2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Senior Editor, Green Vehicles
June 12, 2017

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a sharp-looking sedan that washes its hands of back-seat space, and stuns us in CLA45 AMG trim.

As the smallest sedan in the three-pointed star's ever-growing family, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA continues to woo 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.

In its current form, we rate it at 6.6. It's a beautiful car with a compromised interior and a sharp handler with great fuel economy—but there is no crash-test data available to support its brand's reputation. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

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. For 2017, the CLA gets new bumpers, new front-end details, LED lighting, and a new spoiler-like lip at its tail that frames its roofline a little more concisely than before.

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Swoopy and dramatic, the CLA's interior prioritizes style over practicality. It is basically a scaled-down version of the interior seen in other Mercedes-Benz products, but its finishes are intended to feel more youthful. 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.

Mercedes CLA performance

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 Mercedes-AMG CLA45. 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, 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 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 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.

CLA-Class comfort, safety, and features

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.

No crash-test data exists, but the CLA has a great set of active-safety features for some peace of mind, including a standard rearview camera and available LED headlights and adaptive cruise control. Outward vision is pretty bad, thanks to its extravagant shape.

The Benz CLA skips some features we expect from Mercedes, and prices soar with just a few options. All versions come with that rearview camera, Bluetooth, and MB-Tex synthetic upholstery, as well as the usual power features. Major options include adaptive suspension, Keyless Go, a panoramic sunroof, LED headlights, Harman Kardon audio, and a Parktronic system with Active Parking Assist.

You'll have to pay a premium to get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in your CLA—so while you're at it, why not spend up to the stunning CLA45 AMG? It's nothing shy of the best-looking, most prestigious Subaru WRX ever—and that's meant as high praise.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class

Styling

The Mercedes-Benz CLA lineup continues to show how even compact sedans can be made swoopy and sexy—and a cosmetic revamp makes it even better for 2017.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA models have striking designs for small sedans, with a unique silhouette, intricate grille details, and frameless door glass—all details that set apart the first front-wheel-drive Mercedes sedan ever sold in the U.S.

We call it an 8, giving it points for its shapely sheet metal and a point for a comely cabin. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The CLA forgoes the long-nose proportions that define every other Benz sedan. It bears an obvious resemblance to the curvaceous CLS “four-door coupe” that kicked Mercedes design into a new and more sensuous arena a decade ago. Yet, the CLA is unique as it manages to fit some of the same intrigue into a shorter roofline.

The cost, however, is an unusable rear seat for adults. But functionally, the low profile and sleek, tapered rear quarters help the car cut through air more efficiently, assisted by underbody shields and large air intakes low in the front.

In silhouette, the CLA’s profile remains a somewhat shorter, scaled-down version of that of the handsome, swoopy CLS. 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. The curves stamped into the rear fenders reinforce the arc silhouette, and details—headlights, door handles, wheels, and ribbed LED taillights—that are slightly oversized counterintuitively make the whole car fit well with its larger stablemates.

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 standard CLA250 looks sporty, especially with some of the optional larger wheel choices, but the hot-rod CLA45 takes that further, toward a tough, street-fighter appearance. Front air intakes are larger yet, the ornate mesh grille is replaced by a pair of simple silver blades, and lower-rear ducts hint at the performance promised by a discreet pair of “Turbo” side badges. (The base car is a turbo too, for the record—but a lesser turbo.)

Mercedes-Benz CLA interior

The CLA’s interior is swoopy and dramatic, but inefficient with its space 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. 

Some say it looks like nothing more than an iPad Mini plonked on top as it rolled off the line, while others see it as a more modern take indicative of how we treat our consumer electronic devices in the mid-2010s.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class

Performance

The Mercedes CLA 250 is conservatively tuned, while the CLA45 AMG offers quite the go-fast counterpoint for thrill jockeys.

The CLA sedan remains closely related to the GLA crossover, which is essentially a hatchback version with somewhat higher ride height. It steers well and has good brakes in base trim—and the Mercedes-AMG CLA45 is a stunner—but it has a brittle ride and its powertrain is just average.

For those reasons, we give it a 7 overall for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 accounts for 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. A 208-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 powers the CLA250; it’s mounted transversely, producing 254 pound-feet of torque. A set of driver-selectable modes dictates responses from economy to sport.

Both engines drive through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, with a beefier setup for the AMG model to handle its extra torque. All-wheel drive is a $2,000 option on the regular CLA250, but comes as standard on the AMG. The all-wheel-drive system adjusts torque from almost 100 percent front-biased under normal circumstances to as much as 50 percent to the rear, giving a smoother launch and shifts than the front-drive version.

