Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 e overview
Confusingly, Mercedes offers not one, but two four-door saloon vehicles in its compact NGCC (New Generation Compact Class). You can, somewhat crudely, say that these NGCC models are all spun off from the A-Class hatchback, but if you want four doors and a separate boot, well then you have a choice...
You can have the cheaper (the gap is around €2,500 depending on the model) A-Class Saloon, or you can have this - the more stylish and swoopy CLA. Mercedes tries to clear up any confusion by pointing out that the CLA is, at least in theory, a coupe, but the truth is that it's really an A-Class with frameless door glass and a slightly longer boot.
Well, perhaps that's being a touch unkind. We've already come down on the side of liking the current CLA, for its combination of handsome styling and refined driving, but what is it like when it's fitted with the 250 e plug-in hybrid setup?
The Mercedes-Benz CLA range
The most affordable CLA is the €45,370 CLA 180, in 'Progressive' trim. That comes with the 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, in 136hp form, with front-wheel drive and a standard-fit seven-speed automatic dual-clutch gearbox.
Standard equipment for the Progressive model includes cruise control with a speed limiter; Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Individual driving modes; 18-inch alloys; LED headlights; a seven-inch digital instrument screen with an attendant 10.25-inch infotainment screen; active emergency braking; active lane keeping steering; driver attention alert; digital 'hey Mercedes' voice assistant; speed sign recognition; front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera; single-zone climate control; heated front seats; speed-sensitive power steering; and a multi-function three-spoke steering wheel.
You can have the more powerful CLA 200 in Progressive form, with the 163hp version of the same engine, for €48,835, or the same model with 4Matic four-wheel drive for €54,945. There's also a more-powerful-again CLA 250, with a turbocharged 2.0-litre 224hp engine for €60,125, or the same engine with four-wheel drive for €60,270. If you want a diesel, there's a choice of CLA 180 d, CLA 200 d, or CLA 220 d priced from €46,935, €47,595 and €55,870, respectively, with a four-wheel-drive option available for the 200 d and 220 d. The CLA 250 e plug-in hybrid, in Progressive form, costs €48,785.
The next trim up is the popular AMG-Line, which adds some sporty accoutrements. For €48,317 you can have a CLA 180 in AMG-Line form, which comes as standard with 18-inch AMG alloy wheels; an AMG body styling kit; lower suspension (which you can't have on the plug-in hybrid models, as the battery needs a bit of extra ground clearance); stainless steel pedals; sports seats; galvanised steel gearshift paddles; and a flat-bottom steering wheel with perforated leather and contrast stitching. A CLA 200 in AMG-Line spec will cost you €51,782; a CLA 200 4Matic €58,058; a CLA 250 is €63,344; while a CLA 250 4Matic will cost you €65,506. Our test car was a CLA 250 e plug-in hybrid, in AMG-Line trim, with prices starting from €51,355.
The 250 e models also come with a little extra in the way of standard equipment, including a Premium Package, which includes ambient lighting; centre rear seat armrest; heated and folding mirrors; smartphone integration; 'Thermotronic' dual-zone climate control; Comfort suspension; pre-entry climate control; and a radar-based system that decides how much brake energy recuperation to use.
If you want a diesel AMG-Line version, that'll be €49,857 for the CLA 180 d; €51,447 for the CLA 200 d; €54,382 for the CLA 200 d 4Matic; €56,827 for the CLA 220 d; and €58,537 for the CLA 220 d 4Matic.
There's also the option of the estate version of the CLA, the rather sweet CLA Shooting Brake. It follows the same engine and trim line-ups, with prices starting from €46,605.
Above all these sit the full-fat AMG models; the 306hp CLA 35 AMG, and the 421hp CLA 45 AMG, costing from €75,120 and €103,970, respectively.
CO2 emissions dip as low as 23g/km for the 250 e plug-in hybrid, rising to 126g/km for a 200 d, 131g/km for a 180 d, 131g/km for a 220 d, 136g/km for a 180, 151g/km for a 250, 171 for a 35 AMG and 191g/km for a 45 AMG.
Mercedes currently has a 'Star Finance' PCP offer for the CLA, at 4.9 per cent APR, with monthly repayments starting from €514, but check out mercedes-benz.ie for the most up-to-date offers.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 e interior
The CLA's interior is more or less identical to that of the A-Class, but that's no bad thing as even several years on from its launch, it's a cracking cabin. It starts with that MBUX digital dashboard, which looks like someone has stretched an iPad out across the front of the car. The graphics and menu layout are still right up with the best, and with only a little practice, you'll find it easy to work your way around both screens.
There's a combination of controls, the best of which are the little swipe-and-click touchpads on the steering wheel - the left one controls the infotainment screen, while the one on the right controls the instrument panel. Those instruments can be modified and laid out in a huge multiplicity of styles, but we still love the 'old school' 1980s yellow-backlit dials effect. You can use voice control too, and the 'Hey, Mercedes' digital assistant is slightly better than many other systems at recognising what you're asking for, even if it's still far more frustrating than it ought to be. You can also use the central display as a touchscreen, which is a lot easier than using the awkward laptop-style trackpad down on the centre console.
