Monday, April 7, 2014

Mercedes Benz's CLA-Class Compact Car

Mercedes-Benz has been selling small cars with its brand name in Europe for many years, while here in the States they've focused on larger, more expensive automobiles.   Recently, however, they've moved a tiny step down-scale with their new 2014 CLA-Class.

The CLA is fairly small, having a 106-inch (2,700 mm) wheelbase, but its sales price is higher than that of the average mainstream Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima or Honda Accord.  One reason for the comparatively short wheelbase is that the CLA is a stretched (at the rear) version of Mercedes' A-Class, which is not sold in the United States.


Here is the current A-Class Mercedes.

And this is the CLA.  Front styling is nearly identical, differences including the shape of the corner cut-outs and two low windsplits atop the hood.

This front view features the grille, which has a concave pattern of tiny, shiny dots -- something new for Mercedes that I think is just fine.

On the other hand, I don't care for the character line pattern on the car's sides.  That for the A-Class is worse, an awkward kink for the lower one.  This side view indicates what the stylists had in mind.  The lower crease curves upwards, and is continued aft of the rear wheel opening by the intersection cut-line of rear fender sheet metal and the rear bumper impact material.  But this continuity is broken by the flat lip around the opening.  If you look at the upper CLA image, you will see that the wheel opening, along with the cut line of the rear door, serves to terminate, rather than interrupt the rising character line.  What one sees from many angles is a character line that reverses itself into a side scallop at that point, something the stylists probably never intended.  Worse, this termination or reversal zone is "pinched" against the wheel opening, resulting in an awkward design.

This rear view shows a fussy melange of lines and surfaces that's in line with current styling fashion.  The tail lights are intact across their width, reducing the width of the trunk opening -- an ergonomic failing in my judgment.

Overall, the design of the CLA is pretty well done for a comparatively short car, containing contemporary styling desiderata (strongly curved top, lots of character line sculpting, fussy and poorly integrated rear end detailing).  I saw a CLA at the Seattle Auto Show and, despite my complaints, thought it looked pretty good, though not great, in person.

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