On paper the Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake could be the perfect compact family car. By combining the style of a coupe with the space of an estate, and plastering a three-pointed star across its nose, it manages to tick several boxes at once. But this is our first encounter with it on UK roads, so can the way it rides and handles match its head-turning looks?

Let start with the styling because it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Mercedes deserves credit for that plunging roofline and arrow-sharp glass profile along the flanks - it’s daring, striking, but also looks a little tail heavy from certain angles. You can forgive that, though, because the reason for more metal behind the rear axle is more boot space.

Keep the rear bench upright and there’s 495 litres to play with. Granted, the pinched rear end means the opening isn’t the widest, but you can cram in three or four large suitcases with a little forward planning. Sacrifice the rear seats and that space expands to 1,354 litres – no match for the 1,620 or 1,668 litres you get in the VW Golf Estate or Honda Civic Tourer respectively, but then the CLA Shooting Brake is in another league to those two when it comes to style.

Rear passengers are treated to an extra 40mm of headroom, although legroom is still a little limited for anyone approaching six-foot and it’s not exactly light and airy back there, either. On a roundtrip from London to Cornwall both rear (adult) passengers complained of uncharacteristic car sickness, blaming the claustrophobic atmosphere. Barring the limited rear visibility, things are much better up front with the a good view ahead, the same striking dash design as the standard CLA and part leather sport seats that are far comfier than the integrated-headrest design would suggest.

It’s a shame the same can’t be said of the suspension that crashed its way through London, smoothed out on the motorway, then went back to feeling way too firm on Cornish back roads, leading to more complaints from the pair in the back. What’s really disappointing was that our entry-level model in Sport trim was on the smallest-available 18-inch wheels and did without the lowered springs fitted to AMG Sport models.

The steering is quite light, but reacts quickly enough, while the suspension keeps body roll in pretty tight check, unless the car is fully loaded. But unless you go for the 355bhp CLA 45 AMG Shooting Brake it’s no sports car. In fact, our 134bhp 200 CDI model felt underpowered with four passengers and a five days worth of luggage in the back. Once up to speed on the motorway it can pull you along all day, but getting there is a bit of struggle, as is listening to the diesel clatter when equivalent engines fromBMW and Audi are so much quieter.

We’d recommend forking out an extra £1,400 for the more powerful 220 CDI model with 175bhp and 350Nm of torque. Not only do you get some welcome extra poke, but the economy and emissions penalty is negligible, returning 67.3mpg and 108g/km versus 68.9mpg and 106g/km in the 200 CDI – putting both diesels in the same 19 per cent company car BIK bracket, and the same £20 a year road fund.

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