Words & Photography: Chris Ng
Turning right when I should have went left at the junction was one of the best things that could happen in this dark, gloomy and wet day. So instead of turning down south and back to CAR HQ, I am on my way north, up some old roads that run perpendicular to the North-South highway. One-forty-something and Ipoh is written on the milestone, and no, I don’t have any idea where I am. Great, I get to spend more time in the car.
With half a tank left, I gunned the engine at every opportunity and rapidly put convoy after plodding convoy of very large and slow lorries behind me. And all the time I am wondering if they realise that I was there. These lorries are huge and the car I’m driving is not quite as large. In fact, I think that the height of the car is equivalent to half the height of the lorry’s wheels. Usually, this would mean that I’m behind the wheel of something sporty and has only two doors; roof optional. Except this time, I am not.
Introducing the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, the world’s slipperiest four door coupe and one of the world’s slipperiest cars ever made. No, I don’t mean that tail-happy kind of slippery; I meant it in terms of aerodynamics. For indeed, this car has recorded a drag coefficient value of Cd 0.24 and leads the field with an aerodynamic resistance of 0.51 meter-squared.
To put into perspective of what these numbers mean, the CLA almost effortlessly tai-chis air molecules over, under and around it instead of burning more fuel to brutally punch a hole in the invisible air barrier. So by having low aerodynamic values mean that every aspect of the car would operate even more efficiently, especially when it comes to the engine because it does not need to spare additional fuel just to swim through air molecules.
You can tell how aerodynamically efficient the CLA just by looking at how sleek this car is. Overall, the car appears as if it sits low to the ground. The roof somehow looks low and lithe, with the rest of the body taking a shape of an airfoil. The A-pillar shoulder and geometry, and the aero-optimised wing mirrors are just some of the factors that contribute to the good airflow. Even the wheels have its own spoiler to make the wind flow better around it. Such are the minute details that the designers and engineers had to work on in order to get it just right.
With all that going on, the car has to look good too. In this aspect, Mercedes-Benz’s Head of Design, Gorden Wagener and his design team have done a marvelous job. The end result snaps with sophistication, brilliance and social grace.
Every panel you see here has been reworked or new to complement the aerodynamics. Up front, the CLA’s bonnet is embedded with power-domes and the radiator grille is littered with diamond-shaped studs; every auto detailer’s joy. The light modules and LEDs of the headlamp are arranged in a way to create what is called ‘flare effect’ for the daytime driving lights and indicators.
Further back, three lines define the body. The first starts from the front wings and swoops down towards the rear. The second line crosses the shoulder above the rear axle. And the third completes the design with a sweeping upward curve from front wheel to the rear. Taken in as a whole, I could not help but to see the lines of the classic sport cars being resurrected. It’s a good thing.
But it is the rear that brings the car together, where the designers expertly juggle convex and concave surfaces and edges. The low roof slopes lower to the rear, combines with the hallmark curvature rear window gives the CLA the coupe style body. It looks properly muscular with the drawn-in C-pillars meeting up with the rear wheel arches and continuing to the rear lights. The design of the tails lights are especially characteristic and a glance it all it takes to recognize the CLA from the rear.
This brings us to the interior that looks familiar to the other Mercedes-Benz on the road. Crack open the door and two things will grab your attention. The first is the air-conditioning vents that are electroplated silver-chrome finish. You will be compelled to touch the metallic surface; it is cold even when the air is not flowing. Galvanised inserts that, upon closer inspection, has its own minute details, directs the air flow.
But not all is good, unfortunately. Because the second thing that grabs you – the free standing LCD screen – does not seem to be part of the original plan. Its upright and out-of-dashboard position make it an awkward piece to have in the car. It could be just me but I do like everything integrated into the dashboard. Yet, I should have to get used to it seeing that it is a trend that might not end anytime soon.
Apart from that, the interior is well-appointed with high quality that befits the brand. The seating arrangements are set lower to the ground, which appropriately fits the sporty ambitions of the car. The steering wheel certainly feels grippy and fills my fingers with feedback from the road.
Confident, I put pressure on the accelerator to give me more juice from the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine of the CLA 200. The engine responds almost immediately, delivering horses and torque to the front wheels. The acceleration that follows isn’t as gut-punching as one would expect, having a mill that generates 156bhp at 5,300rpm and 250Nm from 1,250 to 4,000rpm is just sufficient to pull a 1,430kg car forward. There’s no wheel spin or drama of that sort. The car mounts up speed without effort, it will do the century sprint in 8.5 seconds but it is the briskness mid-range that tells you this car would make short work of any highway.
If it is lively driving you want, then select manual mode and stay in fourth gear. Selecting ‘Sport’ will only ask the seven-speed DCT to hold the revs for you, and then automatically change up as soon as it hits the redline. In fourth, the CLA 200 feels more responsive and it gives you more usable revs in the middle rev range than the first three gears can. Lift off, brake, half throttle, turn, full throttle could all be accomplished in that gear alone, provided you hold the rev at its sweet spot. And once you do, you’ll quickly get into a trance-like rhythm that will see you skating from apex to apex while plastering a satisfied smile on your face. That is until the coarse sounds of the engine start to assault the eardrums.
Yes, it may have all the lines and curves that make you want to jump in and find the nearest mountain pass, but the CLA 200 does not seem to be made for such drive. Nothing fundamentally wrong with it, the CLA handles respectably well around the corners with a bit of roll and understeer showing only when you’ve pushed the car close its comfort zone. It is just that the entire package feels it could handle more. So having a few extra horses and torque would make things better. And while I’m at it, why not give the CLA 200 a firmer chassis too. When is the CLA 250 coming again?
But really, I am doing is nitpicking because the Mercedes-Benz has yet again created something special. The CLA 200 continues the Mercedes-Benz tradition of delivering big car refinement in a small and slinky package.
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