We consider the Mercedes X-Class. No, not that one…
Much metaphorical ink has spilled forth on the pages of Driven to Write since its 2014 debut, a sizeable proportion of which has been flung in the direction of Sindelfingen’s current styling leadership. Not without justification either, for little of Mercedes-Benz’s stylistic output has risen above the level of banality for longer than we’d care to acknowledge.
Not everyone has been gripped with paroxysms of delirious pleasure over the broadly welcome shift in Mercedes’ Sensual Purity-themed styling away from the more striking forms and graphic elements of yore, with what some might discern as calmness equally being viewed as a lack of definition. Perhaps the most convincing case for that point of view lies with the current era A-Class. The W177 has been with us a number of years now, carving for itself a position in the European C-sector sales charts that might have given VW more to worry about by now had Wolfsburg not been busy placing all their Golf balls into an electrified basket of an entirely different stripe.
Debates around stylistic tentativeness aside, and the A-Class is an insipid looking thing by all accounts, its lack of visual pop has not acted as an impediment to uptake (or whatever one calls it these days). The A-Class is sold in bewilderingly fecund varieties – Rastatt pumping out the standard hatch, two different CUV crossovers, a minivan-MPV, a three-volume saloon, a lifestyle estate, and a coupé. Now that’s what I call platform amortisement.
It is the W177’s most glamorous derivation however that I wish to highlight today. Glamorous? That would be a matter for debate in today’s market, where anything of a remotely raised height variety cuts more of a dash. But that is not to say that the coupé format has lost its allure entirely. More to the point, it has in too many cases (and not least in Mercedes terms) lost touch with the concept of grace.
Mercedes-Benz offer the current-era CLA as the range-topper, with a price tag that places it well past entry-level C-Class territory. While the first-generation CLA was an alarming confection of stylistic flourishes appended to a set of proportions locked in a fight to the death for possession of an over-riding theme, the current model offers a far more cohesive visual palette. Nevertheless, at those prices, one would really need to be swayed by what it is offering.
Mercedes-Benz UK probably know their market, and have in their wisdom elected to only offer the CLA in emboldened AMG-Line form (albeit in three distinct flavours of emboldened), replete with ugly alloy wheels, enlarged (fake) air inlets, even more pointless rear outlets and faux-diffuser. Rather misses the point in my view, but the target customer knows what they want and the CLA AMG-Line provides it – in 64 ambient interior lighting shades. That’s choice, that is.
Here in the Republic of Ireland, the CLA is also offered in three flavours, but in this case only one of them is AMG-themed. Entry level is dubbed Style. Nobody ticks this box. Next up is Progressive Line, which adds a few bells, whistles and LEDs, (and fancier rims) but maintains the entry level car’s more restrained exterior treatment.
It is this latter model line that appears to make up the bulk of Irish market CLAs, or at least the ones I tend to notice in this increasingly affluent enclave of West Cork. And notice them I do, largely because I find to my surprise that the CLA in its untattooed, devoid of Botox, non-AMG form amounts to quite a pleasant looking motor car – by contemporary standards at least.
Assuming one can avert one’s eyes at the now traditional shutline crime scene that characterises the products of Sindelfingen’s design studio, the CLA is a commendably well proportioned shape, one which hides its unenviable dash to axle ratio rather well. If anything, it is a neater piece of work than the larger and more cumbersome looking CLS coupé from which it derives the bulk of its styling theme.
In fact, observing a CLA in motion recently it occurred to me that Mercedes-Benz have succeeded in producing a latter day Jaguar X-Type, albeit with one marked difference. Execution. The low-slung CLA is everything Jaguar most likely wanted to achieve with X400, but found themselves unable to. But unlike the Jaguar, the CLA, by consequence of its more practical saloon sibling is free to adhere to its more indulgent brief and can instead major on style and perceived one-upmanship, with a price to match.
It has been apparent for some time that Chief Design Officer, Prof. Dr. h.c. Wagener’s appreciation for the Geoff Lawson-era Jaguars knew little bounds. With the CLA the homage is clear, even allowing for the fact that the stylistic end result is rather more easy on the eye.
Mercedes-Benz in X-Type shock! Well at least it isn’t a pick-up truck – this time. Small mercies…