The base CLA250 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.

You'll use a retro column shifter on the base car to select drive modes, though the AMG puts the shift lever back on the console. Both cars offer steering-wheel paddles to engage manual shifting for 30 seconds.

In the 2017 CLA45, 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 in general.

CLA-Class ride and handling

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 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.

All of this makes the standard CLA corner flat, almost refusing to lean, and a brash contrast to the traditional Mercedes reputation for compliant suspension and comfortable ride. Steering effort and ratio both rise as you move off-center, giving the CLA quick responses, though typical electric-steering numbness remains. We'd give the dynamic nod to the all-wheel-drive version, which is better equipped to put down the engine's power.

The CLA45 AMG has entirely retuned steering, suspension, and brakes, and it corners even flatter. Its electric power rack has a fixed ratio, though effort still varies with vehicle speed. It rides nearly an inch lower, on a rear track nearly a half-inch wider, than the CLA 250. The suspension has thee links for each front wheel as well as stiffer bearings, since its torque and traction loads are much higher. At the rear, there are four links, coil springs, and a body-mounted subframe. Bigger 18-inch wheels (19-inch available) are standard, while thicker anti-roll bars are used front and back, and the stability system feeds commands to each brake individually to provide torque vectoring on corners.

The outcome of all this is explosive acceleration, amazing grip, and utterly neutral handling. You'll entirely forget there's front-wheel-drive hardware under there. Understeer is dialed out through the all-wheel drive, while any torque steer that might be present is kept from your hands by the electric steering. You can make the CLA45 erupt from a standing start with AMG's Racestart launch control, which works the dual-clutch transmission to its limits. But unlike the CLA250, the CLA45 still lets you feel the road surface. It's a well-sorted little rocket.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class

Comfort & Quality

Back-seat space is marginal at best; the Mercedes-Benz CLA is best used by adults as a two-seater.

At just 182 inches long, the Mercedes CLA fits broadly into the compact-sedan segment, encompassing everything from the Honda Civic and Ford Focus to its direct competitor the Audi A3. Yet it offers less interior room than in many similarly sized four-doors, owning to its striking and coupe-like lines.

We give it a 4 for comfort, utility, and quality. It gains a point for good front seats, but gives two back for poor rear seat space and not coming anywhere close to its rated seating capacity. It's a five-passenger car only by spec-sheet standards. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The CLA makes quite a visual statement, and that's what cuts into back-seat space. The car sits low and the rear door openings are small, so getting in and out requires more effort than you’d expect, and once you’re in, head room and foot room is tight. If you customarily carry four adults, especially if your rear passengers may be older, this is not the car for you. Have a look at the larger C-Class instead.

Front passengers fare far better in the CLA 250 than those in the back. The well-bolstered seats are comfortable and supportive even on long trips, just like those of its big brothers. Firm bolsters hold you in place on the sides of both the bottom cushion and the back-rest. The driver gets power adjustments for rake and position; the front passenger doesn’t, making it a reach to find the wheel to adjust seatback angle. Two storage bins sit between the seat, a square one sized for large drinks and a smaller tray with a power outlet.

The CLA45 AMG offers optional Recaro performance seats for the most enthusiastic owners, heavily bolstered, to complement the red seat belts. And its standard aluminum trim upgrades the cabin even more.

Also on the plus side, 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.

CLA quality

The CLA’s entry-level luxury status is betrayed in only a few places. The silver trim rings on the air vents aren’t the usual chrome but silver plastic, with notches to disguise their humble origins. The fabric shade for the panoramic sunroof feels and looks thin and flimsy. But the center console is covered in soft-touch plastic, the dash brim is a satiny metallic plastic, and the car is mostly quiet on the road, with muted road noise and minimal wind noise. Mercedes didn’t need to resort to active noise control to muffle the powertrain, though it makes itself heard under hard acceleration notably more than in a bigger Benz.

Longtime Mercedes drivers will have to get used to the transmission selector, which is mounted behind the steering wheel of the CLA250 on the right, just where the wiper stalk used to sit. Retraining may be required for owners who find themselves putting the car in neutral while instinctively trying to use the flick-wipe. The AMG performance version, however, gets a more conventional shift lever on the console, replacing the cupholders.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class

Safety

No crash-test data exists, but the CLA has a great set of active-safety features for some peace of mind.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA has a great list of standard and available active-safety features; and it's become even better this year. Yet neither of the major U.S. safety organizations has crash-tested the CLA.

