Mercedes has caught everyone napping and gone and invented a new niche. While Audi busies itself with another small SUV (a Q3 revision), and BMW an MPV (the 2-series Active Tourer), Mercedes has shrunk its achingly cool CLS estate to create the small, more affordable Shooting Brake estate.

Finally, then, a stylish alternative to boring, small estates that offers incredible car park presence, a sports saloon drive and ultra-low running costs that would shame a similarly sized SUV – well, that’s the theory anyway.

Three petrol engines will be offered in the UK: a 122hp 1.6-litre turbo (CLA 180), a 2.0-litre turbo with either 211hp (CLA 250 4Matic) or a faintly ridiculous 360hp 2.0 (CLA 45 AMG). On the diesel side there’s just the 2.1-litre with either 136hp (CLA 200 CDI) or 177hp (CLA 220CDI).

Best for business is the CLA 200 CDI that averages a respectable 72.4mpg while emitting 106g/km of CO2.

Available in four well-equipped trims – Sport, AMG Sport, OrangeArt and ‘Engineered by AMG’ – the CLA comes standard with big car technology like autonomous braking that can reduce the chances of an accident by 30% and Attention Assist that detects tired drivers.

Inside, it’s hard not to be won over by the CLA’s overtly sporty interior. We like the sporty air vents and leather-wrapped dash and door tops, but it’s not perfect, with a few hard, cheap-feeling plastics letting the side down.

Behind the wheel it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position. Shame, then, that the CLA doesn’t offer a comfortable ride, especially with the ‘Lowered Comfort’ suspension setting – one of four suspensions that’s coming to the UK – which offers sporty looks but feels too stiffly sprung to cope with our road imperfections.

We drove the more powerful CLA 220 CDI that still manages 67.3mpg.  Powered by the same 2.1-litre unit as the CLA 200 CDI, it helps the small estate to the 62mph benchmark in a decent 8.3secs before topping out at an impressive 142mph, although it’s uncouth while it’s dishing out those figures. The standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic also occasional throws in a jerky downchange.

Most disappointing is the fact the CLA drive just can’t quite live up to the sporty looks. The car we drove rolled in bends more than we would have expected it to and didn’t feel as agile as it should. But at least the steering was pleasingly accurate.

Since Audi and BMW are both busy elsewhere there’s no direct rival to compare the CLA Shooting Brake with. That’s why we’ve pitched it against more conventional estates. It’s a sobering comparison. They’re all far more practical, cost £6500 less and are up to 10p per mile cheaper to run, making it difficult to argue a business case for the CLA.

That said, factor in its appearance, badge cache and the small Shooting Brake’s exclusivity, and some may see it as a bit of a bargain.

Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake 220 CDI AMG Sport

Model price range                                                                                  £25,755-£43,120
Residual value                                                                                                         38.1%
Depreciat­ion                                                                                                          £20,270
Fuel                                                                                                                          £4609
Service, maintenance and repair                                                                              £2623
Vehicle Excise Duty                                                                                                      £40
National Insurance                                                                                                    £2442
Cost per mile                                                                                                             61.4p
Fuel consumption                                                                                                  67.3mpg
CO2 (BIK band)                                                                                           108g/km (17%)
BIK 20/40% per month                                                                                          £93/£186
Warranty                                                                                                     3yrs/unltd miles
Boot space (min/max)                                                                                   495/1354 litres
Engine size/power                                                                                            2143cc/177h