Mercedes-Benz CLA review - does the sporty saloon's drive match its looks? - Mercedes-Benz CLA engine and gearbox

Mercedes-Benz refreshes its compact saloon and estate - but can it compete with the class best?

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Price
from £25,395
  • Looks, AMG performance, cool interior
  • Fussy automatic, cramped interior, not that memorable to drive

Two badges for the diesels but only a single engine choice in differing states of tune. It’s Mercedes-Benz’s 2.1-litre turbodiesel that’s used across the entire range, with varying degrees of success. It’s never been the quietest of units, the vibrations it gives out rather upsetting the premium feel inside the CLA. In CLA 200d guise it develops 134bhp from 3200-4000rpm, its 221lb ft peak torque available between 1400rpm and 3000rpm. The CLA 220d adds 30bhp to that for a 174bhp peak, it arriving just 200rpm later than its CLA 200d relation and hanging on until the same 4000rpm. Peak torque in the bigger output diesel rises to 258lb ft.

Gearbox choices are largely made for you, with only the entry models (CLA 200d and CLA 180) coming with a six-speed manual as standard. The rest of the line-up, proper AMG excepted, get Merc’s 7G-DCT seven-speed dual-clutch automatic - it's optional on those entry-level choices.

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Manuals and Mercs might be unusual, but the six-speeder isn’t too bad, being reasonably accurate and decently weighted, so ticking the check-box for the optional auto needn’t necessarily be a must like it has been in the past. Indeed, Merc’s seven-speed twin-clutch transmission can be a bit uncouth, not always offering the smoothest of shifts (it's better with the diesels) and its various modes are never entirely satisfactory.

The Eco mode is so determined to save fuel it’s slow to respond, while Sport mode hangs onto gears needlessly long, to the detriment of refinement. Only the CLA 250 comes as standard with Mercedes’ 4Matic four-wheel drive, though the CLA 220d is offered with it optionally.

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The obvious choices are the CLA 200d or CLA 220d turbodiesels, but even Merc’s engineers think that the latter’s torque’s just a bit too much for the chassis in front-wheel drive form. We tend to agree, so 4Matic four-wheel drive is preferable.

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It’s well worth taking the hit at the pumps and going for the CLA 250, too: the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine offers the same torque output as the diesel, is smoother and comes with 4Matic four-wheel drive as standard. It’s not cheap, but it’s the highlight in an otherwise underperforming, if good looking range.

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