Mercedes-Benz CLA: Stark contrast for new Benz

By Liz Dobson

You don't need to own a superyacht to drive a European marque, writes Liz Dobson

Mercedes-Benz wants to position the new CLA as an 'affordable' car. Photo/Ted Baghurst
Mercedes-Benz wants to position the new CLA as an 'affordable' car. Photo/Ted Baghurst

It's the little details that count, but some could do with more attention. Our main photo of the German car in front of visiting superyacht, A, is definitely not the image Mercedes-Benz New Zealand is trying to portray for its new CLA.

The car company wants the four-door coupe to be thought of as an "affordable" vehicle rather than a luxury car driven by the likes of the Russian billionaire owner of A.

Launched in New Zealand last month, the $65,900 CLA200 is the first in the lineup, with the 250 Sport arriving in February and the CLA45 AMG (pictured opposite page) on sale this month.

Per capita, New Zealand has the most AMGs in the world, with one Kiwi businessman owning every version of the high-performance vehicles.

"Kiwis have a love affair for high-powered cars," says Mercedes-Benz NZ general manager Ben Giffin. "From the A45 to the S63, for that price range we tick all the boxes."

And with a 30 per cent increase in sales last month, over BMW NZ's 26 per cent and Audi's 23, Giffin hopes the introduction of the moderately priced CLA200, alongside the $46,900 A-Class hatch, will increase his market share for this year.

Early next year, the GLA small SUV will join the fleet with Mercedes-Benz NZ able to take on its Bavarian rivals here. Those marques already have impressive sales in this segment.

While in the sedan segment, the two models that are direct competitors to the CLA200 are the BMW 3 Series 320i ($74,990 for a 2-litre) and $69,900 for the Audi A4 1.8-litre. The base model CLA200 is powered by a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine (115kw/250Nm), paired with a seven-gear double-clutch transmission accessed through a steering wheel stalk or paddles.

Three driving modes are available - economy, sport and manual - that you can choose via a button, with economy the default mode.

The German brand claims combined fuel consumption of 5.7l/100km and, during Driven's exclusive New Zealand drive, I was keeping pace with that number until I moved from economy to sport mode and hit the on-ramps of the motorways. That lead-foot session pushed the number fleetingly into eyewatering levels, but it was worth watching the fuel gauge dip just for the fun of hearing the engine work through the gears smoothly to hit the 100km/h mark.

While the engine and transmission provide a talented combination, it's the exterior that would attract any oligarch thanks to the new-look diamond grille, first seen on the A-Class. Although any superyacht owner worth their onboard helicopter would probably add real diamonds to the grille.

The car also gains the LED day running lights shaped like eyebrows to make an onroad impression while the sculptured side panels and 18in five-spoke alloys provide a more macho appearance.

But the interior could do with help from the superyacht A's designer, Philippe Starck, with the 14.7cm infoscreen jutting out of the dash and not being a touchscreen - but that didn't stop me from trying to change radio stations by tapping the plastic.

To pair your phone, work the navigation system or change radio station you also have to use the too-finnicky dial to scroll or push up.

Simple is better, Mercedes-Benz.

The car also lacks lots of rear headroom due to the sloping nature of the car to create that four-door coupe look, as opposed to a four-door sedan. At 1.60m tall, I was fine
but anyone above 1.77m would struggle during a long trip - although for the price tag of the entry CLA200, buyers aren't going to complain about such details. At 1.432m high, 1.777 wide and at a length of 4630mm, the CLA200 is slightly longer than the C-Class sedan, although at 119 metres long and 5959 gross tons, the $350 million A superyacht could probably fit a few CLAs on board.

- NZ Herald

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