THE BATTLE for supremacy in the Indian luxury car market between Audi and Mercedes Benz is at a peak. A mere 650 units separated the two in 2014. There is a sense that this year would script the final chapter in this intense duel. The new CLA class from Mercedes may play a lead role in this chapter. Does it have enough fire power to catapult Mercedes back to the top? We take a look.
EXTERIOR: STYLISH AND SPUNKY
Not too long ago, Mercedes was seen as the car for the older generation. No longer. After taking a body blow between 2007-11, the German company went back to the drawing boards. The CLA is a product of that transformation. Based on the A class platform, this is easily the best looking small sedan in the market today. The front end makes a bold impression with the A class’s big diamond grille that is topped up with more subtle black pins. The front bumper is sculpted with large air dam, and sundry creases on the bonnet and sides give it a distinctive character. The coupe-like roof slopes into a well-proportioned rear-end masked by striped LED tail lamps, while the frameless doors lend it a premium look above its class.
GREAT FIT AND FINISH, BUT NO SURPRISES
The moment you get into the car, it is deja vu: the A class and the GLA SUV all over again. Colour options are all-black or two-tone. The central console and instrument panel are the same as all other new Mercedes cars. The only difference is a larger tablet in the centre for infotainment purposes. We were surprised by the spacious rear seat, but the sloping roofline means that head room is tight. Also, it can only seat two at the rear, as the high suspension tunnel neutralises the middle seat. Boot space in isolation is more than the Audi A3, but a space saver stepney eats up some of the space.
PERFORMANCE, RIDE AND HANDLING
The CLA is offered in India in 2-litre petrol and 2.1-litre diesel variants. Both are turbocharged engines, but clearly, petrol engine will appeal to alpha drivers. It is sprightly and refined with not one chink in the armour as far as peformance is concerned. The steering could have been a little heavier at high speeds to instill greater confidence. Mercedes has increased the ground clearance of the car keeping in mind the Indian terrain, which greatly enhances the ride quality. The diesel vari ant will probably sell more, but is quite uninspiring compared to the petrol. There is a tiny turbo lag, and perceptible diesel clatter when the car is pushed. The 7-speed dual clutch gearbox is also better tuned for the petrol. The diesel happy to munch miles and cruise all day: a job well done, but nothing spectacular.
The CLA sedan is without doubt the most important product to be launched in the luxury car space in India this year. It sets a new benchmark for styling and has potent engines powering it. With six airbags, ABS, acceleration skid control, ESP, paddle shift gears and a panoramic sun roof as standard features, it is right up there. The ride quality is good and handling, while not at the same level as BMW, is decent. But it will come for a premium over its nearest competitor Audi A3 sedan. The petrol is worth the money for the performance, but with the diesel it is a lot closer to call.