We're living with a Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake for six months

Now that the A-Class represents ‘your entry level to Mercedes’ on several fronts (assuming you’re not looking at super-competitive finance deals, which can make a C-Class better value, or a B-Class really tempting) it’s a whole family of cars.

There's the A-Class hatchback (which is now technically as big as, and almost identically engineered to a Golf or Focus), the Saloon, the GLA SUV, the CLA four-door coupe (or 'slightly slippier-looking saloon') and this, the CLA Shooting Brake.

Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake 2021

We're just missing a roadster or convertible. The SLC was discontinued in 2021, Will there be a Mercedes SLA in the future?

There was a time when a Mercedes ‘class’ was simply a car. It might have variations such as an estate or convertible, but an A-Class was the smallest Mercedes, a single car with just a choice of engines.

Not only that, it was a car that stood out from the pack – when Mercedes wanted to make its first mass-produced front-wheel drive car it didn’t follow the herd, it innovated.

The short, city-car sized original W168 A-Class. The CLA is far removed...

This, to me, is what an A-Class is – the 1990s ‘cramming family-hatchback space into the footprint of a city car’ original.

But now we have classes that could be a whole marque in their own right, crossing boundaries of size, performance and cost, and the CLA Shooting Brake exists at the point at which four aspirations meet; style and luxury, family practicality, sporty performance, and ease of parking or fitting into the urban landscape.

It's a car that's torn in several directions, yet in some ways, it's a great solution for all of these needs.

Learn more about our CLA Shooting Brake, and what it’s like living with the small upmarket ‘coupe-estate’ via the links below.

Update 1: What is it?
Update 2: James Dennison borrows the CLA
Update 3: What’s it for?
Update 4: Keith WR Jones enjoys the CLA... at night

Update 1: Our CLA Shooting Brake – CLA 220 d AMG-Line Premium

From a rational point of view, this may be the nicest A-Class for drivers who don’t want a big, bulky SUV.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake

Not only is it an appealing shape, inheriting the classy style of the CLS Shooting Brake without the bulk and cost, it’s also remarkably practical. To understand what it’s like living with the CLA Shooting Brake, we got a very typical, popular lease configuration.

It’s an AMG-Line Premium with big wheels and some nice kit, and it's in white with a black Artico leather interior, with no sunroof, and no major options; if you’re buying one you’ll have much more flexibility around packs and trim, and these could transform the character of the car and really leverage that upmarket, CLS-inspired style.

The original CLS was almost as groundbreaking as the first A-Class

Mercedes would suggest that the CL part of CLA implies a decadent, style-first choice of car - though with only a handful of paint colours to choose from the bespoke feel is somewhat lost.

You can have white, metallic white, silver, grey, black or red, unless you go for an AMG version.

Interior-wise you can select black, or one of three two-tone combinations at no extra cost – brown, titanium grey, or striking red over black. It seems dark metallic blue and cream leather is out for 2020/21, which is a shame as it’s a scheme that really suits Mercedes’ subtle curves.

Specification as tested:

  • £38,390 AMG-Line Premium CLA 220 d
  • 54.4mpg and 135g/km CO2
  • 0-62mph 7.2 seconds, and up to 147mph
  • 4,695mm long, 1,433mm high, 1,999mm (1,830mm*) wide
  • Wheelbase 2,729mm

Compared to the equivalent A-Class

  • £35,895 AMG-Line Premium A 220 d
  • 55.4mpg and 133g/km CO2
  • 0-62mph 7.0 seconds, up to 146mph
  • 4,419mm long, 1440mm high, 1,992mm (1,796mm*) wide
  • Wheelbase 2,729mm

*excluding mirrors

Crucially the front track – the width between the centre of the wheels – is 34mm wider on the Shooting Brake (reflected in the width at the wheels, too), which generally contributes to a more stable, sporty feel.

Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake 2021 - front

This detail could merely be the difference between the standard wheels on an A-Class and the higher, sportier spec of the CLA Shooting Brake, but just look at it. It's low, wide and purposeful with a subtle flare to the arches at the front.