For that reason, we're holding off on awarding it a safety rating. If it undergoes crash tests, we'll update this page. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Over the years, the CLA has added more safety gear as standard equipment. Aside from the usual airbags and stability control, the CLA now has a standard rearview camera, and new LED high performance headlights (including multi-intensity taillights) are optional.

Attention Assist, which displays a coffee-cup icon when it senses the driver is getting sleepy or is losing focus, is a standard feature on the CLA, as is the radar-based Collision Prevention Assist system, which warns the driver with visual and audible alerts of upcoming obstacles (above 4 mph).

When optioned with the Driver Assistance Package and its Distronic Plus system, the CLA earns an IIHS "superior" rating for front collision prevention.

Other optional safety systems include all-wheel drive; adaptive cruise control; lane-keeping assist; blind-spot monitors; and parking sensors with a parking-assist feature.

Outward vision is lousy, though—because of the drooping roof, thick pillars, and high rear shelf.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class

Features

The Benz CLA skips some features we expect from Mercedes, and prices soar with just a few options.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA starts somewhere around $33,000; yet the typical CLA buyer is going to want a few of the stand-alone options—likely to raise the price well over the $40,000 mark.

Our score of 7 credits it for good optional features, custom trim choices, and CarPlay/Android Auto availability, but knocks it a point for Benz's own, frustrating COMAND infotainment system. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

We find COMAND to be frustrating to use while on the road, although perhaps less so when used to set up the car before driving. It requires a lot of scrolling and toggling to get to basic menus. Redundant buttons on the center console help when switching modes, but like many of these systems, there's a steep learning curve and the operation is far from intuitive until you get the hang of it.

Standard and optional features

Every CLA250 sedan comes equipped with standard Bluetooth, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, MB-Tex vinyl upholstery, and cruise control.

Option highlights on the CLA include an adaptive suspension, Keyless Go, a panoramic sunroof, LED headlamps, Harman Kardon audio, and a Parktronic system with Active Parking Assist.

Several packages are also of note. The Sport Package adds AMG body styling, AMG wheels, and a diamond-patterned grille to the CLA. And on the CLA45 AMG side, you can get either a Dynamic Plus Package (limited-slip front differential, adaptive damping, and race mode), or an Aerodynamics Package (gloss-black bumper, and a special front-end appearance).

There are several levels of infotainment and the most expensive of them includes real-time traffic data, voice commands, and a rearview camera. Yet if you want the top level of smartphone integration, with voice control for iPhones and Android models, as well as the respective CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, you’ll need to step up to an extra-cost package.

Mercedes-AMG CLA45 features and options

The performance-oriented CLA45 comes equipped like a base CLA250, but it adds the unique and far more powerful engine, standard all-wheel drive, AMG suspension and chassis hardware, and a number of additional options not offered on the 250. 

CLA45 options include Recaro sports seats—highly recommended, as they're superbly comfortable and even more supportive—and a Night package that blacks out big swaths of exterior trim. Or there's an exterior carbon-fiber package that bundles a front air dam, mirror caps, side-sill inserts, and a rear diffuser, all made from the flashy material. You can get red-painted brake calipers, 19-inch performance tires with black-painted wheels, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.

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2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class

Fuel Economy

The Mercedes CLA's 30-mpg combined figure is high—and realistic.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA is the most fuel-efficient model in the automaker's lineup, not counting some of the diesel and plug-in-hybrid variants of other models; and the company is relying on the CLA to help it meet corporate average fuel economy standards.

We give it a green score of 7, based on the average of its EPA combined ratings across the lineup. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Mercedes-Benz CLA250 earns ratings of 26 mpg city, 38 highway, 30 combined, courtesy of the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. On long interstate runs, we’ve managed 37 mpg without notably changing our driving style. Although if you opt for the 4Matic all-wheel-drive version of the CLA250, you'll come in lower, at 24/33/27 mpg.

Cranking out 375 horsepower, and incorporating a performance suspension, all-wheel drive, and all sorts of other upgrades, the Mercedes-AMG CLA45 definitely comes with a gas-mileage penalty, but at 23/31/26 mpg, it's not nearly as bad as you might think.

Tricks include a body sculpted to achieve one of the best coefficients of drag of any vehicle on sale, underbody shields, and carefully honed intakes and vents that manage the airflow through and around the car.

Stop-start is also standard on all CLAs, but it sends a slight shiver through the drivetrain when it shuts off. It will also restart at longer stoplights, making it more noticeable than you might expect.

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6.6
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 8
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 4
Safety N/A
Features 7
Fuel Economy 7
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