The 2014 Mercedes CLA may not have the perfumed cockpit and quilted-leather dash of the 2014 S-Class, but its features leave little on the table. It has that in common, though, with cars with even lower base prices.
With its standard turbocharged engine and dual-clutch transmission, the CLA can be a rival both for vehicles in the ultra-exotic class--and a direct competitor for a less expensive Ford Focus, which has arguably a more capable (if maddening) infotainment setup.
If size is a luxury attribute, it's a big trade-off from a fully loaded $40,000 Ford Fusion and its much larger interior, or from a full-sized $45,000 Chevrolet Impala. If performance is the goal, the CLA outhandles both of those very good cars by a substantial margin--and neither of those can be optioned up into AMG territory.
MORE: Read our 2014 Mercedes CLA review
Down to the trim lines, the CLA walks a finer line, balancing its status off its equipment. Leather upholstery is an option on the CLA, just as it is on the $60,000 GL-Class ute--but it's standard on the Buick Verano Turbo, which may outpoint it on outright comfort and quietness.
In an automotive atmosphere in which heated rear seats are an option on a $20,000 compact, in which $300,000 vehicles have less sophisticated in-car technology than those, the distinctions have less meaning than they once did.
The idea of luxury always funnels down to one thing that can't be engineered, spent for, acquired or designed: perception. You can spend $60,000 on a duallie pickup truck--but it isn't luxury, not in the conventional sense.
To cut through all this clutter, we've settled on a definition of luxury for all the vehicles we review here at The Car Connection. We apply the luxury label to vehicles that carry a base price above $50,000, or to some cars with much more standard equipment in base form than similarly sized vehicles. But in the balance, status counts: we also dub a vehicle as luxury if its badge alone earns it a place in the discussion, whether or not it's a substitute for more interior room, more horsepower, higher fuel economy, or more in-car technology.
The CLA hits the luxury targets, obviously aware that those bull's-eyes are constantly moving.