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The CLA – whose only real competitor in the small prestige sedan space is the Audi A3 – was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and is regarded by the company as a key tool to entice a new generation of younger Mercedes-Benz customers. More than 750,000 CLAs have been sold worldwide since its introduction in 2013.
The CLA is following in the path of the recently launched A-Class, offering levels of technology not before seen in Merc’s smallest coupe – or, in fact, aboard many of its bigger, more expensive cars.
The CLA’s dash array is based around the same twin 10.3-inch digital screens seen in the A-Class, C-Class and E-Class, while the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system which debuted in the A-Class has been enhanced.
Around 40 new functions have been added to the voice-based system, according to Mercedes-Benz, including the ability to answer more complex queries, differentiate between overlapping conversations and to control a new system known as Interior Assist.
This system uses gestures to control various in-car functions. For example, the system can be programmed to a particular gesture, allowing the user to create a gesture shortcut to navigate home. It will also be able to determine whether it’s the driver or passenger who is gesturing towards the large central screen.
“MBUX can understand complex questions and quickly reply,” says a statement from Mercedes. “These include sport (‘Hey Mercedes, how did the San Francisco 49ers play?’), the stock exchange (‘Compare the share price of Apple Incorporated to Microsoft’), calculations (‘What is the square root of 3?’) or general knowledge (‘How big is Texas?’, ‘What is the fat content of avocados?’)”.
Much of this functionality will, of course, depend upon internet connectivity. A Merc spokesperson indicated that while some of the MBUX's deeper functionality may not be ready for when the car launches before the middle of this year, it will be able to be turned on as connectivity improves.
Design-wise, the CLA shares very little with the A-Class in the metal. It’s 151mm longer than the A-Class but keeps the same 2729mm wheelbase. It’s around 34mm wider, with slightly wider front and rear wheeltrack widths, as well. It does lose ten litres of luggage capacity - down to 460 litres VDA - thanks to a new multilink rear suspension set-up
There are bulges in the bonnet, a set-back cabin and a wider, lower stance than that of the outgoing car.
There’s been a strong focus on tuning the aerodynamics of the car as well, with items like radiator shutters and wheel arch extension vanes included to reduce the CLA's drag coeffcient.
The aforementioned multilink rear suspension combines with traditional MacPherson front struts, and the chassis will offer a wide array of standard driver aids like AEB, active lane control, cruise control and more.
In fact, enhanced radar tech allows the CLA to read terrain up to 500m in front of the car, while advanced AEB can also help to reduce crash impacts to the rear of the car.
The CLA, like the A-Class, is built on top of a modified version of the previous-generation A-Class platform, and it will eventually adopt the same range of powertrains unveiled with the 2017 A-Class.
Only the CLA250 was confirmed at the CES event, which is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine producing 165kW and 350Nm. Drive is sent to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Currently, Mercedes-Benz Australia offers a full range of engines in the outgoing CLA, while the new-gen A-Class now features an entry-level 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine along with the 2.0-litre in two states of tune.
Locally, we’ll know more about the car's specs and drivetrains come April, according to Mercedes-Benz Australia officials.