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 CLA vs GLB – The anti-normal compact cars



I find myself writing this scratching my head. I love the compact car range and always tend to prefer a smaller car as they are generally more enjoyable to sling along the narrow roads that surround where I live. Smaller cars also benefit from lower kerb weights and on my routes tend to return some great fuel economy figures. 

 

In the last few years the definition of what counts as a compact car has expanded with compact saloons, SUVs, coupes and estates joining the field. The one that I’ve always had more than just a small soft spot for is the striking CLA Shooting Brake.

 

                                                                                  


 

A Shooting Brake is an estate with a style conscious design. Yes, you can fit more washing machines in a traditional estate but there is just something about the pronounced, swooping lines that turn the CLA four door coupe into one of the best looking estates on the market. I love it.

 

With the second generation CLA it was all change with a brand new chassis, family of engines, interior – even the window switches were made new for this generation. Separating it from the A-Class on which it is based is the wider body, longer wheelbase and updated interior options; all CLAs get a choice of full leather interiors in a variety of colours at no extra cost. To my senses, the cabin of the CLA is the quietest of the compact range with the stunning design matching up beautifully with the refinement that is a class above where this car sits.

 

Then, there’s the way it drives. The CLA is my pick of the range as a driver’s compact car; the wider track providing even more stability when cornering to this already grippy family of architectures. 

 

I like it. If ever there’s the opportunity to have one of these for a night or a weekend I am grabbing the keys and keeping them until they have to be surgically removed from my grasp.


 

 

                                                                                  

 

 


With my personal car needing a little bit of work doing to it, I had the keys for a weekend and inadvertently decided to put the car through its paces with my road testing brain switched on. Commuting along the usual stretch of motorway was a doddle with the CLA 200’s 1.3 litre turbocharged four cylinder engine gently humming away in the background.

 

The drivetrain is quick to drop three or four gears at the order of a rapidly moving right foot thanks to the lightning fast 7-speed double clutch automatic transmission. The aerodynamically optimised design of the CLA means it slices through the air with ease; low drag means high efficiency as the engine doesn’t need to work overtime to pull the car along. Light floods into the cabin through the panoramic sunroof giving me a tremendous view of one of the prettiest sunsets of the year. 

My thoughts settle on just one thing: this is a nice place to be.

 

Fast forward a day or two and I find myself looking for reasons to take the car out – a quick call to a friend with me asking to borrow his dog for “marketing purposes” means that I have a few miles of B-road between me and a proper practicality test with our four-legged friend who has already made an appearance in one of our videos.


 

 

                                                                                   

 

There are two things to note here: the dog fits and the car puts a smile on my face. Later on that day whilst looking at the car soaking up the sun whilst parked, I saw a young child walking past it with their parents pointing at the digital white model saying “wow, I LOVE that car!”

 

In that moment I became confident that a new generation of petrolheads is on its way, and that design is ultimately the thing that sparks the imagination now as it did for me as a child studying stacks of brochures and photographs of magnificent machines.

 

Alas, all good things must come to an end. The weekend turned into the week and my colleagues wanted their car back for some reason. Later that day, I found myself forming the basis of this collection of words as I cruised home in another compact model that I have an irrational soft spot for: The GLB.


 

 

                                                                                  

 

 


This is the largest member of the compact family with room for up to 7 people and a distinctive, rugged, unashamedly squared body. I love it for that. Just like with the CLA, the GLB brings its own unique style to its corner of the market. The GL part of GLB means that this is an SUV model and the B part denotes that it is similar in size to the B-Class.

 

We were told for a little while that we would be getting a “mini G-Wagen” and the GLB is a result. When we got our first GLB at Stevenage I immediately parked it next to our AMG G 63 and studied the two designs. It’s clear to see where the large glass surfaces, commanding driving position and steep windscreen rake came from. Again, I like it.

 

It was heading home with the 2.0 litre turbodiesel whispering in the background using only around 20 of the 190 horses it had on tap that it hit me: The CLA and GLB are two very different takes on the task of making a stylish and versatile car in a compact body. Additionally, these are my two favourite compact models so how on earth am I going to pick between them?

 

The GLB 220 d 4MATIC is my personal pick of the range; I love a high powered diesel – this model gains the 8-speed dual clutch transmission and its long ratios mean the engine is barely at 1500 rpm at motorway speeds in 8th gear. 4MATIC intelligently shuffles power to all the wheels depending on what you ask for it and it does not skip a beat. I can’t tell you if or when I’ve seen the traction control light flashing at me in a 4MATIC GLB.

 

With its tall driving position, higher centre of gravity and 300kg heavier kerb weight than the CLA, you may imagine that for the part of the commute I enjoy the most – the final 7 miles of flowing B-road – it would be as out of place as a penguin on the Costa del Sol. Not quite. The ever present traction and flat cornering nature means this is a car that can be comfortably pushed along without feeling like it’s about to throw its hands up in protest. If anything, the GLB enjoys it.


 

 

                                                                                  

 

There’s something addictive about getting cars to move in ways that you wouldn’t expect; when people ask me what this model is like to drive I will always respond by saying that it’s a great car to drive, not just a great SUV to drive.

 

As for practicality, you won’t feel short of space within this cabin – there is plenty of room to stretch out in the rear and still room for passengers behind my driving position. USB-C charging ports are abundant and the door bins could fit a few kittens in them. The sixth and seventh seats raise from the boot floor and access is made easy by the sliding second row being able to fold out of the way; these seats will usually be used for smaller occupants and the third row also comes with ISOFIX anchor points bringing the total number in the GLB to four. 


 

 

                                                                                     

 

Let’s come back to the question at hand: If I had to choose one, which would it be? It’s not as easy as you think. Yes, these two compact models are able to carry plenty of people and luggage in a serene, comfortable and safe bubble yet visually they couldn’t be coming at this question of what makes a great family wagon from more opposing angles. Both are immensely capable, both have their own star qualities, both have their own unique take on what a compact car can do and be.

 

Both are the exact opposite of what I currently drive.

 

Let me explain. I tend to think that I should remove the other seat in my car as it’s never used. Five doors is three too many and the engine under my bonnet is, by some measurements, excessively sized and lacking in turbochargers. Perfect.

 

The CLA Shooting Brake and the GLB make hugely compelling cases for themselves. These are two examples of the “anti-normal car” and for that, I adore them. There are two ways to buy a compact family car with intelligent intuitive interiors, distinctive designs and acres of load space which can be tripled by folding down the second row. These two choices are the CLA Shooting Brake and GLB. These are cars that you buy with your heart rather than your head – if a distinctive design is at the top of your list of priorities then it’s a class of two. I like them both. As in, like them both.

 

                                                                                   

 

Which one would I take? The gorgeous CLA or the unique GLB?

 

For me, I like being closer to the ground so the keys for the CLA Shooting Brake are the ones that I would keep on my keyring. Which one would you take?

 

                                         Approved Used CLA     Approved Used GLB

 

 

For me, I like being closer to the ground so the keys for the CLA Shooting Brake are the ones that I would keep on my keyring. Which one would you take? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                   

    

 


Which one would I take? The gorgeous CLA or the unique GLB?