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While it has a product portfolio with a breadth few manufacturers can match, Mercedes-Benz is adamant in covering every conceivable base to ensure potential buyers don’t slip through the net and into the showrooms of its rivals. In a cutthroat automotive industry, where missing a trick will see you lagging behind with sometimes disastrous consequences, it’s a sound enough strategy, but sometimes things can get a little too close for comfort. Take these two Mercedes-Benz models.

Here, the A-Class Sedan serves as a stylish bridge between the entry-level A-/B-Class midsize hatchbacks and the C-Class divide. It’s destined to net those for whom the C-Class holds great appeal but falls just out of their means. At R541 759, the entry-level  A200 Sedan sits almost R80 000 south of the C180 and is just over R100 000 cheaper than the C200. The CLA goes one further, offering those same aspirant customers a whiff of the CLS experience at a fraction of the price. Under the skin they are closely related, so Mercedes has sewn in some differences to keep them respectable, but are those distinctions enough to give one of them the edge? 

Cut from the same cloth...

Both the A Sedan and CLA are spun off the same MFA2 modular compact platform that underpins the A-Class hatch. Peel away their bodywork and the bare bones of these two cars are barely discernable from one another. Both feature the same 1,3-litre turbopetrol four-cylinder feeding the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and their silhouettes overlap a few millimetres. With a length of 4 549 mm and a 1 796 mm span between the mirrors, the Sedan is 137 mm shorter but, interestingly,  only a hair narrower than the C-Class. In both cars, the 2 729 mm wheelbase is 111 mm shorter than the C’s.

There’s also little to separate the two cars when it comes to packaging. The slimmer backs of the CLA’s sportier seats lend it 39 mm additional rear legroom over the Sedan, but the more sharply raked C-pillar robs the rear occupants of some headroom. Both cars’ boots are accessed by fairly narrow apertures but are generously proportioned, with the CLA’s slightly deeper luggage bay serving up 312 litres of load space versus the Sedan’s 296 litres. Folding the rear seats turns the tables back in the Sedan’s favour, though, its 912 litres of utility space besting the CLA’s by 80 litres.

Things begin to meaningfully diverge only when it comes to their respective suspension setups, the Sedan mirroring the hatch’s standard-fitment MacPherson strut front-torsion beam rear arrangement, while the CLA adopts a multilink system aft (that’s optional on the three-box). As befits its swoopy styling, the CLA’s drivetrain has been given a slightly sportier bent than that of the Sedan – in the case of our test unit, the optional adaptive dampers have been added to the mix – but more on that later.

...But differently attired

The design ethos behind Mercedes-Benz’s sedan offerings has begun to take on a bit of a cookie-cutter formula, with the resemblance between the C-, E- and S-Class beginning to bleed into one another, so given their many similarities, it’s understandable Mercedes-Benz would want to distance the Sedan and CLA from one another in terms of their designs. While they are distinctive, the treatments doled out to these cars remain clearly from the same family. With its CL prefix, the CLA’s tail-end resemblance to the CLS, shallower parabola of a roofline and frameless doors are the most obvious familial traits. Its snout is graceful and tastefully executed, where the Sedan is more edgily wrought. Either way, you’re looking at a pair of stylishly executed cars with the sort of visual cachet that will generate plenty of attention.

Barring some trim accents and patinas, their interior architectures are pretty much identical. As with the related hatch, their respective dashboards, with those eyeball air vents and broad trim swathe looping behind the digital instrument binnacle and MBUX display (both cars here feature the optional 10,25-inch TFT screen system with extended functionality, but this CLA retains the smaller instrumentation unit) are a bold and sporty design. They look especially theatrical with the optional 64-colour ambient lighting pack illuminating the seams. Material quality is largely of a good standard but the odd bit of thin, fingerprint-prone shiny plastic is in evidence. That said, this well-used CLA test unit felt impressively solid even with a five-figure odo reading.

