Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake, from £25,755
NERVELESS, THOSE people at Mercedes. Utterly nerveless. In a marketplace in which the term “estate car” has long since come to seem drudge-like and drably uncompetitive, other manufacturers have gone back to the more colourful words of yore such as “tourer” and “sportswagon” that more readily betoken wholesome fun and robust outdoor activities and not just a life of colourless load-lugging, possibly on behalf of a small gardening business.
Only Mercedes, though, has retreated through time to retrieve the full-blooded phrase “shooting brake”, unhesitatingly evoking days when the estate car was, above all, the huntsman’s friend — the perfect vehicle in which to stuff a rack of rifles and head off to blast moose out of the local forest.
“Designed for urban hunting,” as the tag line for this latest shooting brake model puts it, for all the world as if the concept of gunfire in a built-up area had no kind of image problem in 2015.
They’re tranquil-looking cars, though — peaceful even, leaving aside the confused riot of chicken wire that is the modern Mercedes tripartite grille. Three years ago the CLS Shooting Brake came among us, all long and languorous and resembling an elegantly tensed bowstring. Now we get the shooting- brake style imposed on the CLA coupé, resulting in another vision of unbroken, sweeping aluminium. Only smaller.
I drove a brown one. That’s probably not the brochure term. That would be “scarred earth” or “braised mochaccino” or “burnt tenderloin” or similar. But the effect was still brown. It’s interesting how the colour, which in the 1970s stood for everything that was wrong, not just with the Austin Allegro, but with the entire country, is suddenly viable again — ritzy even. Brown is back. It’s possibly even the new silver.
It looks like a CLS Shooting Brake, only shrunk down — and therefore, clearly, cuter. But without wishing to make an all too obvious point, the fact it is smaller means that it is . . . smaller. You get a 495-litre boot, which is decent enough, with the option to increase it to 595 litres with the rear seatbacks pointing directly upright in “cargo” position. (Maybe that should be “lumbago” position.)
But you have to access it via an aperture that, although unarguably nicely sculpted and sweetly tapered, would be likely to remind Winnie-the-Pooh of his visit to Rabbit. Does my shopping look big in this? Most likely it will do. And I would hazard that there’s no room for a shot moose, even with the back seats flattened (1,354 litres). Unless, that is, you skin and joint it first.
On the plus side, though, practicality regains some ground in the matter of the back seats, which have more scope for comfort than they do in the CLA coupé. The point of any coupé is to have a sexy, sloping roof at the expense of any rear passengers who, having had to crack themselves in half in order to insert themselves in the first place, must then travel at all times with their heads bowed as if at prayer. The CLA Shooting Brake softens this problem by holding the roofline aloft for longer, thereby offering grown adults about 1½in more headroom for the area above their eyebrows.
The car comes in four-cylinder petrol and four-cylinder diesel variants. The steering is taut, the automatic gearbox quick-witted, and the ride plush and unstartling. In either form, it eases to silly speeds very quickly on German motorways and behaves perfectly reasonably in town traffic. It is 30kg heavier than the coupé, which you would be hard-pushed to notice in its handling.
The CLA 45 AMG model adds a lower suspension, a power hike to 355bhp and a stonking great price tag. Frankfurt at rush hour probably wasn’t the best place or time to try it, but it certainly barks and flies. There’s also an OrangeArt variant, which is nice if you like little bits of your car to be orange. I should report, though, that as I climbed into this version of the car, I was approached by two German schoolboys who were agog at its freshly minted magnificence, clearly regarding it as cool beyond belief.
But they were young, of course, and blissfully innocent of the world of load-lugging. Those of us who were older and more weary couldn’t help wondering how you could come this far and not end up buying a C-class estate instead. True, it’s not so dinky and doesn’t particularly seem to have “urban hunting” in mind. But it’s barely more costly and it fits stuff and people. Plus guns and dead animals. And isn’t that the whole point of a shooting brake?
Giles’s verdict ★★★☆☆
We like It’s beautiful
We don’t like It’s still a small – and expensive – estate
Mercedes CLA 180 Shooting Brake Sport specifications
- Price: £27,075
- Engine: 1595cc, 4 cylinders
- Power: 121bhp @ 5000rpm
- Torque: 147 lb ft @ 1250rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed automatic
- Performance: 0-62mph: 9.3sec
- Top speed: 128g/km
- Fuel: 51.4mpg (combined)
- CO2: 128g/km/li>
- Road tax band: D (free for first year; thereafter £110)
- Release date: On sale now
Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake rivals
VW Golf R estate, £32,000 (estimate)
For The hatchback is the best hot hatch going so we expect great things from the estate when it appears this spring
Against Not as sleek-looking as the CLA
Seat Leon ST Cupra 280, £28,505
For Fun; good value; practical boot
Against Less prestigious badge