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Review: 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Shooting Brake

by Ronan Glon

Join us as we take the family-friendly CLA for a spin outside of Frankfurt, Germany.

Mercedes-Benz is like an iceberg. In the United States, we only see the tip of it because the company largely sells well-spec'd sedans and crossovers equipped with a relatively large engine. Europe sees the whole thing, and our friends across the pond can buy a base-model C-Class powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder mill, a handful of station wagons that we don't get here, the unstoppable Unimog and a heavy-duty truck called Actros, just to name a few.

The newest addition to the bottom part of the iceberg is the CLA-Class Shooting Brake. Discreetly introduced last November, the wagon is billed as a smaller, more affordable but nonetheless stylish alternative to the CLS Shooting Brake.

What is it?On paper, the Shooting Brake is quite simply a roomier version of the CLA that we get on our shores. The two cars are essentially identical from the tip of the front bumper to the A-pillar, but beyond that the Shooting Brake gets a longer roofline and noticeably taller rear windows. The CLA's rakish C-pillar has been retained, and it's the main visual difference between the Shooting Brake and more traditional station wagons like the C-Class Estate.

The Shooting Brake's rear end falls in line with the aforementioned CLS thanks to a slanted hatch, elongated tail lamps and a roof-mounted spoiler. Don't let the family-friendly look fool you, the Shooting Brake still embodies the concept of form over function but the ratio has been tweaked to provide a little more of the latter.

The Shooting Brake stretches 182.2 inches long, 69.6 inches wide and 56.2 inches tall, dimensions that make it exactly the same size as its four-door counterpart. It weighs about 66 pounds more than the 3,395-pound CLA 250 coupe.

In Europe, the Shooting Brake is available with a long list of gasoline- and diesel-burning engines including a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gas-powered unit rated at 120 horsepower and a familiar 2.1-liter turbodiesel that makes anywhere between 134 and 175 ponies depending on its state of tune. Tested here, the CLA 250 packs a 2.0-liter gas-burning mill that generates 208 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 258 lb-ft. of torque between 2,250 and 5,000 rpm. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission transfers power to the front wheels, but our tester was equipped with the optional 4Matic all-wheel drive system.

On the roadYou'd think the CLA 250 Shooting Brake would drive exactly like its sedan counterpart but that's not the case. Since the wagon will likely haul people and gear more often than the coupe, Mercedes has fitted it with a slightly softer suspension setup that noticeably improves the ride, especially on rough surfaces. It's still firm, the Shooting Brake puts more of an emphasis on sport than on wagon, but it's more comfortable to drive on a regular basis.

Similarly, the turbo four strikes a balance between power and every day drivability. It's not brutal, your mother-in-law won't refuse to ride in the 250 the way she might turn down a high-speed jaunt in, say, a CLS 63, but it's peppy and responsive enough to convince you take the long way home from work. We found the steering to be a little on the assisted side but at least it's direct, the Shooting Brake will go exactly where you point it, and Mercedes' excellent 4Matic all-wheel drive system keeps it glued to the road. Beefy disc brakes on all four corners bring the action to a stop with no fuss, even on the wet tarmac we encountered on the outskirts of Frankfurt.

We also spent time behind the wheel of the CLA 45 AMG Shooting Brake, which is powered by Mercedes-AMG's well-regarded 355-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The 45's acceleration is downright impressive - hitting the speed limiter on the Autobahn is a cakewalk -, the brakes are powerful enough to stop a freight train and the seven-speed dual-clutch shifts instantly, at least when the steering wheel-mounted paddles are used. However, those are all attributes that we expected to find before slipping behind the wheel of a machine with an AMG badge on the trunk lid.

The best - and most surprising - part about the CLA 45 AMG is how well it sticks to the road, even if you take a corner a little faster than you should have. Part of it comes down to electronic driving aids, no doubt, but the handling is praise-worthy nonetheless, especially because you don't really feel the driving aids kick in. All told, Mercedes has built one of the best-handling and most nimble station wagons out there.

Life aboardFrom the driver's seat, the Shooting Brake is standard CLA fare. That means the steering is commanded through a meaty three-spoke wheel, the instrument cluster is made up of four analog gauges and a configurable TFT screen, the COMAND infotainment system is navigated using a small controller knob found on the center console and rear visibility is not very good.

For the passengers riding in the back the Shooting Brake is an entirely new car. It's a lot easier to access the rear seats and head room has been increased by about an inch and a half, though it's still limited compared to other similarly-sized and -priced wagons. The taller windows mean that the rear passengers see a lot more of the outside world, too.

The Shooting Brake offers 17.4 cubic feet of trunk space with four occupants on board and 47.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat. For the sake of comparison, the GLA's cargo capacity checks in 17.2 and 43.6 cubes, respectively. In short, the Shooting Brake is a lot roomier than its sleek body suggests.

Leftlane's bottom lineThe CLA Shooting Brake might just be Mercedes' best compact model to date. It's more practical than the standard CLA, it's roomier than the GLA and it handles better than the A-Class. However, like its four-door coupe counterpart the Shooting Brake starts out at a reasonable price but it quickly gets very expensive once options are piled on.

The CLA 45 AMG is downright insane in terms of acceleration and sheer grip, but the 250 tested here is the pick of the litter if you're looking for a well-balanced driver. That is, until Mercedes decides to bridge the gap between the 250 and the 45 with a mid-level AMG Sport model. It hasn't been confirmed yet, but we're crossing our fingers and our toes.

Photos by Ronan Glon.

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