Ergonomically, both cars are well resolved. Finding a comfy, low-slung stance behind the wheel is a cinch and both the standard and sportier seats in the Sedan and CLA, respectively, do a good job of supporting and bolstering where need be. Similarly, there’s plenty of adjustment for the steering column and the leather-wrapped steering wheels in both cars are satisfyingly moulded. The only potential ergonomic criticism that can be levelled at these cars is the cramped drivers’ side footwell with narrow spacing between the pedal boots which makes things awkward for folks with broader feet.

Same engine, different demeanours

Both cars are powered by the Daimler and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi co-developed M282 1,3-litre, four-cylinder all-aluminium block turbopetrol engine. Developing 120 kW and 250 N.m, the unit’s output per litre is some 25% up on that of the 1,6-litre engine that powered the previous entry-level models and with a weight difference of just 53 kg, there’s little to separate the Sedan and CLA performance-wise.

While it’s no ball of fire, the engine feels punchy in-gear and manages to set both cars off the line in a shade over nine seconds. The powertrain also gels well with the dual-clutch transmission and doesn’t fall foul of the occasional low-speed lumpiness that sometimes afflicts such units when coupled with a relatively small engine.

In most driving scenarios, the 1,3-litre unit sounds and feels mechanically refined, but it does tend to exhibit some noticeable raspiness when pinning the throttle. This spot of harshness is, however, drowned out by a surprising amount of tyre roar that permeates both car’s cabins – especially the CLA’s – at motorway speeds.

But while it may not be the last word in refinement, it is a clever and frugal little engine. The M282 is the first four-cylinder engine in the Mercedes-Benz stable to feature cylinder deactivation.

Under partial load in the 1 250-3 800 r/min rev range, the system shuts down the intake and exhaust valves of the second and third cylinders. Its operation is almost impossible to discern thanks to the adoption of an electronically controlled wastegate on the turbocharger that adjusts boost-pressure gas flow to best feed the engine according to the number of cylinders brought into play.  The Sedan and CLA returned impressive consumption figures of 5,8 and 5,5 L/100 km on our mixed-use fuel route, respectively. Their 124 g/km CO2 outputs also mean they barely set a toe over the 120 g/km emissions tax threshold.

With virtually nothing to separate them in the powerplant stakes, as mentioned, Benz has turned to model-specific drivetrain setups to give each car its own character. The Sedan’s MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension can be had in two flavours as standard. The comfort setup, with softer springs and more gradual dampers, is the default, while a 15 mm lower and more firmly sprung sport spin-off can be specified. Although our test unit wore the softer option, the ride proved disappointingly unsettled with some noticeable damper rebound filtering into the cabin over even moderately rippled road surfaces.

Driven in a leisurely fashion, the Sedan is tractable enough, with steering that’s light and body roll moderate. It just doesn’t quite feel as balanced or composed as you’d expect from something with the Three-pointed Star on its snout. 

But where the Sedan starts to falter, the CLA ably steps up. Utilising a multilink rear suspension setup, the four-door coupé proves a more fluid and settled drive than its relative. The harshness that mars the Sedan’s driving manners is ironed out and, while the nuances between the presets on our test unit’s optional adaptive damping system aren’t as defined as you’d expect, this day-and-night difference to cars both rolling on identical wheel/tyre combinations speaks volumes for the CLA’s more balanced setup.

In addition to its more high-tech rear-suspension arrangement, the CLA also features Mercedes’ Direct Steer power steering setup. This system is an evolution of the speed-sensitive rack that featured on some of the firm’s sportier offerings, such as the SLC. In the CLA, Direct Steer uses variable-ratio gearing that lightens steering weight around dead centre at lower speeds, with the ratio increasing in relation to steering angle.

It may be an artificial weighting system, but allied as it is with a more resolved suspension setup, it makes the CLA feel more direct and responsive than the comparatively uninvolving Sedan.

Both borrow tech from their bigger brothers          

The trend for manufacturers to shoehorn big-car technologies into their smaller models is very much apparent in both these cars. Both test units were outfitted with the optional Driving Assistance Package, which ushers in adaptive cruise control and lane-departure mitigation among others. The former works well, the calibration of its braking and acceleration actions are smooth and natural in their execution. The lane-departure mitigation system is a different matter. A number of the CAR team were caught off guard by the system’s abrupt directional-correcting measures, which tended to yank rather than ease the car back into its lane. The optional 360-degree camera system is another big-car item that may seem superfluous in cars this size but proved handy in light of their low seating position and narrow glasshouses.