The fact that the gear selector is a column-mounted stalk opens up much more space on that centre console. Around the trackpad you'll find the Dynamic Drive selector for changing the driving mode, which, like the stereo volume control, is tactile and metallic in feel. Ahead of that, there are two cupholders and ahead of those there's a lidded storage box in which you'll also find a USB-C connector and a 12-volt adaptor socket. There are more USB sockets in the central armrest, which has a neat 'butterfly' style lid.
The driving position is pleasantly low, and the high-backed AMG sports seats are very comfortable indeed. You should be able to spend many hours at the wheel without feeling the need to adjust your position. Space in the front is decent, but it's a touch cramped in the back, although deep scoops taken out of the front seatbacks mean that rear seat passengers have acceptable kneeroom, and headroom's not as bad in the back as that low roofline would have you think. The centre rear seat is all-but useless, though.
The boot is also somewhat truncated - packaging the battery for the hybrid system means that the boot loses 65 litres of space compared to the standard model, falling to 395 litres. That's only just about useable if you've got a full complement of four people on board and they all want to bring a bag and a jacket. Maybe it would be worth trading up to the Shooting Brake, which gets a more useful 445 litres of boot space (or 1,310 litres if you fold down the back seats).
Visibility out of the CLA's cabin isn't too bad, in spite of the shallow side glass and chunky rear roof pillar. There are ISOFIX anchors in the rear outer seats, but beware the slimline door openings if you're leaning in to adjust a child's seat - it's quite easy to clonk your head on the roof's edge.
If there's a major demerit to the CLA's cabin, it appears to be build quality. While all of the major surfaces and controls (the cheap-feeling column stalks aside) look and feel nice, there were a number of squeaks and rattles in the cabin of our test car. Admittedly, those might be exacerbated by the silent electric-only running, but they were certainly noticeable.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 e driving experience
Speaking of electric-only running, the CLA 250 e can manage quite a bit. Mercedes quotes a maximum electric-only range of 71km on the WLTP test cycle, and from what we experienced, that seems pretty realistic. In chilly weather, with the cabin heat turned up, and driving on a mixture of urban, main road and motorway mileage, we were easily able to beat 50km of electric-only range, and if more of our mileage had been in town, I reckon we'd have gotten close to that 71km figure.
The CLA 250 e is also one of those rare plug-in hybrids whose fuel economy doesn't fall apart when you take it on a long motorway run. As it happened, during our time with the CLA, we had to do quite a few of those, and the economy results were more than interesting. Starting one 200km journey, almost all of it motorway, with a fully-charged battery, we reached our destination with average fuel consumption of 3.8 litres per 100km. That's better than 70mpg for those of you still reading the internet in black-and-white.
Impressively, even with a fully discharged battery, the CLA 250 e stubbornly refused to get thirsty, and at the end of a week with plenty of urban and motorway kilometres, and truly little charging (this tester's terraced house address precludes charging at home...) we recorded average fuel consumption of 5.9 litres per 100km. That's better than I'd expect from a similar diesel model, so consider us impressed with the CLA 250 e.
Impressed with the economy at any rate. As for the rest of the powertrain, it's a little more mixed. In the larger GLA 250 e, with the same hybrid setup, we found the combination to be too rough on the ear, too much of the time. Here in the CLA, the installation is a little more refined, but the 1.3-litre engine's gruff edge is still present, while the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox seems occasionally to thump a cog home, rather than slipping it in gently as we'd prefer. Overall, I think the CLA just about gets away with it, and it's more pleasant than in the GLA, but still not as smooth as it could be. Performance is good, though, especially if you dial up Dynamic mode, and there's copious amounts of torque on offer.
In handling terms, the CLA 250 e feels as if it's in a bit of a middle-ground. The steering is well-weighted and, in spite of kerb weight that's some 300kg chunkier than that of a standard CLA, it turns in with brisk enthusiasm to corners. It's not especially responsive, though. It never feels ponderous nor slow witted, but neither is it fun, and although the ride quality is well-damped, it can be a touch fidgety at times (even with the standard-fit 'Comfort' suspension). Basically, it's fine, and it's an accomplished cruiser, but in spite of its sporty lines and its AMG-Line badging, it's not a car you'd get out and drive for the fun of it.
Our verdict on the Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 e
It's kind of a hard car not to like, the CLA 250 e. OK, so the cabin's a bit squeaky and it's lacking for driver involvement, but in many other ways this is a very desirable model. It looks great inside and out, it has a frugal hybrid setup and, if you can charge at home, you could get through substantial portions of your driving week without using any petrol at all. It's slightly pricey for what it is, but even so the CLA 250 e is an impressive plug-in hybrid.
What do the rest of the team think?
I also found the CLA 250 e remarkably efficient, easily covering 50 kilometres on electric power and then showing 3.3 litres/100km after another 50km of driving. It's not particularly satisfying to drive, though, as Neil pointed out, and I also found the brake pedal feel a little frustrating as it juggled friction braking with brake energy regeneration. Still, it does look good (shame the ride height is higher than in other AMG-Line cars) and the front of the cabin is just lovely. Shame it's priced so closely to the BMW 330e, as that's a more accomplished car in my opinion.
Shane O' Donoghue - Editor