Driven - February 2017

The young executive: Mercedes-Benz CLA 200

I must confess, the CLA is not my favourite Mercedes-Benz. I always found it to be oddly shaped and awkward – it looks like the uglier younger brother of the CLS. That being said, my opinion of the car changed after driving the face-lifted CLA 200, a car that I thought I would’ve hated. See, most of our interactions with Mercedes’ products have been with their hardcore Mercedes-AMG range. The likes of the A45, GTS and C63 are a lot to take in. The C63 was the best when it came to living with the car, but the others were just unpleasant from a daily driving perspective. So getting the “bottom of the range” CLA was a welcome idea and when it arrived – it looked much better in appearance than I expected. It had the optional AMG Line fitted to it, making it very sporty looking. The larger bumpers with red accents on the front and rear give the illusion of something much sportier than the 1.6 litre Turbocharged engine up front.

The interior of this specific car was also quite lovely. A combination of leather and cloth on the sport seats looked great and the overall cabin was a nice place to be. Being in this business of reviewing cars can make you feel rather numb as you hop in and out of various machines each week. When you drive a car that makes you feel good, you tend to remember it and funnily enough, the CLA made me feel this way. See, I’m a young person that lives in the North of Johannesburg, a part of town that measures status as a very important thing. In the week of me driving the CLA, I noticed that others’ perception of me was different to when I drive other cars.

Stepping out of a sporty looking Mercedes-Benz aimed at young people gives you a good feeling, as though you’ve achieved something others haven’t. That’s the thing about cars like the “ordinary young folks’ Mercs”. The A and CLA Classes are cars for young executives. If you drive the AMG variants of these cars, it’s not the same because the price tag of those cars often creates debate in the car world. If I drive a CLA 45, people would ask why I didn’t buy an RS3 Audi for instance, or even a used BMW M4. But if a drive a CLA 200 that looks great, people respect the fact that I chose to spend my R475 000 on this car with less debate. It’s strange.

For somebody who isn’t a performance freak or even a car enthusiast but still wants the feeling of exclusivity, cars like the CLA 200 make perfect sense. Even more sense than an A Class because it offers more practical value. The little engine is also quite punchy with 115kW and 250Nm. Although the AMG Line makes things firmer, the ride quality was not too compromised, but ever so slightly sportier. Considering all these things, my mental checklist started ticking things off. Does it look good? Yes. Does it have enough space for a little one? Yes. Does it say I’m successful? Yes. Lastly, is it affordable? Kind of. Well if you’re that young executive and you’ve got a good job, you’ll most likely be looking at cars within the R500 000 mark, so if that’s the case then, yes.

It was refreshing driving a regular Mercedes-Benz. The brand has come a long way to create products that appeal to a younger market. This is a tricky market that Mercedes has been able to appeal to in terms of status. Many things aside, the most important thing most young people wonder about driving a specific car is “what does it say about me?” In the case of the updated CLA range, it can make people say, “That person is doing well for themselves”. As vain as this sounds, we live in a vanity driven society and if that’s what the Mercedes-Benz brand appeals to, they’ve got a winning product.