Mercedes' first A-class Saloon impresses with its verve and vitality, but falls short in other areas
Mercedes-Benz A-class Saloon's mixed results Compared with the CLA on the road, the Saloon comes across as more energetic and playful. However, its cabin is more austere than the CLA’s, and its boot is smaller. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

It is difficult to tell the Mercedes-Benz A-class Saloon apart from its CLA sibling - especially from a distance or in the dark.

But once you get behind the wheel of the newly introduced sedan form of the A-class, it becomes clear it is quite a different animal from the CLA "four-door coupe".

The Saloon is more sprightly, even if its verve comes in high-strung spurts as you pedal down. With its rubbery throttle response and perceptible turbo lag, it is more similar to the way the A-class hatchback behaves than the way the CLA moves.

The CLA, on the other hand, comes across as leaning towards smoothness rather than sportiness. To some, the level of refinement it offers at the expense of dynamism is a worthwhile trade-off.

Which is a little queer, given that the CLA looks decidedly sportier. Both, however, are loud but hollow-sounding at higher engine speeds. The Saloon is perhaps a tad more so, as it piles on the revs more eagerly than the CLA.

While the perkiness sits well with the A-class hatchback, it seems a little out of place in the Saloon. This incongruity is obvious only because Mercedes-Benz has always been associated with refined saloons - well before it became a brand of many models.

But, of course, the A-class Saloon's target audience may not have lived through that era. For them, the Saloon makes good sense - a car which is as accessible as the A-class hatch, but which comes with a boot.

The Saloon and the CLA share the same platform as the A-class hatch. All three have an identical wheelbase of 2,729mm, which is generous for cars in their segment.

But there are subtle differences between the Saloon and the CLA. The CLA is slightly longer, broader and sits a tad lower. The Saloon is more compact, which makes it friendlier in tight spaces. It also has a bit more headroom. The Saloon, however, has a smaller boot (420 litres versus the CLA's 460).

The Saloon is 35kg lighter, which also contributes to its liveliness. It clocks an 8.1-second century sprint, versus 8.2 by the CLA. Its top speed is 230kmh versus the CLA's 229kmh.

These differences may be minor on paper, but on the road, the Saloon comes across as substantially quicker, more energetic and more playful.

Elsewhere, the differences are just as pronounced. First, the Saloon's ride quality pales in comparison with the CLA's. Over bumps, the former tends to jolt unceremoniously - perhaps because of the test-car's lowered chassis.

Second, the Saloon's cabin is more austere. Nothing nasty in terms of quality, but clearly more functional than fanciful. In comparison, the CLA's interior is more plush, even if it is not what you would describe as luxurious. The version for sale, however, will have wireless phone charging.

The Saloon is more frugal on fuel, using up 5.5 litres per 100km, versus the CLA's 5.7. This may well have to do with its relative lightness, which more than offsets its vigour.

Finally, the Saloon test-car has a glitchy keyless system - touch-sensitive locking tabs on the door handles are often insensitive.

So, as difficult as it is to tell the two cars apart at a glance, it is just as difficult to decide which to buy, given that each has its own list of thorns and roses.

As in many cases, your wallet may have the golden vote. Given that the Saloon is about $15,000 less expensive than the CLA, it should reach a wider audience.

But if budget permits, the CLA is the more attractive option, if nothing else for its appearance, refinement and bigger differentiation from the A-class hatchback.