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STYLING | 9 out of 10
rakish, low-aero bodywork
CLA shares its distinctive sagging character line with the CLS, but sharper creases make the new Mercedes less subtle and more outwardly extroverted.
Car and Driver
Those rear corner zones are not as elegantly executed as the rest of the CLA, though each piece taken on its own is quite elegant.
It’s based on Euro-market A-Class hatchback underpinnings, but skinned in the stylish “four-door coupe” bodywork we Yanks find infinitely more palatable, complete with frameless door glass and a swoopy C-pillar.
The 2014 CLA, takes its cues from the trend-setting CLS four-door "coupe," and the expressive look could hardly look better, scaled down as it is. As cars get smaller, it's more difficult to make them look great--but somehow the CLA's high nose and side view preserve the best of the CLS, while giving up the long-nose proportions that define every other Mercedes-Benz.
That front end may be the best expression yet of the newest Mercedes identity: the tall vertical grille and contoured air intakes show up on this year's E-Class, too, toning down that car's overly angular nose. The frameless glass on the doors and the pretty profile were previewed on last year's Concept Style Coupe, and the production version keeps them intact, along with the jazzy design imprinted into the grille. The archetypal curves stamped into the rear fenders are the clearest connection to the CLS (or even to the ur-Corvette): they draw back through the sideview like a slingshot. There's softness in the way the CLA's rear glass rounds off quickly, but it's relieved by crisp LED taillamp ribs.
With its stubbier shape and less favorable aerodynamics, the CLA is still as sleek as it can be: with a coefficient of drag of just 0.23, Mercedes claims it's the most slippery shape in the production-car world. You can see the aerodynamic tricks in the lower reaches of the front end, where big air intakes shape the airflow, or the thin parentheses that let it escape at the tail.
The cockpit borrows liberally from the sporty cars in the Mercedes lineup, not from the bigger sedans. It sports cut-tube gauges and five round vents, call-outs more to the sporty SLK end of the Mercedes lineup than the to the CLS. The interior's finished in a dark-grey trim, with walnut, ash, or aluminum trim optional. MB-Tex synthetic upholstery is standard, with leather available. One clear afterthought caps the dash: the dash-mounted LCD screen looks like a plug-in navigation unit, less like a piece of technology planned in from the beginning of a model cycle, just like the one on BMW's current 3-Series.
Mini-CLS isn't just marketing speak: the Mercedes CLA finds the same light, while it cribs its cockpit from the sporty side of the house.