New Mercedes-Benz CLA200 is better-looking and has a smaller engine and highly interactive multimedia system
Classier CLA: New Mercedes-Benz is better-looking and has a smaller engine The Mercedes-Benz CLA200 is safer than before, with safety and driving aids, such as Active Lane Keeping Assist, some of which are adopted from the S-class flagship. PHOTOS: DAIMLER

Mercedes-Benz calls its second-generation CLA a coupe, even if it remains a four-door saloon.

The car is longer, wider and lower than the first CLA introduced in 2013. Being wider, it is more hunkered down.

Distance from the dash to the front axle has lengthened by 30mm to give the front a more stretched-out, sports car-like silhouette.

The difference is not noticeable, but other styling tweaks are. The car gets a "shark nose" front (like the bigger CLS and S-class Coupe) and power domes on the bonnet, making it look more aggressive.

The flanks are much smoother, devoid of the lines that made its predecessor look rather fussy. It also has broader shoulders.

The previous CLA's back was ugly with its weird tail-lights and overly curvy bootlid. With a two-piece tail-light now, the bootlid looks more normal. The lid is also flushed with the bumper, making the rear neater and more in sync with the rest of the exterior.

The CLA200 tested here uses the same drivetrain as the Merc A200 - a turbocharged 1.3-litre four-cylinder connected to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The engine puts out 163hp and 250Nm - 7hp more than what the previous CLA200's 1.6-litre unit had. The torque figure remains unchanged, but is available at a higher engine speed.

As such, the 0 to 100kmh acceleration, while still fairly brisk at 8.2 seconds, is 0.3 seconds slower than before. Gear changes are swift and smooth. The car is also equipped with cylinder cut-off to improve efficiency.

While the engine is well-suited to the car, it sounds rather uninspiring across the rev range. The good news is that it is low on noise, vibration and harshness. At 180kmh, only the hushed, rushing noise of air flowing past the car can be heard. Ride comfort is also good, despite its 19-inch wheels and low-profile tyres.

On swoopy, country roads, the CLA200 handles decently, carving out of corners with aplomb. There is slight understeer when too much throttle is applied, but a lift is all that is needed to bring the nose back in line. The steering is direct, but lacks feedback.

The CLA is safer than before, with myriad safety and driving aids, some of which are adopted from the S-class flagship. Active Lane Keeping Assist is one such function. When I drifted onto the next lane, it tapped one side of the brakes to bring the car back into lane.

Despite its wheelbase growing by 30mm, rear legroom has only increased by a miserly 1mm. While rear elbow room has improved by 44mm, it is still best for two occupants. They must be shorter than 1.8m as well or their heads will brush against the ceiling.

Taking centre stage in the cockpit is the Mercedes-Benz User Experience or MBUX. First seen in the A-class, MBUX uses innovative hardware and software to turn the car into a personal assistant of sorts. Think of the latest smartphone - only bigger and cleverer.

While Mercedes hopes to replicate the success of the previous CLA, the car's strongest challenger may well be the upcoming A-class Sedan - a proper four-door saloon.

The CLA200 will arrive in Singapore in the fourth quarter of this year, followed by variants such as the CLA180, CLA250, CLA35 and CLA45.