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Mercedes CLA 250

As Jaguar has already proved so painfully with its X-type, prising every conceivable brand styling cue from the carapace of a large car and then plastering them piecemeal over the bodyshell of a smaller ofering very rarely cuts the mustard. And that's why, whilst the CLS Shooting Brake is one of the most sharp-suited Mercedes in production, its CLA sibling is somewhat less easy on the eye.
The latter simply lacks the overall stature to carry of either the company's current predilection for gently haphazard curvature in the coachwork or the swollen rear roofine elicited by such steeply tapering side glazing. On board, all is where you left it in the A-class, B-class and GLA. This equates to a comfortable, ergonomically satisfactory driving position hampered only by an over-intrusive fxed headrest, hemmed into a mildly underwhelming environment which at once tries both too hard and not hard enough.
All the money appears to have been spent on stitched leather doors and dashboard cappings, whilst too much of that which you actually fondle is puritan-severe plastic. And details such as the over-wrought driver's instruments (remember the Mercedes-hallmark clarity of white on black?) and the decidedly aftermarket bolt-on feel of the multimedia screen further diminish perceptions of quality.
Astern, the relatively cramped rear accommodation of a CLA coupe is only mildly alleviated by an extra 40mm of headroom. Seats in place, elevation to estate status only awards the car a paltry 25 litres of additional loadspace (accessed by a narrow opening with an awkward lip), though £545 more afords you a further 100 litres via an inelegant bracket which hoicks the seat backs into unoccupiably prim verticality. 60:40 split-folders collapsed, luggage capacity tops out at 1354 litres. Perhaps better positioned as workshy style statement than workhorse estate, then, the CLA Shooting Brake range, priced from £25,775 to £43,120, ofers an all-four-cylinder choice of 134 and 175bhp diesels, and 120, 208 and 355bhp petrol powerplants, the latter brace mated to all-wheel drive undercarriage.
UK best-seller the 200 CDI unavailable, it's down to the 220 CDI to display near-identical performance and handling traits to similarly armed and previously sampled siblings from Mercedes' ever-burgeoning compact shoal. The turbodiesel presents as unrefned, feeling harsh and a tad primitive when pushed, with attendant vibration penetrating the cabin. The whole steers acceptably, but the unnecessarily heavy helm feels somewhat artifcial, delivering little in the way of feel and inconsistency in weight.
And, on winter tyres, the Shooting Brake succumbs to understeer rather more readily than is entirely seemly. Ride quality, as with all Mercedes on this platform, is a whisker short of satisfactory. Fidgeting all too frequently on all but the fnest of road surfaces, the car never stops shivering for long enough to settle down fully in the cruise; the shooting hand of the over-the-hill gunslinger o'er-long on the sauce. This despite the fact that all UK cars will be equipped with this 'comfort' suspension; even the 45 AMG sporting a new oxymoron - 'lowered comfort suspension'.
Destined to account for a surprisingly high 8-9% of the UK sales mix, the £43,120 45 AMG deserves mention not simply because - its powerplant developing a whopping 181bhp per litre - it does indeed go like a stabbed rat, but also because much needed tinkerings visited upon the steering system include replacement of the variable ratio rack with a far more pleasing fxed-ratio afair.
My pick of the bunch, though, assuming you don't mind paying £34,725 for something of a reverse Tardis, is the 250 4MATIC, simply because, dispatching 62mph in a useful 6.8 seconds, the 208bhp petrol unit is far sweeter than any of the oilers on ofer. So, there's enough here to make those aspiring to Mercedes ownership feel they have, indeed, arrived. But I can't help feeling that, as with every behind-the-curve-diesel-powered variant on this platform, undoubted sales success will pay testament somewhat less to engineering excellence than to the relentless brand power of the three-pointed star.

Mercedes CLA 250 4MATIC Shooting Brake Price £34,725 Engine 1991cc 16v 4-cyl turbocharged, 208bhp @ 5500rpm, 258lb ft @ 1200-4000rpm Transmission Sevenspeed automatic, fourwheel drive Performance 6.8sec 0-62mph, 149mph, 42.8mpg, 154g/km CO2 Weight 1555kg On Sale May

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