What are you driving?
An estate (Jim), but not as we know it. This is the Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake, so-called because 'estate' is far too humdrum a word to describe the slinky bodywork of this car. After all, it's based on the CLA 'four-door coupe' rather than the supposedly more sensible Mercedes A-Class Saloon, which means it gets four frameless door windows and an emphasis on style. That, it must be said, doesn't render the boot totally useless, as it still measures in at a minimum of 495 litres - and you can fold the rear seat backs down to open it up further when needs be.
Otherwise, the Shooting Brake is as per the regular CLA, with a little more weight to carry around and a price premium of not far off €2,000. There's quite a wide range of engine options. The petrol models, all turbocharged, are badged CLA 180, CLA 200 (both using 136hp 1.3-litre units) and CLA 250 (a hot hatch in disguise with 224hp from its 2.0-litre engine), while the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 Shooting Brake uses the same all-wheel-drive mechanicals as found in the A 35. The CLA 250 can be had with 4Matic four-wheel drive, too, while the others all send power to their front wheels, while only the CLA 180 and 200 can be had with a manual gearbox.
Diesel power kicks off with the CLA 180 d tested here (the only diesel that can be had with a manual gearbox, though we tested it with the dual-clutch auto), the sole 1.5-litre option, while the CLA 200 d and 220 d use the same core 2.0-litre diesel engine, producing 150- and 190hp respectively. Pricing kicks off at €36,530 for the CLA 180 Shooting Brake.
That's for the entry-level Style version, which gets the MBUX infotainment with a seven-inch display, a reversing camera, auto lights and wipers, cruise control with speed limiter, heated front seats, keyless start, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, climate control, alloy wheels and lots of active safety systems.
Next up is the Progressive, which enhances the interior and exterior with larger wheels, LED headlights, split-fold rear seats, Artico upholstery (man-made leather), dual-zone climate control and more.
The AMG Line version, as pictured here, looks the most impressive inside thanks to an AMG-branded makeover that includes a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, sports seats and other embellishments. Outside, the AMG theme continues with sportier styling and alloy wheels. There's also lowered suspension and variable ratio power steering ('Direct Steer' in Mercedes-speak).
Name its best bits
Have you looked at the pictures? That should answer the question, as the CLA Shooting Brake is a cracking looking car. Personally, I'd prefer a more interesting colour than the grey of our test model, but even that can't disguise its swoopy lines and stance. To my eyes, this version is far more attractive than the regular Mercedes CLA; it's just a bonus that it's a little more practical.
Interestingly, the AMG Line mechanical upgrades to the suspension and steering subtly make the CLA Shooting Brake a little more interesting to drive than versions further down the ladder, too. The 180 d's 1.5-litre engine hasn't got a lot of performance to spare, I'll concede, but the chassis makes the most of what it's given, with a commendable mix of suppleness over typical Irish road surfaces and really good body control. The steering is quite light, but offers some degree of communication with the front tyres, helping make this car enjoyable to drive for long periods. What's more, it's remarkably economical on a cruise, easily bettering 5.0 litres/100km.
Anything that bugs you?
Relatively small niggles here. We remain unconvinced by the dual-clutch auto Mercedes fits to its smaller engines: it's too sluggish to respond in its normal mode and too keen in the Sport setting. It's less of an issue for a diesel with plenty of torque, of course, and you learn to drive around it or use the (wonderfully tactile) gearchange paddles behind the steering wheel. It can exaggerate the noisiness of the diesel engine at times, unfortunately, which thankfully fades away into the background once you're up to speed.
And why have you given it this rating?
We struggle to recommend the regular Mercedes CLA over the more affordable A-Class Saloon, but in Shooting Brake format the CLA is quite a unique proposition in the range and, indeed, the market. It looks fantastic, has a good interior (better if you spend a little more on options) and drives remarkably well, even with the base diesel engine under the bonnet.