How does the CLA Shooting Brake drive?

Good news! There are sufficient subtle changes to the CLA to make it feel like a much sportier car than the A-Class, not least of which is the standard fitment of the more sophisticated independent rear suspension usually reserved for the most powerful models.The seating position is lower, too, and the wide, squat stance helps it feel really enthusiastic, responsive and secure in corners.

Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake rear

With the 2.0-litre diesel of the 220 d there’s plenty of power to get away from the lights, and it'll cruise on motorways for hours with low noise and fuel consumption. One thing Mercedes consistently gets right is the automatic gearbox, which does its thing unobtrusively – there are paddles for quick manual shifts, and a column stalk to select forward or reverse.

The low suspension isn’t very well suited to rutted fenland roads, but it does a good job of isolating smaller imperfections. Ride comfort doesn’t suffer particularly, either, though it does mean that harsher ruts or speed bumps can occasionally skim the front bumper even when being approached with care and low speeds; given that this is hardly a track-focused Mercedes-AMG specification it's an unexpected quirk to have to drive around..

Does the CLA Shooting Brake feel special?

From the outside, it’s a very good-looking car. The curve of the rear arches and tailgate evokes the AMG GT and more upmarket Mercedes coupes, and there’s a very Porsche 911-esque curve to the rear three-quarter view, emphasising how tapered the load area really is.

The profile really works best from a low angle; stand up, and the bulk of the rear pillar over the tapering arch of the glass looks a bit heavy in a flat white shade. You’re glad it doesn’t follow the shape of the windows when you’re in the car, though, as the headroom and space for passengers is better than in an A-Class hatchback.

Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake rear profile

Speaking of the hatchback, though, aside from the frameless doors the interior is the same as any AMG-Line A-Class. That’s not a bad thing by any means, it’s one of the classiest interiors you’ll find in a front-wheel drive, premium hatchback, with a great blend of tech and traditional hardware controls.

CLS Shooting Brake ambient lighting interior

The Premium pack introduces animated ambient lighting which is really impressive, though you’ll find yourself appreciating the ability to say ‘Hey Mercedes – ambient light off’ when reversing or driving in town, as it reflects off the interior side windows like nothing else.

As always, there are reminders that you could have a higher-spec car… the silver plates at the top of the doors where you would find electric seat adjustment or extra speakers feel very spartan. But shiny.

Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake frameless doors and silver trim

Even with manually-adjusted seats and mid-range audio it’s a nice place to sit, just… not near-£40,000 nice when you consider what you could get elsewhere.

What’s annoying in the CLA Shooting Brake?

First impressions count, and the CLA’s initial impact is hampered by a couple of niggles. Or rather, rattles; in A 220 d form when the weather’s cold, the interior shakes and buzzes like an old bus. Some of this turns out to be the plastic tray for the handbook, which lives in the glovebox but tucked out of sight.

That one settles down when the car’s warmed up a bit. However, there’s a persistent buzz from the B-pillar or door trim, a whistle at 60mph near the top of the windscreen, and a few other squeaks and chittering noises that anyone who has owned a lot of Mercedes cars will be used to in winter.

Frameless doors look good, but add wind noise

Refinement overall is very good – it’s just from a cold start the 2.0-diesel’s vibrations are really not well isolated. Perhaps it’s a way of ultrasonic-shedding the snow and ice from the car.

Like other Mercedes cars I’ve driven with LED, non-adaptive headlights, the beam pattern is very bright, but cuts off abruptly and seemingly, very close to the front of the car compared to other vehicles. This feeling of driving into darkness is naturally exacerbated by the interior lighting and massive screens before you’ve adjusted everything to your taste.

And the final irritating niggle? The wireless charging pad lives under a little roller-style cover that looks impressive when closed. It's behind the cupholders and the USB-C connection for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is there too, despite the presence of USB ports in the large centre storage box. The tray is so narrow you can't fit a cable to your phone and drop it in the tray properly, there's no wireless Apple CarPlay support, and you can't just put the phone in the tray and close it.

