Designers at Mercedes-Benz certainly had an inspirational day when they penned the lines of the new CLA.

Until now buyers looking for a C-Class model had to opt for the Coupe if they wanted the sort of curvy exterior on offer to buyers of the much larger CLS model – but that meant a car with only two doors.

The CLA, on the other hand, has all the curves of the CLS in a small vehicle – and comes with four doors.

With its low front and rear valances, blacked out rear side windows, imposing sports grille with dominant Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star and twin exhausts it looks dramatic.

The drama is carried over to the interior too with high-backed sports seats, black headlining and aluminium pedals. Not to mention a number of nice touches, like the illuminated Mercedes-Benz name on the front door sills – an impressive night time feature.

The twin dashboard dials are conventional but there is a 5.8-inch free-standing display screen mounted near the centre of the dash for the sat nav and for controlling most of the onboard functions.

For its price it’s one of the most striking five-seater cars that the German luxury manufacturer has produced, and is available with both petrol and diesel engines mated to either six-speed manual gearbox or seven speed auto.

Having in the past tried the 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol version with a manual gearbox, I decided to take a closer look at the larger, 2.2-litre, diesel auto.

Once you get into the car the first thing you notice is that the automatic gearbox on this car is a simple column change arrangement. You push the stalk upwards for drive, down for reverse and push the end of the stalk in for park.

You also get two paddles behind the steering wheel so you can drive it manually.

In terms of performance the larger-engined diesel has the edge on the turbocharged petrol model, although you will pay an extra £4,000 for the privilege.

Mid range acceleration is good if you wind the car up although I did find initial take off could be hesitant at times causing not a little concern at very busy islands and junctions.

Mercedes-Benz CLA 220 Sport
Mercedes-Benz CLA 220 Sport
 

Using the car in manual – changing gear with the paddles – not only made the CLA much more lively but also alleviated the initial power lag problem.

A switch on the dashboard allows you to change from eco mode to sport mode or manual as the mood takes you so there is plenty of variety to add interest to any journey.

Rear seat passengers get a reasonable amount of legroom and good headroom, although the car’s sloping roof means they really have to mind their heads when getting in.

The CLA has a sensible sized boot accommodating some 470-litres of luggage, which can be boosted by folding down the rear seatbacks.

On the road this car is noticeably quiet and refined at speed although the engine is a little noisy at low revs.

With its traditional rear-wheel drive the CLA offers impressive, predictable handling and a comfortable, relaxed ride.

With a £29,000 price tag it’s probably less expensive than most people would expect for a Mercedes which offers such an impressive overall package, and as such is sure to attract regular buyers of the brand as well as new converts.

Fast Facts

Model: Mercedes-Benz CLA 220 Sport

Basic price: £29,775

Mechanical: 2143cc, 4 cyl, 170 bhp diesel engine driving rear wheels via 7spd automatic gearbox.

Max speed: 143 mph

0-62 mph: 8.2 secs

Combined mpg: 62.8

CO2 emissions: 117 g/km

Warranty: 3 years/unlimited mileage