Driven: MERCEDES-BENZ CLA200 AMG-LINE

Mercedes-Benz CLA200

So, you’re in the market for an ‘entry-level’ premium car. You’ve done your brand-specific research, as you should, and decided that Mercedes-Benz checks all your pre-determined boxes. But now the question begs: which should you get? The A-Class, be it in hatch or sedan guise, which is probably considered the obvious point of entry, or the C-Class which is a bit ‘everyone-has-one’ but a good choice if re-sale value is of concern.

Both are excellent choices, albeit a bit plain in standard trim, but you’re probably looking for something that has more flair going for it. There’s the C-Class Coupe, which is a substantial sum more than the sedan, and there goes your primary objective of buying entry-level out the window. The missus won’t be happy.

VALUE?

Mercedes-Benz CLA200

The choice then is obvious. For R37,100, or a few hundred rand a month more than the standard A200, you can have what is essentially the coupe variant of the current South African Car of The Year. But, is it worth it?

That’s quite the loaded question, if I’m honest, since that is likely not all you’re going to spend. As is the case with nearly any premium brand, there is always an overabundance of nice-to-have boxes to check. Our tester, for instance, and not the derivative pictured, was specified in an AMG-Line trim with nearly all the niceties available: two-tone red and black AMG Leather package (R19,500), the R31,450 Designo Mountain Grey body colour, a R15,800 panoramic sliding sunroof; all of which just scratches the surface of optionally available equipment.

One can argue that specifying luxury items is a matter of choice, but looking at an affordable entry-point into the premium segments that offer measurable style, with the net sum equating to nearly a bar (yes, that was about how much our tester costs), makes the whole back-of-mind affordability exercise a bit pointless I’m afraid.

The counter-argument which will surmise: “why specify anything at all?” will conclude with a simple “if not, there’s not much of the premium substance except a Mercedes-Benz badge”.

Getting back to the seemingly ominous rhetoric I posed earlier, whether it’s worth the money, is a bit of a subjective matter. I, for instance, loved the two-tone seats with its sporty disposition, complemented by the multi-colour ambient lighting system which I just left flooding the cabin with a deep-red hue.

I could have lived without the panoramic roof since it was closed for the entirety of the test period. As far as the matte-grey body colour goes, well, it looked striking to say the least, and it was on the receiving end of several admiring stares but then you have to specify the R22,800 Parking package with a 360-degree camera – call it insurance as to not damage that expensive paint. Also, after living with it for a week, it was hard to go back to the standard ol’ reverse camera.

AMG DRIVE?

Well, no, sadly. You’d think with that price tag there ought to be a fire-cracking engine under the bonnet, but we had the baby CLA200 on test that is powered by a 1.3-litre turbocharged engine that churns out a modest 120 kW and 250 Nm of torque. However, except for the expected turbo-lag, it never felt all that lacking in the performance department. When I was in the mood for highway-cruising, it delivered ample of the right stuff and returned excellent fuel economy in the process with the CLA registering a constant figure of between 6.2 and 6.7 litres per 100 km for the test period. Switch up the dynamic drive mode, however, lightly poke it with a stick, and the entire car’s temperament changed with a feather-light accelerator and rather embarrassing yelps of enjoyment from me.

LAST WORD

Mercedes-Benz CLA200

It’s a complicated one, the CLA200 AMG Line. Positioned as an entry-level premium car with a sporty character it defeats the point of desirability with a bare-bones, no-options-ticked approach, while specifying what you really expect from a premium car, renders the “more-budget-approach” in the car’s portfolio positioning pointless.

Here’s the twist, though: while this is still a coupe at heart, it offers more style than an A-Class, more power than the C-Class C180 entry-level offering (115 kW) that costs a significant sum more, while, despite the sleek roofline, I felt the CLA offered better headroom and boot-capacity that’s just 20 litres shy (480 vs 460 litres) of the C-Class. Since this is essentially an A-Class, rear legroom is still somewhat sparse. Overall, it’s about as practical as the popular C, save for the rear legroom.

And here’s my advice: buy a CLA, specify it reasonably well to match the price of a C-Class, and you’ve got yourself a bargain.

Report by DEON VAN DER WALT | Images © DAIMLER AG