2009 Mercedes-Benz CLC 230

The Good:
– Premium cabin materials
– Decent rear legroom
– Fairly good handling
The Bad:
– Not quick enough
– Limited rearward visibility
– Very pricey with options

Not finding fame as the C-Class Sports Coupe, Mercedes-Benz reintroduced their little hatchback as the CLC-Class for the 2009 model year. Still based on the previous-generation C-Class, but receiving a front-end facelift to look like the latest C-Class sedan, the CLC’s updated new look is subjective, to say the least. It is one of those cars that looks bad on paper, but can be a good ride in real life, even if it is built in Brazil now.

The overall profile isn’t the most attractive. With a rear end so high that it blocks out the view out back, the CLC loses the unique little window between the tail-lights that was a trademark of the previous C-Class coupe. The rear lights themselves are a newer non-controversial design. Large 18-inch wheels make the car look less bulky. Our CLC 230 tester’s black paintjob helps too.

The interior design is largely the same as that of the old model, instead of picking up the new C-Class’ angular new cabin theme. The CLC may be a “budget” Benz, but the interior uses top-notch materials, with real aluminium trim on the centre-console as well as soft-touch materials used on every cabin panel, including the lower ones, easily putting it in a class above entry-level BMW and Infiniti models.

Front passengers get well-bolstered sports seats, leather in our case, and fully power-adjustable, including the headrests. Even more surprising was the rear space. There is as much legroom as in the four-door C-Class, with enough headroom for normal-sized people. And this is the first two-door car we’ve ever seen that has power-operated memory seats that still has a manual lever to quickly move them out of the way completely, folding forward and also moving upward to clear even more space for easier entry into the back. These are little engineering touches that are better appreciated when living day-to-day with a car, as we did for five days.

The rear features a liftback hatch, so access is easy. Luggage volume is somewhere between that of a compact hatchback and a compact sedan, which is to say, pretty decent, especially since it stores a space-saver spare tyre underneath. Folding down the rear seats offers enough space for a small fridge. However, storage spaces inside the cabin are limited, with a few pockets and cubbies, as well as only one cup-holder.

The gadgets are fitting for an entry-level “personal luxury” car. Our mid-range model had front and rear parking sensors, a colour LCD screen for the stereo/phone setup, powerful speaker system, Bluetooth that actually works, cruise control, HID headlights, mirror-mounted indicators, panoramic glass top with proper sunroof function, front and side airbags, digital a/c with rear vents, and more. Our tester was missing options such as navigation and keyless start, and the blank “buttons” on the dashboard were unattractive reminders that we were driving a car without all the possible options.

The CLC-Class is offered with a variety of engines. Our CLC 230 came with a 2.5-litre V6, good for 204 hp at 6100 rpm, and 245 Nm of peak torque from 2900 rpm to 5500 rpm. The engine also happens to be mated to a smooth 7-speed automatic with paddle-shifters and a sport mode that holds revs for longer. These specs are very good when compared to a typical 4-cylinder coupe, but performance is a letdown due to its 1525 kg bulk, comparable to a midsized car. During our summer testing, we only managed a 0-100 kph time of 10.3 seconds. To its credit though, there is adequate punch for city driving, the fuel consumption is decent at 12.3 litres per 100 km, and the engine sounds beautifully refined.

It becomes clear that the CLC is aiming to be a sporty car in the vein of its German competitors, while still maintaining a degree of traditional Mercedes-Benz luxury. In addition to being rear-wheel-drive, the ride is somewhat firm but still fairly comfortable. The drive is very quiet, with minimal wind noise, muffled engine noise, and some road noise only at high speeds. The steering is a bit firm while parking, but still easy to manoeuvre, although the severely-limited view out the back means depending on the parking sensors.

The moderately-firm ride and fairly-wide tyres turn up the fun-to-drive quotient. Our tester came with 225/40 front and 245/35 rear rubbers on the 18-inch wheels, which offer great grip on the road. Long sweeping turns are handled flatly, making us think we were driving a BMW. But slowing down and trying out sharper moves brought about a moderate amount of body roll, although there was no excessive rebound like in other softly-sprung cars. The stability control isn’t too intrusive in most cases, although there isn’t enough power to squeal the rear tyres, and the suspension seems tuned for safe understeer anyway. The steering is decently firm, but offers limited feedback. The ABS-assisted four-wheel-disc brakes are excellent.

Getting to spend a longer-than-average amount of time with the CLC made us miss it when we returned it. Although not the leader in either comfort or sportiness, it toes the line in between, offering enough luxury at a personal level to make daily driving a joy, while being small enough to manage well in the city, with space for friends to boot. In the end, the only concern remains with the premium price.

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