional Stuttgart tackle. The engineering beneath the car is hard to fault, the equipment you get is impressive, the pricing looks on the button but that styling? Whether you warm to the CLA Shooting Brake is clearly going to depend on whether you agree with Mercedes that it delivers "a contemporary interpretation of sensual purity" or whether you think it's just too odd for words. We love it here and welcome its arrival. Your opinion may vary.