By Anandarup Dutta
It’s official – 2015 shall be hailed as the year when the big names in the automobile industry woke up to the need to make luxury more compact and pragmatic. Falling into the trend of downsizing the oft criticized as impractical big cars, is German automobile giant Mercedes-Benz, with its CLA class 4 door “swoop” sedan,set to hit Indian roads within a few weeks. Pitched initially for American markets as early as 2013, the CLA is targeted at luxury automobile buyers in the subcontinent looking for pragmatism as an essential add-on to the regular demands of performance and comfort.
First seen at the Indian Auto Expo 2014, this entry level saloon is built around a new MFA (Modular Front-Wheel Architecture). The manufacturers seemed to have been going for a sporty, compact yet premium design and have achieved it to a satisfying degree. The Audi A3 and BMW X1 are in direct competition, with the CLA looking to recapture the downsized saloon market segment aided by the niche it occupies in the psyche of an Indian luxury buyer. Coupled with this are claims of having the lowest CO2 emissions in its segment, for those who are environmentally inclined. An entry level 2015 CLA will set you back by anywhere between Rs 28 to 30 lacs (about USD 31,500 ex showroom).
Classic Elements and Additions
The CLA might just be one of the most interesting cars to come out of Stuttgart in a decade. Straight lines characteristic of its larger predecessors are replaced in the CLA by fluidic trims. Though definitely not an idea that’s first of its kind, the lines do seem to work well with this car giving it a fresh appeal. A diamond block grille, frameless door glasses, flowing tail lamps and the smooth aerodynamic lines help retain almost in entirety the classic Merc design. The company claims its coefficient of drag to be the “lowest in its class”, reducing fuel consumption and drag noise. A smooth tilted windshield gives it good road gripping on sharp curves and sudden turns.
Notwithstanding such additions, this car does come across as an attempt to downsize an extremely desirable upscale and thoroughly impractical sedan and make it fit into a straight business segment which is increasingly attracting larger numbers of customers. Would you rather spend the 30 lacs on a downsized sedan that reviewers worldwide have failed to classify within a particular class, or would you rather invest in a complete segment fit? The answer is: choose for yourself, as is the best decision when faced with a recipient of mixed reactions.
While Merc’s attempt to produce something elegant in a class that craves innovation is commendable, the CLA does come across as a bit boxy and oversized towards the rear. Power for the CLA comes initially from a choice of 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol or 2.1-litre turbocharged diesel engines, making 120 and 168bhp respectively, with varied versions in the pipeline. Whether it is the four door saloon CLA 250 FWD, 45 AMG 4-Matic or 250 4-Matic, the performance is impeccable for front wheel drives in its range. There is no evident torque steer, unless you decide to floor it mid swerve, in which case its Goodyear Eagle F1 asymmetric wheels will cry foul. An cleverly inverted steering feel makes this smaller car appear to have much more substance, hence retaining the traditional Merc feel. Good body control and lofty traction leaves very little left to be desired of the CLA, except perhaps better negotiation of harsh bumps.
It is when you step inside that the downsizing is most evident. A plunging roofline makes it a difficult entry for anyone taller than average and legroom is considerably limited. This lack of legroom is most prominent in the front seats, coupled with which, a slight bump will send the occupants of the car crashing into the roof overhead. Matte black interiors keep the interior styling simple yet elegant. There is however plenty of leather, a sunroof and heated seats (optional). What is jarring however is the unseemly bit of plastic on the centre console, as also the small 5.8 inch multimedia screen sticking out on top of the dashboard like an anomaly. COMAND, the infotainment system, is decidedly non-intuitive and outdated compared with systems from other manufacturers.
The rest of it is all characteristic Mercedes, borrowing heavily from its cousins. An iPod connector, garage-door opener, compass, auto-dimming mirrors, satellite radio, dual-zone climate control, a Harman Kardon sound system are a few of the other embellishments available with a “premium” package. The higher versions are also equipped with an adapted version of the famous Adaptive Cruise Control and automated parallel parking.
Will the CLA prove to be a choice for the pragmatic elite, or will it drift off as another experiment in a plethora of luxury passenger cars in an increasingly profitability driven market? This remains to be seen. 2015 promises to be the year of the practical customer and the race to segment supremacy is just about to begin.