You get what you pay for

As is often the case with German premium midsize cars, the level of standard specification is rather modest. The standard-fitment likes of cloth/synthetic leather upholstery, cruise control, auto lights, climate control and the MBUX infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality are welcome but there are odd omissions. Seeing auto-dimming rear-view mirrors and keyless entry and ignition relegated to the options list is rather disappointing. This is especially the case with the CLA, whose premium placement over the Sedan should see such items migrate to the standard features list, along with the suitably upmarket and slick-looking 10,25-inch upgraded MBUX screen. Opting for those particular extras adds R24 000 to their asking prices, and it’s not difficult to get carried away when ticking the options boxes on the model configurator. 
SPLIT, Croatia – If Mercedes-Benz's 2012 strategy of reimagining its third-generation A-Class into a fully fledged premium hatchback package has proved an inspired one, both in terms of slashing the average age of the brand’s ownership profile and welcoming a fresh batch of first-time Merc buyers into the family, the launch of the fourth-generation A looks set to grant the car proper trendsetter status.

Not only does the new car look suitably sleeker and more contemporary than the model it replaces, but Mercedes-Benz is rightfully proud of what it has achieved in terms of in-car infotainment technologies and, indeed, the way the new A-Class interacts with its owner.

Built on what is essentially a new platform, the fourth-generation (W177) A-Class is 120 mm longer and 16 mm wider than the model it replaces, yet is, on average, 20 kg lighter, model-for-model, than the outgoing range. Interestingly, despite a 30 mm stretch in wheelbase, there’s been no increase in rear passenger legroom, an area for which the previous A drew criticism.

Indeed, while the enlarged dimensions do translate to a welcome increase in both head- and shoulder room for all occupants, as well as a slightly larger luggage area, much of the focus in terms of the shape of the new A-Class has been around making the car that much more aerodynamic. A resultant drag coefficient of just 0,25 Cd (the previous car offered 0,26) means the more slippery design is not only more efficient, but also goes a long way towards newfound (and class-leading) levels of NVH – meaning the cabin is impressively well insulated from unwelcome exterior noises.

An undoubted highlight of an otherwise suitably upgraded A-Class interior (in terms of both fit and material finish) is Mercedes’ new MBUX interface. Best displayed via a (likely optional in most SA-bound models) 10,25-inch touchscreen mated seamlessly with a crisp digital instrument cluster, MBUX essentially offers all the functionality of a modern smartphone built into the car. While an entry-level system makes do with a dedicated 7-inch display, based on my experience with the highly customisable touchscreen, its wealth of functionality and its crystal-clear graphics, it’s the top-of-the-range unit that you’re going to want to save up for before ordering your new A-Class.

While voice-activation has been around for some time, MBUX (or, Mercedes-Benz user experience) introduces the kind of interaction previously reserved for modern smartphones and the latest home-based operating systems. Here, a simple “Hey, Mercedes” instruction is greeted by a “ how can I help you” response from the car. While there are still some obvious (likely accent-related) shortcomings on this system, I was nevertheless able to successfully switch on my seat cooling function with a “my seat is too warm” statement, and find various sat-nav-linked fast-food suggestions via a “I’m hungry” comment. Much like Apple’s Siri, MBUX has also been programmed with a bit of built-in humour – asked what she thinks of Tesla, her reply was “They are nice, and I like seeing one in my rear-view mirror”.

Like all such systems, there’s both a level of familiarity and a fair amount of novelty factor inevitably linked with it. That said, with Mercedes able to continuously offer cloud-based system updates, as well as such statistics that suggest around two-thirds of US citizens use at least one form of voice activation throughout their day, you have to think Mercedes has stolen a march on its rivals when it comes to how we’ll interact with our cars in the future.

