New & Used Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class: In Depth
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The Mercedes-Benz CLA is the German automaker's first front-wheel-drive offering in the U.S. and is derived from the A-Class hatch offered in other markets. The CLA-Class borrows its coupe-like body style from the larger CLS sedan, the vehicle that popularized the "four-door coupe" niche.
Competing on size alone, the CLA-Class is on par with the Buick Verano, Audi A3, Acura Lexus and, perhaps, the Lexus CT 200h hatchback. But with the cachet of the Mercedes-Benz name and an options list that can drive the CLA's price well past its $30,000 entry price, it quickly outclasses all those.
That said, the CLA-Class remains Mercedes-Benz's least-expensive model in the U.S. Buyers can choose from the sporty CLA45 AMG, the base CLA 250 sedan and the GLA SUV which uses the same architecture and powertrains as the CLA. All wheel drive comes standard on the AMG but is optional on the CLA 250.
MORE: Read our 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 review for more information on prices, models, and specifications.
For 2016, there are a handful of feature and option changes to the standard CLA 250, but the performance-oriented CLA45 AMG gets a power boost. It now produces 375 hp (up 20) and 350 lb-ft of torque (up 18). The added power rockets the littlest AMG sedan from 0 to 60 mph in a startlingly low 4.1 seconds.
In looks, Mercedes-Benz has scaled down the stunning shape of the larger CLS sport sedan in hopes of luring a new generation of younger customers interested in a sporty, entry-level compact. The CLA may be similar in length to a Verano or even a Honda Civic, but visually it's a dead ringer for the CLS. Frameless windows and a distinctive profile that claims one of the most aerodynamically efficient bodies in the auto world set it apart from any other compact. The cockpit is patterned after those in Mercedes' sporty cars, with round vents punctuating the dash, and a low cowl interrupted only by an LCD screen plunked in its midst.
Compact dimensions mean the CLA is in a vast class of cars that ranges from the Ford Focus to the Honda Civic, or to more upscale machinery like the BMW 1-Series, Acura ILX, Audi A3, and Buick Verano. It's 182.3 inches long, with a wheelbase of 106.3 inches. As with most of those cars, back-seat room is tight, with minimal headroom for medium-sized adults and somewhat difficult entry and exit in through the rear doors. Trunk space is good, with a flat load floor, and the CLA has a few useful storage bins in the cabin for small items.
The CLA 250 is an efficient performer, utilizing a new turbocharged four-cylinder that displaces 2.0 liters. It's good for 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque in the CLA 250, allowing a 0-to-60-mph time of 6.7 seconds; top speed is capped at 149 mph. As is the case in most modern Mercedes, only one transmission is offered, and it's an automatic. Unlike most current Benz products, however, it's a dual-clutch unit, with seven speeds. Shifting is accomplished by a column-mounted stalk, leaving more room on the center console. The 250 can be optioned with 4Matic all-wheel drive, which in this case has a variable torque split with the ability to send half of the available twist to the rear wheels when necessary.
In the name of efficiency, the CLA employs electric power steering and an engine stop/start system. With help from a very low coefficient of drag, the front-wheel-drive CLA 250 returns a 30-mpg combined number in EPA testing; the 4Matic version drops to 27 mpg combined, while the CLA AMG only takes a 1-mpg hit for a 26-mpg combined number. A diesel engine is on tap for other countries but hasn't been announced for America and is unlikely given the car's sporty positioning here.
That sporty feel in the U.S. version is due in part to a standard sport-suspension setup, which is lower and less compliant than the comfort setup offered in other markets. Front struts and a four-link independent rear suspension (isolated by a subcradle) are paired with 17-inch run-flat tires in base versions. Most U.S. vehicles will come with 18-inch AMG-style alloy wheels and summer tires, as well as slotted front brake discs. Handling is responsive, and ride quality is very firm, far more so than with the Verano, A3, or ILX.
Among its standard safety features, the CLA carries a new Collision Prevention Assist function; using radar, the CLA can alert the driver of upcoming obstacles when it's traveling at more than 4 mph, and can calculate the amount of brake force needed to avoid an impact. Also standard are Attention Assist and its coffee-cup reminder to pull over and avoid drowsy driving, and a driver knee airbag. Safety options include adaptive cruise control; blind-spot monitors; lane-keeping assistance; and parking sensors with parking assist.
On the infotainment side, the CLA comes with standard Bluetooth, cruise control, a power driver seat, and MB-Tex upholstery. It also sports the latest smartphone connectivity functions via Mercedes-Benz's mbrace2, all displayed on a 5.8-inch screen, with basic navigation functions offered through that interface free of charge. An intermediate Becker navigation system will be offered, while the most elaborate, and optional, infotainment system offers a 7.0-inch screen and COMAND, which controls the Multimedia package's navigation system, DVD changer, 10GB music drive, or SD card (as well as phone services) with voice commands. The Multimedia package also includes a rearview camera and real-time traffic.
A Premium package bundles an iPod interface with satellite radio, surround sound, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and a garage door opener. A panoramic sunroof is a stand-alone option, as are leather seats, summer tires, parking assist, blind-spot monitors, and heated front seats.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG is a much different car--an exciting performer with 355 hp and standard all-wheel drive, which combine for a 0–60 mph time of 4.6 seconds. In its first year on sale, it was named Motor Authority's Best Car To Buy 2014. It is much more rare on roads than the CLA 250, as is the case with most AMG-fettled Mercedes models.
Mercedes has announced a CLA Shooting Brake—basically a wagonized version of the swoopy four-door—but has no plans to bring it to the U.S. market.