This is something that should be easy to fix - until wireless CarPlay is introduced, just make the centre storage USB ports the ones for smartphone integration. It's also a smaller niggle than the size of the paragraph above - more on that later.

Having taken delivery of the CLA Shooting Brake, though - and managed one drive in it, to make a video about a Vauxhall Mokka - 'my' Mercedes is needed elsewhere...

By Richard Kilpatrick

Update 2: JD borrows the Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake

Just as the UK lockdown 2.0 occurred in early November, I found myself between long-termers. My BMW 420i was arriving in a few weeks (read about it here), but in the meantime I needed something to plug the gap for essential journeys and, happily, Richard kindly offered his CLA Shooting Brake.

Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake - profile in car park

I’ve always liked how these things have looked, yet never really seen the appeal of them as a buying proposition. Slightly bigger than an A-Class hatch but nowhere near as roomy as a lightly used C-Class wagon, it seems to sit in a middle ground of curious compromise.

Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake - with boot loaded

Here, however, was as good an example of the breed as many buyers would realistically be looking at – an AMG Line Premium 220 d. So, if it was going to change my mind, then surely this would be its best shot.

2.0-litre diesel reminds us what we’ll be missing

I’m not anti the electric car revolution, yet I think it’s a crying shame we’re going to have to say goodbye to engines as fit for purpose as the one in this CLA. A 190hp 2.0-litre, it’s the only diesel in the range and if you do big miles, it’s worth serious consideration. Not least because when I picked the car up on three-quarters of a tank, it still wasn’t quite empty when I returned it three weeks and several hundred miles later. A theoretical range of near 700 miles (and maybe more given I was getting upwards of 55mpg) is, put simply, an incredibly useful thing to have.

Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake 2021

A note too, on performance and refinement. Like most Mercedes diesels I’ve driven, this pulls harder than you’d reasonably expect and it’s 7.2-second 0-62mph time feels conservative. More importantly, there’s ample in-gear torque (400Nm from 1,600rpm) that works nicely with the eight-speed automatic gearbox. And while refinement isn’t quite up there with petrol equivalents, noise levels are perfectly reasonable at a cruise.

Start-up procedure

I found myself going through a set start-up sequence in the CLA. Hop in, do the usual, hit the engine start button then go immediately to the car settings shortcut and turn the uber-sensitive Active Lane Keeping Assist function off. I should point out that this is the first car I’ve ever felt compelled to do this in – I’ve never had any trouble with lane keeping aids, or any other driving assistance tech before.

Disabling lane keeping assistance on the CLA Shooting Brake

Yet for some reason, the CLA’s only needed the slightest provocation to strongly apply the brakes on one side of the car. And then, on another occasion, it hit the brakes sharply without another car or lane marking anywhere near. Hmmmm.

Final thoughts

In isolation, the CLA Shooting Brake is a good car. A 7/10 in this spec, in fact. And I can appreciate the appeal of an A-Class with a larger boot and sleeker styling. Yet given the average CLA is a few thousand dearer (admittedly with more kit and a more powerful engine) than the average A-Class, it’s certainly worth considering how much you really want the extra benefits.

Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake 2021 in sunset

Rest assured that if you do decide you want one, however, there’s a solid car underneath. Minus the Active Lane Keeping.

By James Dennison

Update 3: What is the CLA Shooting Brake for, exactly?

Maybe it’s because it’s white and quite unassuming. Maybe it’s because it’s one of the few cars I’ve seen in that shade that doesn’t have the panoramic sunroof – or even a two-tone roof – so it looks a bit like an appliance.

Either way, I’ve found it harder than usual to get to know the character or 'personality' of the CLA Shooting Brake. Often what I drive will influence how I feel and behave as much as I'll choose something to suit what I like, but I'm worried that the CLA is just too sophisticated for someone who likes their cars 'robust' or very focused on doing one thing well.

In short, I think the CLA Shooting Brake may be out of my league. It's wine bars, not dive bars, New Look rather than New Rocks.