While the model range destined for South Africa has yet to be finalised, at this stage three things are certain. The relatively inferior quality of our local diesel means we won’t be getting the impressively refined, all-new A180d; the A250 with its new 165 kW turbocharged 2,0-litre will eventually be announced; and the new A200 will be introduced at launch.

A200 by name yet 1,3 litres in displacement, this all-new turbocharged (M282) 1 332 cm3 engine was co-developed with Renault and offers 120 kW and 250 N.m of torque. Different to the Mercedes-built version offered in the A250, the A200’s seven-speed dual clutch transmission is a suitably refined and intuitive Getrag-sourced unit. While the cylinder-coating technologies shared with the Nissan GT-R are among the notable technological highlights of this engine, another significant feature is the introduction of cylinder deactivation under light load (cruising) driving conditions, thus saving fuel by engaging only two of the four available cylinders when conditions suit.

Willing enough both around town and on the open road, perhaps an unintended consequence of making the cabin so quiet is that a fair amount of mechanical strain can unfortunately be heard once this particular powertrain is asked to pick up the pace. While it certainly doesn’t feel like an 8,0-second 0-100 km/h car to me, accepting the relative limitations of this downsized engine and adapting your driving style accordingly should hopefully not detract too much from the otherwise premium feel of this package. Also, there’s the reward of a claimed 5,2 L/100 km to look forward to.

Another concession towards economies of scale (as well as, to a degree, packaging) is the standard fitment in smaller-engined A-Class models of a torsion beam rear suspension setup, where the faster derivatives keep their independent arrangements – on request linked with adaptive dampers. While I didn’t have a chance to sample the more affordable twist beam layout during my time with the A-Class, I suspect most A200 owners would be more than satisfied (or oblivious) with a trade-off in handling “prowess” compared with more powerful derivatives.

With an (optional in European markets) independent suspension fitted, the new A-Class offers a markedly improved ride quality compared with its predecessor. I also enjoyed the weightier steering setup and was relatively impressed with the way the front end stuck to its task under the strain of a more spirited driving style. As before, look to AMG to work its magic on this otherwise well-balanced package once both the forthcoming A35 and A45 derivatives arrive.

While in a traditional sense it seems slightly odd that a new infotainment system should be the highlight of an all-new vehicle launch, such is the pace with which we as consumers are seeking to both personalise and streamline our lives via interactive technologies, it’s difficult not to give Mercedes full marks for its ground-breaking progress in this department.

That said, rear passenger legroom aside, the new A-Class also improves on its predecessor in every department. A neater all-round package, the list of under-the-skin upgrades and refinements carried out by Mercedes’ “A-team” is remarkable.

Look to traditional motoring media to bemoan the absence of character and relative performance in the new A200’s drivetrain, yet anticipate heavy foot traffic through local dealership doors as, hopefully, Mercedes-Benz South Africa prices the new A-Class as the enticing entry point into the brand that it’s intended to be.

Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Cloth upholstery: partial cloth + artificial leather
  • Leather bolster spartial leather: artificial
  • Leather upholstery: partial cloth + artificial leather (opt leather)
  • Seats quantity: 5
  • Split rear seat: Standard
  • Folding rear seat: Standard
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Climate control automatic air conditioning: Standard
  • Cup bottle holders: front + rear
  • Lumbar support adjustment: opt front
  • Front armrests: Standard
  • Antilock braking system (ABS): Standard
  • Electronic brake distribution (EBD): Standard
  • Brake assist (BAS/EBA): Standard
  • Traction control: Standard
  • Stability control: Standard
  • Run flat tyres: Optional
  • Tyre pressure sensor monitor deflation detection system: Standard
  • Driver airbag: Standard
  • Front passenger airbag: Standard
  • Driver knee airbag: Standard
  • Front side airbags: Standard
  • Rear side airbags: Optional
  • Curtain airbags: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 7 (opt 9)
  • Lane departure warning: opt lane keeping assist
  • Lane change blindspot warning assist monitor: Optional
  • Attention assist rest assist break alert: Standard
  • Automatic drive away locking: Standard
  • ISOFIX child seat mountings: outer rear
  • Directional turning headlights: opt LED
  • Adaptive headlights varying light distribution: opt LED
  • Emergency brake hazardlights: emergency-brake flashing brake lights
  • Start stop button: Standard
  • Engine auto Stop Start idle stop ecostop: Standard
  • Hillstart assist hillholder: Standard
  • Alloy wheelsrims: Standard
  • Sports suspension: Optional
  • Electronically adjustable suspension: opt adaptive
  • Driving mode switch eg sport comfort: Eco, Comfort, Sport
  • Power steering: Standard
  • Multifunction steering wheel controls: touch
  • Head up display: Optional
  • On board computer multi information display: Standard
  • Navigation: Optional
  • Cruise control: std (opt adaptive)
  • Active adaptive cruise control: Optional
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Standard
  • Voice control: Standard
  • Aux in auxiliary input: Standard
  • USB port: Standard
  • Powersocket 12V: front + rear + boot
  • Central locking: keyless start (opt keyless access)
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Key less access start hands free key: start (opt access)
  • Electric windows: front + rear
  • Rain sensor auto wipers: Standard
  • Auto dim interior mirror: Optional
  • Electric adjust mirrors: Standard
  • Heated exterior mirrors: Standard
  • Auto dimexterior mirrors: opt driver
  • Sun roof: opt panoramic
  • Panoramic roof: Optional
  • Electric seat adjustment: opt driver
  • Memory for electric seat adjustment: opt driver
  • Daytime driving running lights: LED
  • Light sensor auto on off lights: Standard
  • Xenon headlights: opt LED
  • Highbeam assist: Optional
  • Highlevel 3rd brakelight: Standard
  • Rear fog lamps lights: Standard
  • Camera for park distance control: opt rear / opt surround view
  • Rear spoiler: Standard
  • Towbar trailer hitch: Optional
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: petrol
  • Fuel range average: 796 km
  • Driven wheels: front
  • Driven wheels quantity: 2
  • Gearratios quantity: 7
  • Gearshift: automatic
  • Transmission type: automated dual-clutch
  • Transmission name: 7G-DCT
  • Gear shift paddles: Standard
  • Electromechanical parking brake: Standard
  • Front tyres: 205/55 R17 (opt 225/45 R18)
  • Reartyres: 205/55 R17 (opt 225/45 R18)
  • Length: 4549 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1796-1992 mm
  • Height: 1446 mm
  • Wheel base: 2729 mm
  • Turning circle wheels body: 11 m
  • Load volume / capacity: 420 L
  • Load volume / capacity: 420 L
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 1365 kg
  • Load carrying capacity / payload: 535
  • Gross weight (GVM): 1900 kg
  • Towing capacity - unbraked: 680
  • Towing capacity - braked: 1600
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 43l
  • Fuel consumption urban: 6.8 l/100km
  • Fuel consumption extra urban: 4.6 l/100km
  • Fuel consumption average: 5.4 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 124g/km
  • Power maximum: 120 kW
  • Power maximum total: 120 kW
  • Power peak revs: 5500 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 87.9 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 250 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 1620-4000 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 250 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 183 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: 8.1s
  • Maximum top speed: 230 km/h
  • Engine position/ location: front
  • Engine capacity: 1332 cc
  • Engine size: 1.3l
  • enginedetailshort: 1.3T
  • Engine + detail: 1.3 turbo
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i4
  • Valves per cylinder: 4
  • Valves quantity: 16
  • Turbocharger: Standard
  • Warranty time (years): 2
  • Warranty distance (km): unlimited km
  • Maintenance plan: Standard
  • Maintenance plan time (years): 5
  • Maintenance plan distance (km): 100000 km
  • Service interval indicator: Standard
  • Service interval (distance): service interval indicator max 20000 km
  • Brand: Mercedes-Benz
  • Status: c
  • Segment: passenger car
  • MMcode: 44003150
  • MMVariant: A200 (4DR)
  • MMintrodat: 2019-03-01
  • Introdate: 2019-02-18
  • DuoportarecordID: MercA-Cl_4s1

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