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Zetsche Offers New Look at Next-Gen Mercedes-Benz CLA

Dr. Z puts on the camouflage.

by on May.17, 2017

Dr. Z grabs a selfie along with the slightly disguised, next-gen Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

Mercedes-Benz has a lot riding on the little CLA. The little sedan proved to be one of the biggest hits in the maker’s history when it made its debut four years ago. And with a new version in the works, we’ve been scrambling to get some idea of what it will look like.

We got our first hint at the Shanghai Motor Show last month when Mercedes rolled out the Concept A, a rather thinly disguised version of the next-gen A-Class model that shares its underpinnings with the CLA, GLA sport-ute and other compact Benz models.

We Strip Off the Disguise!

Now, we’re getting another look at this downsized family thanks to Dieter Zetsche, the mustachioed CEO of Daimler AG and head of the Mercedes brand, who, in words and pics and words posted on LinkedIn, is sharing his experience driving the new small car family.

(Mercedes calling it quits on U.S. diesels – at least for now. Click Here for the story.)

No bean-counter he, Zetsche has a solid reputation as a serious engineer and the proverbial “car guy,” so he personally checks out new products in the development pipeline, “several times a year,” his post suggesting, “It’s basically like an assessment center for cars: They need to pass before they can join the club. The jury is our management team. The candidates are all new cars and technologies with the star – very well camouflaged – and on quiet roads we check whether they are ready for series production.”

The Concept A Sedan made its debut at last month's Shanghai Motor Show.

Checking out the new A-Class and members of its family is critical, Dr. Z emphasized, pointing out that the arrival of the last generation – especially the CLA – was “a symbol for the rejuvenation of our entire brand.” Indeed, as he also notes, over half of the customers for the new compact models are new to the Mercedes brand.

(Click Here for details about Daimler doubling its Q1 profits.)

It’s no wonder that, Britta Seeger, the board member for Mercedes-Benz global marketing and sales, said, “Our compact car family will grow from five to eight members in the near future,” during an appearance at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Not all those models will make it to the U.S. Unless things change – which company officials say is possible – we won’t see the A-Class hatchback, for example. But the CLA and GLA will be joined by some of the other compact family members.

So, what can we expect? The image of Zetsche, himself taking a selfie, reveals the thinly camouflaged version of the A-Class. But other shots reveal other models, including one we’ve posted here revealing pretty much the entire compact family.

The apparent changes are modest, with revised headlamps and a bit more sculpting to the overall body. What is almost certainly the next CLA picks up on many of the cues from the Concept A we saw in Shanghai, notably including the horizontal taillights. But the roofline itself seems to opt for even more of a coupe-like rake.

Various members of the Mercedes compact family, including the likely new CLA, in camo.

We can’t tell from the disguise if the next CLA will pick up on the broader grille of the Concept A, but we’d be surprised if it doesn’t. At 179.2 inches in length, 73.6 inches in width, and 57.6 inches in height, the show car was surprisingly large for a compact model, raising some questions about how close it was to the production car. The images from Dr. Z suggest the next A-Class retains the same basic dimensions as the current model.

Ahead of the Shanghai debut, Gorden Wagener, Daimler Chief Design Officer, walked us through some of what his intentions were for the show car. “Our Concept A Sedan shows, that the time of creases is over,” saod Wagener, adding, “With its perfect proportions and a sensual treatment of surfaces with reduced lines, it is the next milestone of Sensual Purity and has the potential to introduce a new design era.”

(For more on the Mercedes-Benz Concept A, Click Here.)

In his LinkedIn post, Zetsche addresses a significant question facing all automakers: in the era of increasingly precise digital design and engineering systems, and with wind tunnels and other tools to test out prototypes, why even bother taking pre-production models out onto public roads, even in camo?

The current version of the Mercedes CLA.

“Because the human factor remains key to success – especially with highly emotive products like a premium car,” he said. “What’s the sound when you close the door? Does the driving performance live up to the sporty design? Do the car’s quality and ease of operation deserve theMercedes star? We believe we have to hit the road and drive the cars ourselves to answer these questions.”

Considering our own time spent in the original CLA, such a focus on the human factors is critical to maintain the car’s early momentum. Though it initially won raves and lots of new buyers, there were plenty of revisionist reviews noting the sedan’s harsh ride, less-than-Mercedes-like interior details, and sometimes harsh powertrain.

Before leaving the company last year, former U.S. CEO Steve Cannon told TheDetroitBureau.com that those are the issues Mercedes intended to focus on with the next-generation CLA.

Will the new model meet such heightened expectations? He certainly might be expected to be a bit biased, but Zetsche writes, “Our verdict after driving the new A-Class was clear: The product offensive can continue. So I’m now counting the days until 2018 when we can finally take the camouflage off the car.”

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