Not that we're going to any bars these days...

Mercedes-Benz CLA - the Shooting Brake bit

Yet I'm a big fan of the idea the car represents.

Traditionally the 'shooting brake' is a class of car that translates well for enthusiasts, and it's born out of the inevitable clash of desires for a focused, high-performance car (which would have had two doors and a boot for maximum body strength) and something practical, with a bit of load space.

Usually, you start with an overtly sporty two-door car, then add a thoroughly sensible estate-style back to it. There are many examples of the traditional shooting brake; conversions of classic Aston Martins and Jaguars (the XJ-S based Lynx Eventer is one of the most famous) so the low, fast and posh machines could also carry a few guns, picnic hampers and a bit of game.

Not the travel Monopoly kind. The deer and pheasant kind.

When Mercedes introduced the svelte CLS, which brought the four-door coupe to the modern motoring vernacular and was visibly very different to an E-Class or an S-Class - sort of bridging the two in terms of status - it took a while to follow up with a practical family version.

It’s debatable whether a CLA 'coupe' was ever needed alongside the saloon and hatchback, given the CLA also has four doors. The CLA Shooting Brake, even if it is on the same wheelbase as the hatch, makes more sense than the 'slightly lower A-Class Saloon' of the regular CLA though; this is what we get instead of an A-Class Estate (Mercedes would probably argue that if you want that, get a B-Class despite it being shorter than the CLA).

Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake - bootspace

Thanks to that long boot floor, it has proven more practical than an A-Class in most circumstances, and though there's a drop into the floor over the boot lip, it's not too high to load things into it and it keeps your shopping in place.

Style with practicality? Or practicality compromised for style?

Lockdown limits the opportunity for adventures, but a quick trip to collect some furniture from a charity demonstrated the ample length – if not width – of the load area with the seats folded down.

Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake carrying a bookcase

And the seats are very easy to fold.

It's not all good news though, as though the boot floor is pretty roomy, the boot opening is another matter. Faced with an IKEA desk top, at 120cm wide, there was absolutely no way it was going to go in - the elongated slope of the tailgate looks big, but the best you'll manage is 110cm diagonally and even then, you've got to navigate the trim around the rear windows.

Carrying tables probably isn't the point. It's got plenty of room for luggage for four adults, and in Mercedes-AMG form with a refined, potent petrol engine it would be a lovely cross-continent tourer – city-friendly, fun on country roads, spacious and very good looking without being unsubtle.

With those aspirations in mind, the CLA Shooting Brake does become more appealing – just not with the diesel engine, and really, it needs the upgraded interior with two-tone trim and either Patagonia Red or Mountain Grey.

The UK gets a very narrow selection of colours, though -  a shame when this distinctive shape would suit Mercedes’ denim blue, or better yet the rich, vibrant Brilliant Blue. White really does leave it looking too much like a rental car from many angles. Thanks to the 'first impression' on every winter drive from that diesel, I think I’d almost prefer it even with the basic A 180 petrol; the ideal being the A 250 e hybrid.

The diesel's great, so why recommend petrol?

The diesel's lack of refinement when cold and in winter weather mars what is otherwise a very appealing engine and performance package; if I hadn't driven the car in cold weather I don't think I'd have noticed it as much - and as more time is spent with the car, I'm starting to understand the values behind the design. When it's being a little agricultural in town or when warming up, it makes me think of a pair of Louboutins, but with those thick rubber soles you can get to stick on to make them practical without spoiling the trademark blood-red lacquer.

Where I've been thinking of it as a cut-down four-door GT (and good looking with it), but compromised just the right amount to appeal to a wide enough group of buyers to be worth selling (worth remembering, when it looks like there's no sign of a replacement for the CLS Shooting Brake), when what it probably is is just a small estate car, but one of the best looking ones you'll get..

In fact with the roomier rear seats, the undeniably large boot below the window line, and features like an electric tailgate and rear windows that fully wind down and give a better view out than many 'sensible' cars, the CLA Shooting Brake is shaping up to be a very capable family car.

