The CLA class has been the smash-hit for Mercedes in the same way the A3 sedan has been for Audi. It’s found plenty of buyers and sits perfectly alongside the A-Class hatch for those who prefer a boot.

The C 250 Sport is a slightly curious animal – it’s got the hot-hatch power and – unusually, all-wheel drive. It’s got a lot of styling. It’s also significantly more expensive than offerings from VW and Audi so it would have to have something a bit extra – wouldn’t it?

The CLA 250 Sport is the last stop before the bonkers, $88,400 CLA 45 AMG, the booted version of the all-wheel drive A45.

In its basic form, the price kicks off at the same point as the six-cylinder BMW M135i, $64,900 and almost $5000 more than an Audi S3. It’s also $14,000 more than the CLA 200 base model.


Standard on the 250 Sport are (deep breath): 18-inch alloy wheels, six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, nine airbags, alarm with motion and tow-away sensors, forward collision warning, blind spot sensor, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, cruise control, drilled front brakes with red calipers, electric memory sports front seats, fatigue detection…

… dark tinted windows, sat-nav, bi-xenon headlights, auto headlights and wipers, leather seats and steering wheel, auto park assist, power windows and mirrors and a massive glass sunroof.

Added to our car was $1173 metallic paint, the $2264 COMAND package and the similarly-priced Driving Assistance package.


The COMAND upgrade ups the speaker count to 12, adds DAB+ digital radio, a hard drive and voice control. Driving Assistance adds adaptive cruise and lane departure.

All up, we were driving around in a $70,601 car.

The CLA looks terrific – short, squat and pulled low down over the 18-inch alloys, it looks ready to rumble. The detailing in the head and taillights, most obvious at night, gives the car a strong presence and unmistakeable Mercedes air, something buyers at this level probably appreciate – a base model CLA-Class almost feels like biggest-brother S-Class.

Inside are rich materials, with leather (some real, some not) covering the dashboard, doors, seats and the steering wheel. But, once the centre stack meets the console however, the plastics suddenly go decidedly grainy and low-rent. The fit is typically excellent but the feel is at odds with the rest of the cabin.

The darkness of the materials is offset by the gigantic sunroof (and the perforated, rather than solid blind) letting in a ton of light to really set off the bright red seat-belts.

Front seat passengers will find it easy to get comfortable but if that requires putting the seat back, rear passengers will fare badly – there isn’t a lot of leg room and that diving roofline robs much of the A Class’ headroom. Three small kids across the back will work, but otherwise two shortish adults.

The boot is huge, with some extra space beneath the floor where you will also find the goo pump for tyre mishaps. There’s a reasonably amount of storage around the cabin, too.

The COMAND system is more useable in the CLA Class than in the larger C and E, doing without the silly scratchpad. The upgraded sound in our car was excellent, with simple phone integration and streaming, along with a USB.

The twelve speakers fill the cabin with a clear sound, with good bass and mid-range in particular. The sat-nav had traffic warning and was easy to use. The screen was bright and clear and had a good resolution in the menus and on the reversing camera.

An eye-opening 6.6 second dash to 100km/h comes courtesy of a 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder developing 155kW and 350Nm of torque. All four wheels are driven by a seven-speed twin-clutch transmission with paddle shifters.

Mercedes claims a combined cycle figure of 6.0 litres per 100km but given the willingness of the 2.0-litre to rev and the sweet-shifting transmission, you’re unlikely to see less than 11 L/100km. We certainly didn’t, but it spent most of its time in Sport mode for the engine and transmission, which meant the stop-start was off. The weather was also disgustingly humid so we kept the engine running to keep the air-con pumping.

Nine airbags, ABS, brake assists, forward collision detection, fatigue detection, crash avoidance with braking, traction and stability control.

This lengthy list, plus a crash test, adds up to five stars from ANCAP.

The 250 is basically a hot hatch with a boot – its power figures are well below the (cheaper) all-wheel drive Audi S3 and rear wheel drive M135i. The numbers are much closer to VW’s Golf GTi.

That aside, the CLA is an excellent car – quiet and for the most part very refined, it’s a real urban warrior. The wheel feels positive in the hand and you can sling it in and out of corners with great confidence – the all-wheel drive grip is tenacious and drama-free.

While the engine isn’t a high revving unit, it does rev willingly and smoothly, with the transmission shifting like the ticking of a clock. In Sport mode the ticking is accompanied by an exuberant crackle from the exhaust.

A downside is the ride – with the sport suspension of the Sport designation, it is one rocky rider. Naturally on a good surface it will behave much better, but when the rains come and the roads fall to pieces, potholes become a mortal enemy, particularly for rear seat passengers.

The ride does mean that it is less liveable than you might otherwise imagine. You’d be mad to upgrade to the 19-inch wheels unless you had excellent chiropractic cover.

When you fire up the Merc CLA, you’re always in the most economical mode. It takes two separate buttons to get to maximum attack and those buttons are in a place you might not expect. When you’ve sussed it out there the steering adds weight and reduces its lock to lock, giving you a heavy but responsive feel.

The brakes are excellent and resisted the pounding we gave them while the engine’s light theatrics on the up and downshift kept us giggling.

The CLA 250 Sport is really only let down by the rugged ride and some hard plastics and interior detailing. The ride is a matter of choice but some of the half-hearted plastics, especially on the seat controls, mar an otherwise excellent car.

If you want to stand out from the crowd in the looks department, the CLA is the most dramatic and not at all displeasing to the eye. The drive is certainly no let-down, but the BMW will eat it for breakfast and the Audi is faster and $5000 cheaper.

But above all, the CLA is a Mercedes so is topped by that very desirable three-pointed star.

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