Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. We’re not mad about estates – as a buying public that is. It may be a cliché to mention such a fact at this stage, but it is relevant to what I’d like to convey about the car reviewed this week.
And there’s more: The Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake (a fancy name for a curvaceous, long, low-slung ‘estate’) is further assailed by the reality that people in their ever-increasing numbers prefer taller, muscular SUVs to the likes of saloons – never mind the likes of a ‘stretched estate’.
So why even bother with having a version such as the Shooting Brake on the market as well as the highly popular (in our family anyway) CLA saloon?
I’ve no idea really but when I first saw the car in the flesh it made sense – at least visually.
It’s a treat of long, flowing lines and curves (and I am a sucker for them). Yes, for a few minutes it had me thinking it was a little over the top but it grew on me so much that I’m a convert to its design guile now.
It’s a lovely mix of styling and practicality (boot space expandable by split/folding the rear seats).
But (and there are a few ‘buts’) it isn’t the sweetest drive you’ll ever come across – which is a pity for a car that looks so well.
I think that has to do with its reliance on the A-Class-based suspension; it is a bit harsh and non-forgiving.
Not that suspensions are likely to be uppermost in most people’s minds, I venture to suggest.
Other priorities such as roominess, practical accommodation of family bits and pieces, and, of course, those styling kudos are likely to rank higher.
It’s just that I happen to love a nicely-sprung car for a long journey especially. Sadly, even with comfort suspension, there was too much of an intrusion from bumps and road-scars around town and on poorer country routes.
My test car’s diesel engine struggled with smoothness betimes, too. It was a willing little 1,461cc diesel that was at its best when tipping along the motorway (though there was a fair bit of wind noise). Down the gears (7spd automatic) it left something to be desired if I demanded prompt response.
It’s probably unfair to compare the Shooting Brake with the likes of the larger BMW-series Touring (estate), which conjures an exceptional sort of estate sportiness, but there are those who say I should do so based on price. They have a point, I suppose.
But I keep coming back to the more immediate and tangible elements of the Merc which I believe makes this a different sort of proposition.
For starters it seemed to me to have a lot more usable room than the A-Class or CLA saloon. It would want to considering it is an ‘estate’.
I am still surprised by how large it looks. A lot of metal. The boot was maybe a bit shallow but was reasonably accessible and took loads of airport luggage late one evening.
I thought the severe crescent shape design of the roof would have made entry and exit more difficult but for some reason that wasn’t an issue.
And the cabins in Mercs these days are second to none. We’ve come to expect such high levels. Right the way through the ranks they adorn some of the best interiors on the market. They are not just practical but hugely attractive elements in their own right.
The MBUX infotainment system, so much a part of the car’s interactive nature, worked well in responding to anything asked of it.
So far, so middling, overall, I think. The one area I haven’t touched on involves the heavily clichéd word ‘lifestyle’.
I don’t like it but it has to be a major factor in discussion of the Shooting Brake. With its mix of carrying flexibility and styling I can see this appealing to the hobbyists and lifestylers among us.
More so than an SUV? I could make a strong case for both to be sure.
But when everything is weighed up, the one distinguishing factor of the Shooting Brake, I would argue, is how different it is from most of what is out there.
On that basis this is a car worth considering for those who are just that bit bored with the SUV genre and its oft-formulaic conventions.
Would I buy it?
Not so sure. I love the looks but I’d want a sportier drive for my money.
Facts & figures
Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake:
AMG Line 180d (1,461cc, 116bhp), 7spd auto; 3.9/4.1 l/100km, 106g/km, €190 tax.
Spec includes 18in AMG alloys, AMG bodystyling, cruise control, heated front seats, lowered comfort suspension. MBUX multimedia system, 7in instrument display plus media display, reversing camera, sports seats.
Total cost of car on test with extras: €45,479.