There are always new markets that car manufacturers want to tap.
Such is the case for Mercedes-Benz, a German automaker that, for most of their history, has really been known as your grand daddy's brand of car. Conventionally designed, conservatively powered, and engineered for comfort and luxury above all else were the hallmarks of the company.
Now that's changing.
Mercedes wants to appeal to the fast-growing and younger customer base and introduce their brand of drive to them. Such is the case for this: the CLA 250 4-door coupe. The car itself is part of M-B's NGCC or New Generation Compact Car program; models that will serve as entry points into M-B ownership below their more traditional S-, E- and C-Classes.
The design itself is very youthful by their standards. The headlight design, the more modern impression of the diamond-block radiator grill, the wide, low, and aerodynamic appearance of the bumper seem to belong more to sports cars and grand tourers than a small sedan. And speaking of sedan, M-B calls this a 4-door coupe because of the parabolic roofline and greenhouse similar to that of the larger CLS. The rear is quite shapely, though I do think that the designers should have made it more of a fastback with an ever-so-slightly raised rear deck. The whole design is complemented by a set of AMG sport wheels.
The cabin is well-appointed, and is definitely in keeping with M-B's standards for interior design. A brushed metal accent plate dominates the dashboard and houses the round A/C vents; a retro feature that harkens back to the original Mercedes SL. The front seats, the shape of the steering wheel, and the stainless steel pedals are definitely sporty; the black and gray of the cabin are accentuated by double red stitching on the leather upholstery. It looks cool and there are no faux wood panels that you would expect in Mercs of yore. This isn't your grandfather's Mercedes.
There's a tablet-like screen on top of the console that displays the functions of the audio system, the Bluetooth and more. The audio unit can be controlled either via the Comand APS knob on the center console, the actual audio unit just below the central A/C vents, or via the buttons on the wheel. The sound of the unit is good, but the graphics on the display are in need of a significant update; it appears virtually unchanged since it first debuted in the C-Class in 2007.
Unlike most executive cars, Mercedes opted for their standard keyfob that you still have to insert into the slot and twist. When you do, a 2-liter inline-4 under the hood gets going; it sounds small, but thanks to turbocharging, it makes a very healthy 211 horsepower and 350 Nm of torque. What was surprising, however, was the drivetrain. This CLA has a 7-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive.
Cruising around town, the CLA drives like any other car, though the stalk for the gearbox is on the steering column. What differentiates this car from the more traditional M-Bs is the suspension; it's definitely on the sportier (read: firm) side. The 18-inch AMG wheels and Goodyear Eagle F1 run-flat tires aren't exactly built for comfort, so don't expect an E-Class kind of ride. Noise suppression is good though and, surprisingly, the dual-clutch gearbox; it's smoother than expected. But the real surprise is the fuel economy; when driven sensibly (without fully spooling the turbo) the CLA 250 can return 8.7 km/l (21 km/h average speed, moderate traffic). On the highway that improves to 12.9 km/l (91 km/h average).
Venture out of the city and onto open mountain roads, and those fuel economy digits start to drop and your smile starts to widen. The Eagle F1 tires offer plenty of grip, while the suspension does the job in managing the weight of the CLA as you enter one corner after the other. The brakes are quite powerful too, easily reining in a car that can do 0-100 km/h sprints in 7.0 seconds.
The surprising attribute of the CLA is its 4WD system. Most of M-Bs cars are rear-wheel drive, so you have to be a bit careful with the throttle mid-corner. This one being a 4WD means it's a lot more stable and surprisingly forgiving to corner with. Mind you it's no Evo or WRX given that this is still a front-wheeler wherein the rear-wheels can kick in if traction gets a little dicey, but many of the same lessons in driving those kinds of sport compact cars apply, and it can be just as fun.
I like the way Mercedes has engineered their new generation of compact cars. The S- and E-Classes (and to an extent the C-Class as well) are for the more traditional set of Mercedes customers; the ones who prefer to be driven while they relax. This CLA 250 is clearly made for the up-and-coming executive; successful individuals who prefer to roll up their sleeves and drive.
It comes at a price though. Specced as it is, the 2016 CLA 250 4MATIC AMG Sport is already at PhP 3,338,000. At that price point many other models come into play, but still, the CLA 250 should be able to carve out a small but discerning niche in the automotive market.