Automobile

Three Pointed Star

March 22, 2019

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Three Pointed Star

With an aura of sportiness and a creamy 181bhp petrol engine, the newly launched Mercedes Benz CLA 200 is a stately, luxurious drive.

Sidharth Sharotri drives this beast of good vibes.

I’ll be the first to admit that Road Testing is probably the most inexact science in the world. Us journos and critics tend to make up our minds about whether or not a car will be good in the first few minutes of driving it. With the Mercedes Benz CLA 200 though, I had decided even before I saw one in the flesh that I would fall deeply in love with it.

I am sure you will agree with me when you consider the ingredients. It has the dynamic package from the A Class. It has the creamy 181 bhp petrol engine from the new C Class. All this is very compelling indeed. So when Mercedes invited me to have a go in one before the launch, I was priapic with anticipation. Frankly, they could have invited me to Baghdad and I still wouldn’t have complained. But since they didn’t have any body bags readily available, they chose Goa instead.

As is customary at such events, there was a presentation about its features and the engine and the safety and all the general witchcraft that goes into it. And then they took the wraps off it. This is the first time I’ve been to a car reveal where I’ve heard gasps from journalists when a car was unveiled. It. Is. That. Beautiful.  To be honest, you’d have got less of a reaction if the cover were removed to reveal copulating hippopotamuses.

Having driven the AMG version of the CLA before, I was glad to find that without all the go-faster paraphernalia that the monster version is festooned with like the front splitter, rear diffuser and the side skirts the standard CLA is about as elegant as a saloon car can be. At the front, you’ll notice the beautiful LED and bi-xenon headlamps. In between them is the diamond grill, which is now black. This gives it understated visual athleticism like a football player in a business suit. In profile, it looks really low like its big brother – the CLS. And like the CLS, it has pillar-less doors. These give a genuine aura of sportiness.

The interior is virtually identical to the A Class and GLA. Which is to say that it’s a lovely place to be. It has electric sports seats as standard that can be adjusted in about 1.3 million ways, which can then be stored in one of three seat memories. This will be particularly useful for the kind of young couple that Mercedes hopes will form the backbone of their customer base. The new Telematics Generation 5 infotainment system brings in upgrades like a bigger screen, more features and great usability. The satnav, for instance, is Garmin’s all new Map Pilot that knew almost every road in Goa. The music interface is as easy to use as an iphone’s. And the music itself is delivered through Harmon Kardon’s Logic 7 system which produces fantastic sound even with the windows open. It also has other neat little touches like a reversing camera, a panoramic sunroof that closes itself when it starts raining and illuminated door sills. There are no obvious omissions from the rather long equipment list.

But the CLA has a rather alarming problem; I’m 6’3” and I don’t fit in the back seat. In fact, nobody above 5’8” would. There simply isn’t enough headroom. The price to pay for the gorgeous sloping roofline is that this is the first four-door Mercedes-Benz in which normally-sized people cannot be chauffer driven. To some (vegetarians, bean counters and I.T. people), that may be an instant deal breaker and I sympathise. But to everyone else, it means that Mercedes intended the CLA to be driven. So let’s see what’s what.

The driver’s seat is now familiar because we’ve seen it in the A Class and GLA. It’s firm, yet comfortable and has wide bolsters on either side to stop you from rolling around in the corners. The result is a low and snug seating position like you’d find on a sportscar.

It starts like a normal car with the turn of a key. The gear selector, like all non-AMG Mercs now, is on the steering column. A simple twitch of you your index finger let’s you select between Reverse, Neutral, Drive and Park on the automatic gearbox.

The first time you ease it off the line gently, you will not be able to differentiate between being stationary and being in motion. The 7-DCT dual-clutch automatic gearbox is probably the best at blurring that line. It’s really good in the city as well because it shifts up early so you never really hear the 1991cc turbocharged petrol engine. It’s eerily quiet and never makes its presence felt unless you provoke it.

Then you arrive at your first speed breaker and do some quick maths based on how low you think you’re sitting, the long wheelbase and how big the speed breaker appears to be. Don’t bother. Mercedes gave their engineers strict instructions to make the CLA India-proof and they’ve done just that. This will go over anything that India can reasonably throw at it. Your brain will still make you clench but please resist that urge like you would the urge to drunk-dial the ex.

Don’t be alarmed if you turn a great many heads in the city in this. People will look. And they will point. And they will pull out their phones and take its picture. But if you really want to enjoy it, find a quiet mountain road, set the engine and gearbox in Sport mode and put your foot down. What happens next will make you believe you’re in a proper sportscar. It revs eagerly all the way to 6750 rpm and smoothly shifts up without much delay in power. If you’re feeling even more Schumacher, try Manual mode in which you use the paddles behind the steering wheel to shift gears.

It really comes alive when you give it some stick, does the CLA. The steering is weighted just so, the suspension ensures that there’s virtually no body roll and the chassis is incredibly stiff and well balanced for a car of this type. Even though it’s front wheel drive, it feels very neutral through corners. It is as good as the A Class to drive. That’s about the highest praise I can give to a front wheel driven car. It’s fantastic on the highway well. Because of the tall gearing, the ridiculously low CoD of 0.25, and hardly any weight, it cruises effortlessly at speeds of well over 180 kph. It doesn’t feel strained or unstable at all.