Merc makes inroads into serious street cred
New premium brand small car to take on rivals BMW and Audi
A small four-door coupé from Mercedes-Benz sounds like a niche model. Yet there’s nothing niche about the ambitions for CLA in the eyes of Mercedes. The premium German brand needs its small cars to start delivering sales and CLA is seen as key to unlocking a new generation of owners.
Mercedes, particularly its boss Dr Dieter Zetsche, has been criticised by shareholders for failing to match the sales growth of German rivals BMW and Audi. That remarkable rise by its Bavarian rivals is partly down to overhauls of their smaller car fleets. Audi’s A1 sales may not have matched the hype, but cars such as the A3 and the smaller SUVs have introduced new customers to the brand. Similarly, BMW has witnessed impressive growth from its 1 Series and X1 models internationally. Often nimble and sporty, these models are introducing a new group of buyers to the premium brands.
Mercedes, on other hand, has seen its small car entrants – the previous A-Class and B-Class – largely regarded as functional transport for empty-nesters and older motorists seeking to downsize. The problem was that its small cars lacked allure.
That’s about to change. Mercedes wants to get down with the youth. The face of the new CLA is the actor Kate Upton, while the rapper Usher was on hand to launch the car in Geneva last week. Executives have binned the traditional suit-and-tie image, sporting instead jeans and open-necked shirts. Launches are more similar to nightclub parties than stuffy golf club dinners. Orders from on high decree that the company’s message must be Facebook-friendly and appeal to the Twitterati. Even Dr Zetsche, the genial German with proven marketing savvy from his time reviving Chrysler in 2005, is eager to show he’s in sync with the Y generation. For these buyers, the moustachioed Mercedes exec answers to “Dr Z”.
[CF413] Bold statement
[/CF413]Will it work? Can the establishment brand gain some street cred? The jury’s out on that, but the new A-Class and CLA make a bold statement of intent.
Sharing the same new platform as its hatchback sibling, the CLA is the second of four new small cars on the way. Next up will be a small SUV-styled crossover, aimed at competing against the likes of the BMW X1. After that comes a “shooting brake” (estate-like version) of the A-Class.
Mercedes desperately needs to expand its model range if it is to give chase to BMW and Audi. Zetsche’s promise that Mercedes will be the biggest-selling premium brand by 2020 lacks credibility without it. Even with these new models on the way, the promise seems extremely ambitious.
So to the latest new model, the CLA. First impressions are impressive. The car aims to mimic the look of the critically-acclaimed CLS four-door coupé. Its profile is perhaps not as sleek, given that there is limited room for sweeping rear lines. Yet it still retains a coupé profile, and achieves a remarkable aerodynamic rating of 0.22. In layman’s terms that means it’s the most aerodynamic small premium car on the market, and that adds up to better fuel economy in the end.
As you might expect, entry and exit from the back is a bit of a pain for adults given the low lines of the rear pillar. Yet it’s arguably easier to access than most three-door models where you have to slide over a folded front seat to get in. Headroom is also tight, and adults over six foot will be running their heads off the roof lining.