Road Test

Mercedes-Benz CLC 220 CDI

Mercedes plays the name game: The CLC is the latest addition to an already baffling collection of model monickers. But the marketing men's shuffling of the letters has resulted in a classy product

Mercedes car names: the final frontier. Just when you were thinking every combination had been exhausted, here's the new CLC. That's a snappier name than C-class Sports Coupé, which is what this car was in its previous life.

What previous life was that? Is this car not a compact, hatchback coupé derivative of the relatively new C-class range, then? Marketing-wise, yes, just as the Sports Coupé propped up the previous-generation C-class. But perception and reality aren't quite the same. Last time around, Mercedes positioned the Sports Coupé as an alternative to a Golf GTI. This time, such a suggestion is received with a smidgen of sniffiness; rather, the CLC is the entrance to the world of the "proper" Mercedes-Benz (that is, not an A-class or a B-class).

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: Mercedes-Benz CLC 220 CDI

Price: from £22,260 (range £19,920-£27,240), on sale June

Engine: 1,798cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbo-diesel, 150bhp at 4,200rpm, 251lb ft at 2,000rpm

Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Performance: 139mph, 0-62 in 9.7sec, 47.9mpg official average

Carbon dioxide: 156g/km

There used to be an SLC, which was a third-generation SL with a fixed coupé roof and a pair of rear seats. So does the final C stand for coupé? Not necessarily. We already have a CL, which is effectively an S-class coupé. We have a CLS, a four-door coupé. We have a CLK, which is a C-class coupé (yes, two cars fit that description) but which is obviously shorter than a CL (the K suffix stands for kurz, which means short).

The Mercedes naming system has gone anarchic in much the same way as the Mercedes numbering system has done. Once it denoted the engine size, but now it denotes what the engine size should be were the hierarchy more transparent. Thus the new CLC 230 has not the 2.3-litre, four-cylinder engine of its forbear, but a 2.5-litre V6. The 350 is the right size, though.

All the engines are up-to-date. They include two 2.2-litre turbo-diesels, with a feeble 122bhp (CLC 200 CDI) and a livelier 150bhp (220 CDI). Then there are two petrol-fuelled, 1.8-litre, four-cylinders, both supercharged; one makes 143bhp (CLC 180), the other 184bhp (CLC 200). And finally come those V6s, of 204 and 272bhp.

I tried that last one first, a cultured but feisty thing which makes an interesting alternative to a BMW 135i Coupé. At least it does in the six-speed manual form sampled, but UK buyers will be denied it and allowed only the seven-speed automatic. That transmission is optional in the CLC 230, and was fitted to the example I tested. That frees your left foot to operate the ludicrous parking brake, and once you've got used to the plethora of ratio choices you can enjoy quite an alert, positively acting manual mode controlled by tabs on the steering wheel.

Fine. But would you want to be in this conceptually compromised car at all? Maybe I'm being too purist. From the outside it looks properly modern, the old Sports Coupé's delicate curves ousted by a tougher, squarer look for the nose and tail. Just the doors and roof remain of the old car's outer panels.

Inside, the update is just as convincing. Most shapes are as before, but the quality of the materials has rocketed. The new seats are especially good when trimmed in tan leather, contrasting with the charcoal grey elsewhere, but it's a shame they are mounted too high. You should sit low in a coupé – feel part of the car. The charcoal makes the rear cabin gloomy, too.

Finally, I tried the CLC 220 CDI, the livelier diesel with a six-speed manual. This is the one to buy: rapid, effortless and economical. With all that torque you can enjoy the feeling of being pushed through a corner that only rear-wheel drive can give, and a steering system taken from the current C-class saloon, plus revised suspension settings, give a firmness and precision the old coupé never quite had.

This car may be a marketing-led agglomeration of existing ingredients, but it feels a proper quality product. And, expensive as it is (from £19, 920) next to more powerful opposition, it looks a heck of a lot more enticing than BMW's dumpy rival.

THE RIVALS

Alfa Romeo Brera 2.4 JTDM: £26,995

That extra money buys you dramatic concept-car looks and a tuneful five-cylinder, 210bhp turbo-diesel with fabulous energy. Think of it as a heart-driven purchase.



BMW 120d: from £22,220

Curiously un-sexy looks belie a great driving experience – crisp, eager and always involving. Brilliant fuel efficiency despite 175bhp output makes you feel even better.



Volvo C30 D5: from £19,495

Is it a coupé? A hatchback? The C30 is a bit of both, and the most heartwarming Volvo in years. The five-cylinder, 2.4-litre turbo-diesel has 178bhp and effortless pace. Good value too.

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