- CLS profile in miniature
- Eager turbo powertrains
- Good and better front seats
- Rear seat only marginal
- Freestanding LCD screen disliked by some
- Good handling, stiff ride
In the 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, back-seat space continues to be the tradeoff for what’s otherwise a sharp-looking, style-centric small sedan—with a particularly strong, emotive CLA45 counterpart.
As the smallest sedan in the 2017 Mercedes-Benz lineup, the CLA continues to charm a different kind of buyer than those who have traditionally sought and owned the German automaker’s big, rather conservative sedans and purposeful utility vehicles.
It’s been a strong-seller in the “entry luxury” class—pretty much anything with luxe nameplate and an under-$40,000 base price nowadays—and Mercedes-Benz clearly wants to keep it that way. And so, with the CLA, we see plenty of signs that Mercedes is giving these models annual improvements and updates that elbow this one back to the front in a competitive class.
Now already entering its fourth model year, the Mercedes-Benz CLA lineup gets its most dramatic changes outside for 2017.
In silhouette, the CLA’s profile remains a somewhat shorter, scaled-down version of that of the handsome, swoopy CLS “four-door coupe.” It adds up to an audacious entry, one that makes the Audi A3, one of its closest rivals, look extremely conservative. On the outside, its arc-shaped profile gives it steeply raked front and rear screens, while a low nose and tail give it that tapered, teardrop profile. Frameless glass are among the interesting design details. New for 2017, the CLA gets new bumpers, new front-end details, LED lighting, and a new spoiler-like lip at its tail that altogether frame that roofline a little more concisely than before while adding to the more flamboyant front-end appearance (with even more prominent air intakes) of Mercedes-Benz models from the past few years.
The CLA’s interior is swoopy and dramatic, if a bit space-inefficient compared to some of the other entries in this class. It’s essentially a scaled-down version of a big Mercedes cockpit, although trims are different here to feel a little more youthful—and they’ve been redone again this year. Opinions are split on the LCD screen that stands proud of the dash, which has now been slimmed-down for 2017. It can feel a bit tacked-on here especially, although the crisp, modern, consumer electronics-inspired look that lowers the dash height—which stands as an odd contrast versus this model’s rather high side beltline.
Improvements for 2017 include new seat covers, new chrome-plated controls, and new trim pieces; and the instrument cluster gauges have a new look, with red needles. Some of the new trims include a “sail-look finish,” as well as matte black ash wood and black Dinamica microfiber.
The CLA sedan remains closely related to the GLA crossover, which is essentially a hatchback version with higher ride height.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 remains the bulk of the CLA lineup, providing strong yet economical performance, while serious driving enthusiasts will head straight to the low-volume (and much pricier) hot-rod version—the CLA45 AMG. A 208-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 powers the CLA250; it’s mounted transversely, producing 254 pound-feet of torque, and it powers the front wheels through a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The base CLA 250 can accelerate to 60 mph in well under seven seconds, and while the transmission can feel off guard by sudden power demands, running it in sport or manual mode works better for hotfoot drivers. Blame it on fuel-economy rules, which keep the car in high gears at low engine speeds as much as possible. But the 30-mpg combined rating (from previous model years, not yet confirmed for 2017) is easily reachable.
All-wheel drive is available as an option; and in most circumstances, this remains a system that’s biased toward the front wheels. AWD will shave off a few miles per gallon.
In the 2017 CLA45 AMG, the powertrain layout is familiar, although every component’s been uprated, strengthened, or improved. Last year brought a power boost, up to 375 hp and 350 lb-ft from the same 2.0 liters, with a 0-to-60-mph sprint in just 4.1 seconds, and those ratings continue into 2017. CLA45 AMG models come with standard all-wheel drive, plus a transmission that’s been programmed for snappier downshifts and firmer shifts.
Across the lineup, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class lineup continues Mercedes tradition in providing a firm, heavy, planted feel—although a tightly-tuned steering, with a nicely weighted feel and quick responses—even if its feedback is minimal. In recent years, the suspension was made more compliant—a smart move that made the CLA250 more agreeable for more buyers—while the previously standard Sport mode and upsized 18-inch wheels are an option. Base models come with 17-inch run-flat tires, which offer a ride that’s reasonably good although sometimes unsettled.
Ride and handling attributes for the CLA45 AMG are altogether different, and it’s as if you’re driving a completely different model in some respects. It corners flat and feels no rougher on most surfaces than the cheaper model; some might even describe its ride as more settled. An available AMG sport suspension flattens the roadholding even further.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is quite enjoyable to drive, and it makes quite the visual statement; yet it’s not the car to pick if you customarily carry four adults. Space in back is very tight, and the rear doors alone make it challenging to get in and out. Legroom is rather tight, but headroom is probably the key limiting factor for usability. It’s the price you pay for that sleek silhouette. Cargo space is better than you might expect from the outside, though, and there are various bins and trays that show how Mercedes-Benz has been listening to how busy young professionals use their vehicles.