Good: great looking, strong performance, cool frameless doors, high quality, safety, surprisingly big boot.
Not so good: just too small inside, pricey, big wheels harm ride and handling.
I don't mind admitting that I do the ironing a lot in my house. Well, it's the lot of the freelance journalist. When you work from home and your 'office' is really the laundry room, a lot of shirts get pressed in between trying to think up sarcastic things to say about Dacias.
Doing the ironing is useful though. It gives you a bit of head-space time to think about the cars you've been driving and it also makes you notice things that you otherwise might not. Such as, for instance, my wife's nice new linen jacket. Ironing that (maximum heat setting, lots of steam of course) I noticed that it had been beautifully stitched, and was put together with little panels that give it a gorgeous fit, all the better to show off her figure. But then I noticed that the little flaps covering the opening for the pockets were just that - little flaps, with no actual pockets. So here was a quite expensive, beautifully cut and fitted garment that was actually utterly impractical because it was only pretending to have pockets.
And then I drove the Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake.
Now, don't get me wrong - I really like the CLA. Considering that it's really an A-Class saloon masquerading as a coupé, I think it to be an uncommonly good looking car, especially with that concave radiator grille and those arch-filling AMG alloys. And I love a good estate car, especially a slightly oddball one, so the idea of creating a Shooting Brake estate out of the CLA seems especially appealing to me.
And I really enjoyed driving it too. Mercedes has made great strides with getting its oft-too-noisy 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel engine to pipe down, and so in the CLA it proves itself to be far more refined and quiet than we've become used to in the E-Class and C-Class. Its 135hp and 300Nm outputs don't sound all that great, but combined with the utterly excellent 7G-Tronic dual-clutch auto, performance is actually pretty brisk. It's highly economical too - even with my hefty right Doc Marten doing the pedalling, 55mpg was a breeze to achieve and I reckon that by turning the air conditioning off and being a bit gentler, 65mpg would probably be do-able.
There are still some refinement issues though - the quieter engine has revealed just how much road, tyre and wind noise are making their way into the cabin.
Still, there are a lot of things to like about the interior. This Sport model came with high-backed bucket seats with Alcantara suede-style trim, and they're as comfy as they are gorgeous. As well as that, they go lower than you'd expect for a car based on a five-door hatch, so you can look and feel appropriately sporty. I still think Mercedes' single-stalk cruise control switch is the best in the business, and the fact that the auto gearbox selector is also on the column means you get more storage space in the centre console. And the overall sense of quality is excellent.
What about the estate bit though? Ah, this is where the CLA Shooting Brake starts to fall apart a bit. The actual boot capacity is surprisingly good - almost 500 litres of it, and 1,300-odd if you fold down the back seats. But the loading lip is stupidly high and the aperture to actually put things into the boot is tiny, so practicality isn't actually all that good. Rear seat space is a bit tight too, and those high-backed front seats rob the rear seat occupants of visibility and light.
And then there's the handling. Here's the thing - a few months ago, I had a spin in a petrol-engined CLA Shooting Brake, in pretty basic spec with small wheels and it was lovely with a comfy, pliant ride, well-balanced handling and decent steering. This Sport model though, with optional AMG alloys, isn't so good. Those wheels may look oh-so-pretty but they're just too big, and consequently the suspension can't really cope with them, resorting to bucking and bouncing a bit too much. It's not just a ride quality issue either - try driving this CLA Shooting Brake briskly down a bumpy road and you'll see what I mean. You're going to get bounced into a hedge if you push too hard.
The final straw though is the price. Even with pretty basic air conditioning, no heated seats and lots of black switches left in the cockpit, this CLA was cracking the €47k price barrier. That's a lot of money for a small, fashionable trinket of a car. Worse still, that sort of cash would buy you a C-Class Estate in C 180 CDI automatic spec, plus €5k worth of options to play with. Now, the C-Class Estate has gone down as one of the nicest, sweetest cars I've driven all year and it's far more spacious, roomy and practical than the CLA Shooting Brake. I know where my money would go.
That's not to say that the Shooting Brake is a bad car. Not at all, and I really, genuinely enjoyed my time with it. It's arresting to look at, has a terrific drivetrain and up front is super comfy and nice to spend time in. Smaller wheels would cure the ride and handling issues and would also knock a few grand off the price tag. For the money though, I'd have the C-Class Estate every day.