When you’ve been at the top of your game for 100 years or so with luxury medium and large sedans (not to mention wagons, SUV’s, trucks and people-movers) there’s really only one way to think about model expansion.Small.Big, for Mercedes-Benz, has always been good with big and armoured even better for some customers, but what about those hundreds of thousands of potential buyers worldwide for whom big is bad and money is short?Image gallery: Mercedes-Benz CLAWell, perhaps not short, but certainly less plentiful than your average plutocrat, and for whom thinking small doesn’t shrink as far as one of those funny little Smart cars.'REBEL WITH A STAND-OUT FACE'Mercedes went the route of the A-Class, but what if that yet-untapped market of the not-quite-very-rich and but still green-conscious buyers was younger than your regular customer; of sportier outlook and maybe thinking Golf GTI but wanting something more exclusive?Video: Merc v Beemer v Golf GTIMercedes-Benz SA’s CEO Martin Zimmermann, during a model-launch presentation in Franschhoek in the Western Cape, edited it all down thus: “A car of a new size for Mercedes, but not competition for the C-Class, and with a wider customer base. A real Mercedes but all different – a style rebel with a face that will stand out from the crowd with four doors, a large boot.“Make it an everyday car in the luxury compact segment but with functionality for young families.”Getting the idea?OK, but then you put a bunch of aerodynamicists and designers together in a wind-tunnel and tell them to sculpt the most aerodynamic production car in the world – and by some margin – and they shield, vent, smooth, curve, bend, twist and massage everything (even the transverse rear silencer) until cold butter would slide off it on a still winter’s day and come up with a Cd figure of 0.22 which, believe me, is bloody good.COVERING THE BITSThe sleek Merc S-Class has a Cd of 0.24, for instance and, as Herr Zimmerman pointed out, every reduction of 0.04 cuts fuel consumption by 0.4 litres/100km.The sheer looks of the car are to the eye what they are to the car’s lack of air resistance but most of the work, I was told, will be invisible to all but the technicians who will service it on a workshop ramp – the record-low Cd figure is down to shielding and covering all the normally exposed underbody bits.The AMG hatchback version was launched at Kyalami back in August 2013 along with a special limited edition sports model.However, cars as small and sexy as the new CLA and CLA 45 AMG need to be able to perform, too; but how to stay ‘green’ while delivering clout? Merc’s followed the now familiar path of downsizing its engines but putting the go back into them with turbochargers; each of the four models in this group has a four-cylinder engine (one of them a diesel) ranging in size from 1.6 to two litres but with power outputs ranging from 90 to 265kW and from 200 to 450Nm.ON PAR WITH SUPERCARSEach is front-wheel drive, except for the AMG which can split torque delivery to up to 50/50 front-rear as demanded by the traction-reading computers, and drive is transmitted through either a six-speed manual or seven-speed auto (the latter with paddle-shifts).And fuel consumption data says from 5.6 to 6.9 litres/100km from the least to the most-powerful – which, of course, is the AMG version whose power output, proportional to the number of cylinders, is on par with the most powerful super-sports cars.Mercedes globally is introducing a racing series for CLA AMG buyers and it’s possible the countries involved could include South Africa.“It’s really a dream car for Generation Y,” Zimmerman said, “unconventional and untamed. It’s for younger customers, many of whom would not until now have thought of buying a Mercedes – or who could not have afforded one.”Which brings us neatly to the prices... which, as with all Mercedes (and, indeed, arch-rival BMW) look very reasonable until you read the “extras” list which, of course, buyers just won’t be seen dead without. Here goes with the base prices (all including VAT and CO2 tax – which is zero on the diesel):CLA 180 1.6 (90kW/200Nm) – R348 700CLA 200 1.6 (115kW/250Nm) – R372 700CLA 200 CDi (2.2 a/t 125kW/350Nm) – R397 600CLA 45 AMG (2.0 265kW/450Nm) – R674 400Standard safety equipment includes electronic stability control, emergency brake pressure, wheelspin control, anti-lock brakes, airbags (including head and thorax bags for the driver and front passenger and knee-bag for the driver, hill-start assistance, emergency-stop flashing brake lights, tyre-pressure monitors, drowsiness detection and collision prevention assistance.All the usual luxury features are there, of course, including aircon, audio, power seats and windows and mirrors. A Premium Drive maintenance contract is standard on all Mercedes-Benz cars and adds from R12 050 to R19 150 to the price, depending on model.AND THE SMALL MATTER OF EXTRASNow for those ‘extras’, in this case on the CLA 200 models:These models come with a seat comfort package, chrome package, stop/start ignition, multifunction steering wheel, cruise control and audio with six-disc CD changer but the options add up to an astonishing R96 950 if you want them all, starting with 7G DCT (double-clutch transmission) auto at R17 000 to replace the six-speed manual (of which none was available to drive on the launch) then running through:Reversing camera – R2850Parking assistance – R6500Distronic+ cruise control – R10 500Sliding sunroof – R11 000COMAND online communications – R21 000‘Intelligent’ headlights – R13 000Media interface – R2500Urban line (styling package) – R9900Colour-matched grille – R1200Seat lumbar support – R1500...taking the once-modest price to a whopping R469 950There are also 15 variations of wheel-rim/tyre size (some at extra cost), about 20 choices of upholstery and an AMG sports package.For more information about the CLA and CLA AMG 45 go to the Mercedes-Benz SA website.