STYLE or SUBSTANCE? Mercedes-Benz CLA 220 CDI Shooting Brake vs C 220 BlueTec T-Modell

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The Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake carves itself a whole new niche in the market, mixing added estate practicality with the panache of sensual styling. But is it a niche that needed filling? Its bigger brother, the C-Class T-Modell is quick to respond with a more rounded package which puts substance before style. So, which is the right recipe?

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Let’s start with the CLA Shooting Brake and its practical side, which left a confusing impression. The main culprit is the narrow aperture of the boot. Of course, we are nitpicking here, so we will try to overlook this shortcoming for the sake of the car’s superb design. A triumph of sporty proportions and aggressive detailing mixed with the sheer elegance that only a true Mercedes-Benz can offer. Still, we can’t hide the fact that rear visibility could be much better – another concession made on the purity of design’s shrine and it all comes down to that tiny rear screen and the heavily sloped rear quarter windows.

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On another note, it’s time to turn our attention to the loading and accommodation talents of the sexy CLA Shooting Brake. The 495-litre boot looks good on paper and, surprisingly, even manages to outshine its bigger sibling’s volume load of 490-litre. But, and this is a big but, outright practicality is clearly surpassed by the boxier C-Class T-Modell.

Despite the 5-litre handicap, the C-Class T-Modell is simply the more practical car. And we’re not talking about the CLA’s narrow aperture again which, of course, is clearly contrasting with the huge tailgate and low load-lip of the C-Class, but about the bigger car’s easier, far more intelligently configured loading area. The backseat can be automatically folded in a 40/20/40 ratio at the push of a button. Actually, four buttons, one on each side of the tailgate opening (corresponding to each section of the backrest) and two more placed on the extremities of the rear bench, for easier operation straight from the proximity of the seat sections. The shape of the boot floor is more regular with less protruding wheel cover sections. The C-Class T-Modell is also the only model in this test which can be specified with an optional self leveling rear suspension. An electrically operated tailgate is optional for both models.

Going back to the CLA Shooting Brake, the rear backrest can only be divided in a 40/60 format and the loading surface is not perfectly flat, as opposed to the C-Class straight as an Autobahn boot floor. A splitting net diving the boot from the seating area is available only as an option (178.50 euros), while in the C-Class’ case it is standard fit. Fortunately, the optional Load Compartment Package (134 euros) enlightens the CLA with a more upright positioning of the rear seats (by 15-degrees) and increases load volume by 100 litres. The package also includes a folding box and storage nets in the boot. A total 1,354 litres of space reveals itself the minute the seats fold flat, but the lower roofline will make you think twice before trying to store bulky loads like bicycles or children carriages. In contrast, the C-Class’ maximum cargo space of 1,510 liters measures 154 liter more.

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Rear accommodation is good for both cars, but, as expected, the C-Class trumps again the smaller, but much sportier looking load lugger. There’s not only 27mm less headroom for rear seat passengers in the CLA, but taller people’s knees will also rub on the seats in front, all because of the car’s abrupt roof-line and its obviously smaller wheelbase (2.840mm versus 2.699mm) and overall dimensions (L 4702mm/w 1810mm/h 1457mm versus L 4630mm/w 1777mm/h 1435mm). In the end, the CLA Shooting Brake is still a coupe. A coupe with a bigger boot, but still a coupe.

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In both models’ cases, the dashes have been lifted straight from their 4-door counterparts, the CLA saloon and the C-Class sedan. They still offer all the usual Mercedes amenities with the iPad-style freestanding screen and column-mounted gearshift reporting for duty. The COMAND infotainment system sets the two cars apart though. The C-Class ups the ante with the latest COMAND iteration with 3D sat-nav and a rotary dial with touch-input support. This is essentially the same system featured in the ballistic Mercedes-AMG GT supercar. The CLA on the other hand features a similarly fashioned COMAND, adorned with a simpler controller and a smaller 8 inch screen, as opposed to the 8.4 inch one found in its roomier brother. The seats of the CLA Shooting Brake are slightly more supportive than the ones in the C-Class, but the integrated headrests and more narrow back sections will not fit all types of persons, especially taller ones.

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In the end, the C-Class T-Modell wins our hearts with its far superior fit and finish lifted from a class above, with an interior swathed in the best soft-touch plastics on the market and excellent all-round visibility – aided by the thinner, excellently configured A and C pillars, the wider windscreen and bigger, better shaped side-mirrors, compared to the CLA.

The question which probably irks every Mercedes-Benz fan right now concerns the alleged CLA Shooting Brake’s ability to outclass the bigger C-Class T-Modell in therms of agility and sheer sportiness. So, how do they drive?

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As expected, the Shooting Brake feels much like the standard CLA, it’s agile, flexible and vastly entertaining, in other words a hoot to drive. Unfortunately, the ride is often too crashy, too unrefined given its family car credentials. Mercedes does offer the option of adaptive dampers and air suspension (!) for the C-Class, but not for the CLA which makes a habit of skittering uncomfortably over bumps and potholes – clearly an expected downside of Mercedes’ decision to opt for stylish but overtly big (for countries with badly scared roads, at least) 18 inch alloy-wheels shod with sporty 225/40 R18 Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires. The electronic power steering is generally direct and easy to live with. But, true feedback is generally absent, as is the case with most electronic systems, especially at higher speeds.