So to answer the question 'What's the CLA Shooting Brake for?', it's proving you can be useful and practical in the real world without giving up good looks and a bit of fun behind the wheel.

It'll carry two kids and a big buggy easily without forcing you into driving a monster truck or something resembling a small bus. Its personality is beginning to come through... and I'm not afraid to admit that it's taken a while to click for me, because I'm a middle-aged empty-nester and far from stylish or fashionable.

By Richard Kilpatrick

Update 4: Night rider 

As a previous custodian of two of Parkers’ long-term Mercedes in previous years, with both an S-Class and a V-Class, I was keen to sample Richard’s slinky CLA Shooting Brake, so when he asked borrow my long-term Vauxhall Vivaro Life I seized the opportunity to suggest a swap.

While the CLA isn’t the kind of car that normally attracts me, there’s something rather sensuous about the gentle curvature of its bodywork that’s appealing, despite the best efforts of the Hotpoint-alike paint job to dent its lustre.

White 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 220 d Shooting Brake side profile

It seems others agreed: after posting a picture of its hind quarters on my Instagram account, I was subjected to a flurry of approving direct messages, and none were from Russian spambots either, which was nice.

Clatterbox

On paper, the CLA 220 d’s diesel engine looks like it could be the sweet spot in the range, yet it conspired against itself in conspicuous fashion.

Starting from cold, this particular Shooting Brake suffers from the most serious vibration of any new car in recent years. It resonates through any and every surface throughout the cabin – I reckon you could rest you head on the steering wheel and give your teeth an ultrasonic clean.

White 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 220 d Shooting Brake rear badge detail

Once on the move that – thankfully! – all stops. Somewhat ironically given the nuisance it makes of itself initially, on the move its pleasingly hushed, but it falls short of how punchy I expected it to feel given the 0-62mph claim of 7.2 seconds.

Nevertheless, it feels assured when completing overtaking manoeuvres and there’s no sniffing at 57mpg while zipping about, either.

Snug as a bug in a rug

From a position of isolation, the CLA’s A-Class-based interior looks slick, with glossy surfaces, a dual screen facia and a general air of sleek minimalism.

As well-assembled as it is, material quality feels below par for a car costing almost £40,000. Plastics can be convincingly made to look and feel like all manner of materials these days, yet the Mercedes’ cabin feels like a celebration of black, well, plastic.

White 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 220 d Shooting Brake front grille detail

Poaching some interior specialists from Volkswagen Group might be a way forward.

Given the Shooting Brake’s low-slung looks, it’s a pleasant surprise to find I can sit my 6-foot tall frame front or rear in decent comfort, although alighting from the back with any degree of grace was something that past me by. An orangutan could peel off a wetsuit with more dignity intact.

Milk round

After a couple of days brief drives, I wasn’t especially enamoured with the compact Mercedes wagon. Yet, the necessity of a night-time drive for an essential drive to purchase some semi-skimmed shone a different light on things.

You see, one aspect of interior car design that I believe Mercedes really has nailed is the use of ambient light, particularly when in animated, multi-coloured modes.

Varying levels of intensity create dramatic effects all-round the interior, the varying degrees of surface sheen causing it to be reflected and refracted differently.

It’s gentle, too, meaning those waves of colour shifts don’t distract you from the task in hand – driving in other words – but rather have a calming influence. I genuinely felt chilled and tried it a few more times with other after-dark drives. Each made the CLA feel that bit more special than it did in the daylight.

White 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 220 d Shooting Brake ambient light air vent detailWhite 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 220 d Shooting Brake ambient light air vent detail

Am I recommending you buy a car based upon the quality of its interior lighting alone? No, of course not, but experiencing it does suggest it’s positive factor that some brands have yet to embrace.

Denim Blue metallic paint, brown leather interior and a less rattly petrol engine would make me feel much warmer towards the CLA in the first place. The ambient lights are a bonus.

By Keith WR Jones

Further reading

The Shooting Brake does look good on the drive - it's a handsome hatchback