30 Days of the Mercedes CLA: How Does Its Quality Measure Up?

October 15, 2013

October is halfway through, and so is the month we're spending with the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250, just as it goes on sale in the U.S. The $36,320 CLA 250 in our driveway has racked up nearly 2000 miles so far, as we try to figure out what it does best--and today, whether its initial quality measures up.

Mercedes has a keen interest in making sure the CLA conveys the impression and the reality of quality. You don't create the car to throw away that legacy, and you don't win over a new generation of buyers by overselling and underdelivering.

Quality may take different outlines to first-time Benz buyers raised on imported hatchbacks, but the basics still are the same, no matter what the base price is. It's still the fit and finish off the line, the degree to which a car meets its promises to the buyer, and down the road, it's the way the car endures a daily beating, in appearance and performance.

Our 30-Day test doesn't allow for the beating-on part, but we can give you a solid sense of how our production-intent car came into our hands, fresh from a press introduction and hundreds of miles thrashed by journalists.

In terms of assembly quality, the CLA-Class sedans aren't built in a typical Mercedes factory. Like the M-Class and GL-Class (and the R-Class, RIP), they're built in factories outside of Germany--Kecskemet, Hungary, in this case.

Because of its juggling act of newness (new plant, new product, new country of origin), the original M-Class suffered from some first-time jitters, in terms of trim quality. The CLA seems to have skipped that stutter step. Assembly quality in our pre-production car seemed on track, with just an intermittent cabin creak on cold take-offs and a slight amount of flex in the center console.

The most visible flaw: the interior door panels aren't quite sized to seal off the body color entirely from the cabin. On our Cirrus White CLA 250, a long, exposed strip of white paint is visible at the front doors on both sides (seen in the gallery below).

MORE: Read our 2014 Mercedes CLA review

If you're looking for the perfumed cockpit and quilted-leather dash of the 2014 S-Class, you won't find it at this price point. The CLA 250 does concede some things to its $29,990 sticker ($30,825 including destination), but balances it off with thoughtful touches, keeping the cost-trimming mostly off center stage.

Inside the cabin, soft-touch painted plastic rules the center console. The trim rings on the vents are glossy plastic with notches to cut their brightness, but the standard dash trim is a satiny metallic plastic that looks quite good. Our car has $325 in black-stained ash that's quite appealing.

A few details are misses. For one, all CLAs have lock pins wrapped in an inexpensive plastic sleeve. They can be swapped out for AMG-style metallic ones, for a price. No matter what, they're uncomfortable for some drivers. Rest an arm on the door sill, and you'll know why Lexus' lock flipper is a better idea.

One or two CLA 250 controls have spotty location. The column-mounted gear shifter is located exactly where the Mercedes wiper controls used to live. You too might put the car into neutral when you just want to clear the rain. If it revs when you wanted it dry instead, you're doing it wrong. The wiper now operates with a tap to clear on the left stalk, and a turn of the stalk's end to activate.

On other CLAs we've driven, we've noticed the panoramic sunroof's thin fabric shade. It doesn't look like it could contain Richard Simmons' enthusiasm--but then again, what could? Our test car doesn't have a sunroof at all, which likely will be a rare occurrence in the U.S.

A few more notes on initial quality. Our car showed up with tires inflated to different pressures than those recommended on the CLA's door jamb. The sticker calls for 39 psi on cold tires at all corners; our CLA's tire-pressure monitors indicated 36 psi on the fronts, and 32/31 psi, left to right, across the rear. It's possible it softened up the ride, and dragged on fuel economy, but it's been adjusted and checked with a separate tire gauge. So far, it hasn't changed the tenor of road noise, though the open-aggregate asphalt on I-85 generates more tire sizzle.

Wind noise is pretty well-controlled, in our car, just a whisper around the left mirror. There's no active noise control nonsense muffling the powertrain, and mostly, it's not necessary. The CLA 250 does have a direct-injection noise that's almost diesel-like, mostly audible from outside the car.

Finally, some touches we like. The trunk lid has covered hinges and a natty appearance--if you've peeked around a MINI's tailgate, it's the opposite. The fabric trunk liner has a handle molded into it, for clean-hands closing. There's still an ashtray, for whatever reason--but in the space where a conventional transmission lever would live, the column-and-paddle shifted CLA has a deep third cupholder, with a removable rubber liner and the superhero ability to hold 64-ounce water bottles.

Next, we'll spend some time going in-depth with our 2014 CLA's powertrain and connectivity features--and take the CLA for another long-distance road trip. Stay with us as we bring you more details, driving impressions, and information on the new compact four-door.


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