The engine is much, much better though, and clearly the ace hidden in CLA’s sleeve. The higher-powered 177 HP 220 CDI 2.1-litre diesel enchanted us with its zippy nature, pulling well from well under 2.000 rpm and settling down to a hushed, extremely remote humming tone on the motorway. Its voice only disrupts the cabin ambiance at idle and at start-up. The seven-speed double-clutch 7G-DCT automatic gearbox is generally quicker to respond than the classic 7-speed automatic gearbox found in the C-Class. It features Eco, Sport and Manual modes but it’s better to leave it in Eco, as it will switch smoother through the gears. Put it in Sport and it holds on to each ratio – often for longer than desired. Changing gears in manual mode using the steering wheel-mounted paddles clearly overcomes this obstacle and suits each driver’s tastes or… his skills.

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Powered by what is essentially the same 2.1-litre diesel, but in a lower state of tune (170 HP versus 177 HP for the CLA), the C 220 BlueTec fits its family car bill well and suffers very little lag, providing plenty of power and competitive fuel economy figures – we managed to end our test with a very reasonable 5,8 l/100 km combined consumption figure. Comfort-wise, C 220 BlueTec T-Modell offers quite a natural balance, gaining much needed pliancy over surface imperfections and, what’s more, it does this without relying on excessive softness. In short, the bigger model simply feels more like a junior executive car should compared to the CLA.

The C-Class is also the only car in this test to offer an interesting, if a little quirky, feature. Pressing the ‘minus’ paddle placed on the steering-wheel column for more than 2 seconds downchanges as many gears needed to put the engine in its ideal torque delivery bracket, for the best possible acceleration figures and swift take-overs at virtually any speed. The steering also earns good grades for the C-Class. It feels good across the board, with a natural weight on straight ahead and a consistent feed of weight off it.

CLA shooting brake vs C Class break 1 (52)The bad news is the gearbox itself is less snappy, especially in ‘Comfort’ mode. Agility Select function allows you to choose from Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ driving modes, although there’s no option to lock the box in manual mode, so it frequently kicks down with no warning. Swapping the driving mode to ‘Sport’ sorts this out, while helping to make the throttle that bit more responsive. 100 km/h from standstill arrives in a rear-wheels-driven 7.6 seconds which, despite the T-Modell’s extra 45kg of weight (1.615kg), is almost equal to the C-Class sedan (7.4 seconds) and also 0.7 seconds faster than the smaller and nimbler (1.555kg) CLA Shooting Brake (8.3 seconds). So, the bigger and heavier car is also the faster one. Weird, but easily explained by the torque advantage of the C 220 BlueTec (400 Nm versus 350 Nm) and the more efficient traction offered by the rear-wheel-drive configuration of the C-Class over the front-wheel-drive architecture of its little brother.

This takes us to the costs chapter. The entry-level CLA 220 CDI Shooting Brake will set you back 38.466 euros (Germany) while the cheapest C 220 BlueTec T-Modell costs 40.489 euros. So, the price difference would amount to a mere 2.000 euros. Wrong. What you might not have noticed is that the CLA is fitted as standard with an automatic gearbox, while the same option would add up another 2.499 euros to the C-Class’ bill. S0, 2.000 plus 2.499 gives us a grand total of 4.499 euros. As impressive as it might seem on paper, that figure only tells half the story. Honestly, we would gladly pay this much if this means we would eventually leave home with the bigger, better, inevitably wiser car.

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The CLA Shooting Brake offers pure coupe desirability with a twist, added estate practicality. It feels just as unique/exclusive as the CLA and it drives just as well. Unfortunately, the added space doesn’t bring much more to the table in therms of practicality. Worse still, a fidgety ride means the CLA Shooting Brake never feels as premium as it should, trading heavily on its looks. The C-Class T-Modell is simply the better car. Bigger, roomier and infinitely more intelligently packaged. It’s a great car to drive and to look at, a car that just so happens to boast a huge dose of practicality and refinement into the bargain.
TECHNICAL DATAMercedesMercedes
ModelCLA Shooting Brake 220 CDI AutoC 220 BlueTec T-Model
Engine/No. of cylindersL4, turbodieselL4, turbodiesel
Displacement (cmc)2,1432,143
Max. output/revs (HP/rpm)177/3,600-3,800170/3,000-4,200
Max. torque/revs (Nm/rpm)350/1,400-3,400400/1,400-2,800
Gearboxautom., 7G-DCT, 7 gearsautom., 7G-Tronic Plus, 7 gears
TyresGoodyear Eagle F1Continental Conti Sport Conrtact 5
Tyres dimensions225/40 R18 92W225/50 R17
Brakesventilated discs/discsventilated discs/discs
L/w/h (mm)4,630/1,777/1,4354,702/1,810/1,457
Wheelbase (mm)2,6992,840
Interior width front/rear (mm)1,422/1,4101,454/1,462
Interior height front/rear (mm)1,016/9471,046/974
Comfort distance (mm)690686
Turning circle (m)11.011.22
Kerb weight/max. load (kg)1,555/4951,595/575
Boot volume (l)495-1,354490-1,510
Acceleration 0-100 km/h (s)8.37.6
Max. speed (km/h)228229
Fuel consumpt. Urban/extr./mixt (l/100 km)4.8/3.6/4.05.3/3.8/4.4
EU Norm/CO2 emissions (g/km)Euro 6/105Euro 6/114
Price (euro with VAT)38,466.7542,988.75