herald

Monday 26 September 2016

SHOOTING STAR

FIRST DRIVE: New baby Merc estate is more a looker than a lugger, writes Philip Hedderman

What do you call an estate that's, erm, not an estate? A shooting brake, of course.

Confused? Me too, but this apparently is Mercedes Benz speak for a vehicle that's now a niche within a niche.

Now I get the whole coupe thing which, to be fair, MB were first out of the traps with in the shape of the highly successful and classy CLS.

It offered extra versatility to those who craved the feel and drive dynamic of a sports car with the added practicality of extra doors and seats.

Those who bought it were typically young, successful professionals with small children who just couldn't bring themselves to conform to the executive saloon.

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Fast forward a decade and the CLA arrived as a sexy alternative to the A-Class, and now we have the estate - only it's not that wagon-like.

For starters, it's far too sleek to be ever called that.

The sloping roofline, frameless doors and sweeping lines soften the extra dimensions while the rounded, pert rear end with chrome embedded exhausts complements her sporty posture.

Inside it's equally exciting, with a young and vibrant dash peppered with chrome, suede and piano black finishes.

The flat-bottomed three-spoke leather steering and the X-Men-style air vents (five in all) are a big hit, as is the iPad-like centre screen which is home to the infotainment/sat nav/Bluetooth and car stats/onboard computer.

What it gains in form it loses out on in functionality. Yes, it's bigger than the CLA, but only by an extra 45 litres - it has a boot capacity of 459 which extends to 1,354 with the seats folded.

It's not the size that's the biggest gripe here, it's the accessibility, which is hampered by a high lip and bulging rear lamps.

They'll make even modular loads (IKEA springs to mind) practically impossible to carry with the tailgate shut.

On the up side, there's an extra 40mm of headroom in the rear seats and decent elbow room either side.

There are also lots of little cubby holes and storage spaces both back and front.

Irish customers will get to choose between two diesels and three petrol - all of them equipped with stop/start.

Pick of the bunch will be the CLA 200 CDI, a 2.2-litre generating 136bhp, and the 220 CDI (auto) with 177bhp, both with annual road tax of €190. Petrol versions begin with the CLA180 - a 1.6-litre 122bhp and a more powerful 156bhp CLA200 or the top end 2.0-litre with 211bhp. We took the 200 on a brief test route around the Naas Road in the entry level oil burner.

A little gruff and noisy, it lacks the refinement one expects from a premium brand, while the steering could have been a lot more informative and the ride less choppy.

That said, it did cruise happily on the motorway, and with emissions of only 106g/km and returning a whopping 66mpg (4.2l/100km) it will appeal to high-milers.

I still can't call it an estate, though - I'd prefer to think of it as an elongated coupe.

In short, it's definitely more of a looker than a lugger.

Prices for the CLA Shooting Brake start at €31,490.

The all-new Audi A4 is ready for its debut at September's Frankfurt Motor Show, and we reckon it'll look a bit like this. If so, BMW and Merc should be very afraid.

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