THE latest addition to Mercedes-Benz’s small car range steps up in practicality in the form of the CLA Shooting Brake. The wagon version of the CLA brings more boot space and a new rear design, creating the fifth body style off the front-drive architecture.
WHAT IS IT?
A wagon version of Mercedes-Benz’s smallest sedan, the CLA. It provides an alternative to the C-Class wagon for less money and is the fifth body style off the front-drive architecture that also underpins the A-, B- GLA- and CLA-Classes.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
We got an early drive in Germany months ahead of the car going on sale in Australia, where Mercedes says the CLA Shooting Brake could be its best selling wagon.
There are no direct rivals to the baby Shooting Brake but the BMW 1-Series, Audi A3/S3 and Volkswagen Golf come closest in terms of the buyers they’re chasing and what they’re trying to achieve.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Think of it more as an overgrown A-Class than the latest breakthrough in family transport. Still light-on for space but more practicality for what is a great driving alternative to a compact luxury SUV.
PLUS: Load space more useful than sedan; feisty turbo four; classy cabin
MINUS: Rear leg room; storage space; transmission occasionally caught out
THE WHEELS REVIEW
TAKE a tape measure to Mercedes-Benz’s latest small car and there’s not a millimetre to separate it from the sedan it’s based on; same 2699mm wheelbase (also shared with the A- and GLA-Classes), same 1777mm width and same 4630mm length (unique bumpers for the AMG models add 61mm).
Yet the sales pitch with the CLA Shooting Brake is all about space.
The wagon rump liberates 25 litres of luggage space (for 495 in total) and, more importantly, a larger mouth to better swallow prams or pushbikes.
Australian variants will come with an electronic tailgate and an additional bracket that allows the 60/40-split rear pews to be propped unnaturally upright as a crude compromise for another 100 litres of boot space - at the expense of comfort.
Cargo mode aside, people in the back are better taken care of with an extra 40mm of head room. There are also rear air vents and the same leather-laced quality ambience.
But it’s still a long way off limousine standards. The door aperture is compact and leg room tight, especially if those up front are stretching out.
There’s a familiar family of 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbos, from a basic petrol and diesel to the more energetic C250 Sport.
The Sport’s 155kW makes for punchy acceleration. In its Comfort mode the seven-speed auto can be lethargic in its downshifts, while the sharper Sport mode sometimes hangs on to gears too long, underutilising the 350Nm. Overall, though, performance is adequate, while the chassis tilts towards comfort but still musters engaging turn-in and a planted feel.
The CLA45 AMG ramps up the volume, literally; the flatulence-like flutter on full-throttle upshifts (it’s also a muted part of the C250’s theatre) is a fitting accompaniment as you rush towards the 6300rpm shift point. It’s not as addictive as AMG’s V8 bark, but there’s something satisfyingly purposeful about its melody.
Performance is fiery enough, too, although despite 450Nm to squeeze you into the hard-hugging seats it’s the 265kW that makes its presence most apparent.
Snow melt across German mountain roads and winter tyres limited our dynamic assessment, but the agility and aptitude we know of the sedan shines through in the wagon. Approaching the limit it works the 19-inch fronts harder, but stab the throttle on exit and it brings the rears more prominently into play.
It’s a brisk way to cover ground in a car that feels more hot hatch than warm wagon.
Therein lies the dilemma with the Shooting Brake.
Those wanting a wagon for genuine load-swallowing ability will likely fork out the extra $5-10K for the roomier C-Class. But if you’re looking for a hatch with a bit more space, the CLA Shooting Brake mounts a convincing case.
Model CLA45 AMG Shooting Brake
Engine 1991cc 4cyl dohc turbo
Max power 265kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque 450Nm @ 2250-5000rpm
Transmission 7-speed auto
Kerb weight 1540kg
0-100km/h 4.7 seconds (claimed)
On sale July