The Car Connection Mercedes-Benz CLA Class Overview
The Mercedes-Benz CLA compact sedan is the German automaker's first front-wheel-drive offering in the U.S. and is derived from the A-Class hatchback 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 Acura ILX and Audi A3. 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.
In the CLA, Mercedes-Benz has its 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.
For 2018, not much has changed on the CLA-Class beyond a few new package options to help bring buyers into the Mercedes-Benz fold.
MORE: Read our 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class review
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class gets some modest cosmetic upgrades inside and out, including new bumpers and a revised front-end look, Other 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.
For 2016, there were a handful of feature and option changes to the standard CLA 250, but the performance CLA45 AMG gets a power boost. It now produces 375 horsepower (up 20 hp) and 350 pound-feet of torque (up 18 lb-ft). The added power rockets the littlest AMG sedan 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, backseat room is tight, with minimal head room 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 2.0-liter turbo-4. It's good for 208 hp and 258 lb-ft 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 CLA 250 can be optioned with 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 all-wheel-drive and CLA AMG versions drop to 27 mpg combined.
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 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 boasts a new automatic braking function that uses radar and 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. Mercedes-Benz made a rearview camera system standard for 2017. Also standard are fatigue alerts 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 vinyl upholstery. It also sports the latest smartphone connectivity functions via Mercedes-Benz's latest infotainment system, all displayed on a 5.8-inch screen, with basic navigation functions available. An intermediate Becker navigation system is offered, while the most elaborate, and optional, infotainment system offers a 7.0-inch screen and Mercedes-dubbed COMAND system, which controls the multimedia package's navigation system, DVD changer, 10GB music drive, or SD card (as well as phone services) with voice commands.
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 375 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.