The Mercedes-Benz CLA200, with its 1,332cc engine, delivers reasonable pace with minimal fuss when unhurried
Mercedes-Benz CLA: Beauty with some brawn The Mercedes-Benz CLA200, with its 1,332cc engine, delivers reasonable pace with minimal fuss when unhurried. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

While it looks a lot sportier than its predecessor, the new Mercedes-Benz CLA is still not a driving sensation.

But in a world where people increasingly want more show than go, the entry-level coupe-like four-door wearing the three-pointed star has a ready audience.

The compact saloon looks more like the CLS, the uber-elegant Mercedes model which pioneered the four-door coupe concept some 15 years ago.

Visually, there is no faulting the car, which now has a design that is more cohesive and better thought through. Sitting on 18-inch wheels, it looks the part of a serious tourer. But if you were to quibble, you might say the rear lights look a tad like something a Korean make might have pulled off.

Compared with its predecessor, the second-generation CLA is bigger all round. Its wheelbase has also been extended considerably to 2,729mm - possibly the longest in its segment. And at 4,688mm tip to tip, it is at the upper limit of what defines a compact.

It sits a little lower and its silhouette is more streamlined, tapering towards the back. This contributes to a leading drag-coefficient of 0.23, but also a boot capacity which has shrunk by 2 per cent to 460 litres (which is still adequate). However, the access, width and depth of the boot have increased.

The car's sporty theme continues in the cabin, where you will see sporty seats, and a multi-function steering wheel set against a dash lined with circular air-conditioning vents, and a widescreen display incorporating infotainment and instrumentation.

On the whole, it is an effective execution, if a little similar to what you already see in the A-class and B-class. In terms of ambience, you might place the CLA's interior at the lower end of the premium range - there is polished functionality but no frills. The CLA200 Progressive test car, for instance, comes with simulated leather and single-zone climate control (you can opt for multi-zone for a bit more).

On the go, the new CLA impresses with a level of ride comfort which you might, on a good day, find indistinguishable from what the bigger C-class offers. There is a whiff of lightness, but that is not necessarily a bad thing (unless you are on the autobahn).

The car's 1,332cc engine is more refined than you would expect of such a small unit tasked with lugging such a sizeable load. Unhurried, it delivers reasonable pace with minimal fuss. In fact, the car has more power at its disposal than its 1.6-litre predecessor.

But when you need haste, jabbing the right pedal brings about a coarse response as the puny power plant tries valiantly to pile on the revs - to deliver a pick-up which an e-scooter might outdo.

Still, the century sprint is done in 8.2 seconds, compared with the first CLA200's 8.5 seconds. Despite that, the car is not much more fun than its somewhat stodgy predecessor.

Something like the Mazda 3, which has a far less impressive 0-100kmh sprint, comes across as more engaging. Both are front-wheel-drive, but one costs considerably more.

The CLA is arguably better looking. In fact, the Merc might be the most stylish four-door compact in town. Having more brawn to go with the beauty would have been perfect.