Until the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 AMG arrives, this is the hottest of the new CLA line-up, and the Mercedes-Benz 250 4Matic is something of a riot. It's a really enjoyable compact sports saloon.
In the metal
Have we expended sufficient pixels on pointing out how good looking the new Mercedes-Benz CLA is? We have? Well, how about this extra-lovely Edition 1 model? It's a launch version, which takes the already-muscular looking AMG-Line model and adds some extra styling elements. There's Cosmos Black paint, set off by bright orange highlights on the edges of the aero kit and around the periphery of the black-finish 19-inch alloy wheels. Inside, there's more orange pinstriping, some body-hugging high-back bucket seats and a special aluminium dashboard panel with the Edition logo picked out in - you've guessed it - orange. It's a bit eye-searing, maybe even a bit tacky, but that's OK as this version of the CLA has other things to recommend it...
This is a CLA 250 4Matic, so it's using a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, combined with the 7G-DCT dual-clutch automatic gearbox and 4Matic four-wheel drive. That engine gets some clever tech, including cylinders that are wider at the bottom than at the top (it creates less friction, apparently), and two-stage variable valve timing.
To someone old enough to remember the original Ford Escort Cosworth, it seems odd now that 224hp is really only enough for 'warm' status, rather than full-on hot, but the CLA 250 isn't even in the second tier of performance. That will be occupied by the upcoming CLA 35 AMG 306hp version, and beyond that will be the 400hp+ CLA 45 AMG. Eventually.
Here's the thing, though. While the CLA 35 will be more powerful, and will (if the A 35 AMG is anything to go by) be much quicker at dashing to 100km/h, the fact is that the CLA 250 has sufficient grunt and sufficient poise for pretty much all purposes.
While 224hp and 350Nm no longer sound like a lot, this hottest-for-now CLA covers ground with just enough venom to be enjoyable. True, it lacks the kudos of the AMG badge, but honestly, if you really need to travel appreciably faster than this on the public road, then you have a screw loose. The 250 is plenty quick enough for our purposes.
Better yet, it feels poised and agile. Flick the Dynamic Select switch into Sport and you get a bit more of an entertaining growl from the engine (augmented by the sound system, but it's done convincingly) and a bit more weight to the steering, which also displays decent (if not exceptional) feel and feedback. Combined with the traction advantage of the 4Matic four-wheel drive, you've got a bit of a useful cross-country tool, able to power hard out of slippery corners, and one that possesses impressive poise and balance. It's fun - pure and simple.
One drawback? It's probably going to ride quite roughly. On the super-smooth tarmac of Bavaria, where Mercedes brought us to try the new CLA out, it felt OK, but those big 19-inch wheels and the firm suspension setup mean that the 250 4Matic will probably be too stiff for Irish tarmac. Shame.
What you get for your money
We're still waiting for prices for the new CLA range, but this version is not going to be cheap. Indeed, with the 250 4Matic being the range-topping model for now, expect it to stretch to close to €50,000, which is nudging up to Honda Civic Type R pricing.
I have no doubt that the Mercedes CLA 250 4Matic's likely lofty price tag is going to hold it back, not least in Ireland where it's probably going to be very expensive. Still, even with that it's the most enjoyable and engaging new CLA to drive (so far) and proves that you don't need an AMG badge to create a truly exciting Mercedes sports saloon.