BBC Autos

The new Mercedes CLA250 borrows from the familiar

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Singer David Bowie successfully expanded his musical catalogue over the years by shamelessly stealing from himself, with new songs that referenced his older hits.

Apparently Mercedes-Benz product planners see this as a salient strategy for growth, as the company's flashy new CLA rips a page right out of its larger CLS's book. The CLS, the original "four-door coupe”, has spawned so many imitators since its 2004 debut that it is only fair, Mercedes should be permitted to copy it, too.

On the eve of the 2013 Detroit auto show, Mercedes revealed its plan for recruiting a new generation of customers to the three-pointed star, and it took the form of a racy, nominally affordable compact sedan.

The CLA, like the CLS, features a low, sloping roofline and four doors with frameless windows in the manner of a coupe. But as anyone who has viewed the CLS from the back seat, the design invites rear passengers to bang their heads on the doorframe during ingress and egress.

Those lines do look slippery; according to Mercedes, the CLA's 0.23 coefficient of drag, a measure of aerodynamics, is the lowest number ever for a production model.

The car also breaks ground as Mercedes' first front-wheel-drive model for the US market. In an interview after its introduction on 13 January, Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler, the Mercedes parent, told BBC Autos that the CLA was based on the same front-drive platform used by the diminutive A-Class and B-Class hatchbacks in other markets.

"The US market isn't very fond of hatchbacks, as we are in Europe, so this car should be well-received", he surmised.

The result is very close to the Acura TSX in size and specification, and it is young drivers who grew up with front drive that the company is targeting with the CLA, which will start for less that $30,000 when it goes on sale in September. An all-wheel-drive 4Matic version will follow in 2014, as will a more powerful twin-turbocharged engine.

While the CLA has an entry-level luxury price, all of the expected Mercedes technology is present. A collision-alert radar system is standard equipment, along with a 5.8-inch infotainment display.

Power is from a 208 horsepower, 2-litre 4-cylinder engine driving the front wheels through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. A 2.2-litre diesel engine is available for Europe, but is a long shot for the US, Zetsche said. The car's base engine in Europe will be a smaller-displacement gasoline engine developed in partnership with Renault and Nissan, he added.

Whether the CLS can, like Bowie, top the charts recycling old ideas remains to be seen, but Zetsche is undaunted. "We never talk about future volume," he said, "but we are very confident this car will be a success.”