2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
June 23, 2020

Buying tip

All-wheel drive remains an intensely personal choice on the options list—it’s between you and your climate—but we’d skip the CLA entirely before we skipped its wide-screen displays or its AMG-style add-ons.

features & specs

CLA 250 4MATIC Coupe
23 city / 29 hwy
20 city / 29 hwy
23 city / 33 hwy

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class packs sexy tech in a sexy bod, while it throws bargain pricing under the bus.

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class has some work to do to stand out in the German automaker’s showrooms. Its predecessor got by on its looks and its low price: Now, the 2020 CLA-Class has not only a higher base price, the compact sedan also has a trio of siblings that compete for attention in the Benz showroom, from the A-Class sedan, to the GLA hatchback, to the sweet-spot GLB crossover SUV.

It’s not the most rational choice, but the coupe-like sedan is the prettiest, by a pretty wide margin. It’s a 6.6 on the TCC Rating scale to 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The redesigned CLA-Class does well to ape the drama of its predecessor. The roofline drapes just right, the grille tips up just so, the tail draws it all to a neat conclusion at just the right time. The elegance comes at an interior-space price—but at least Mercedes has upped the CLA’s cabin game, with wide-screen displays, 64-color ambient lighting, higher-grade materials, and a more playful sense of style.

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Performance fires up in the form of a 221-horsepower turbo-4 in the CLA250, and rises to 302 hp in the CLA35 AMG or 382 hp in the CLA45 AMG. In the CLA250 and CLA35, a 7-speed twin-clutch transmission snicks off cleaner shifts, and available all-wheel drive can now route power dynamically to the back wheels when the fronts lose their contact patch. (The CLA45 AMG uses an 8-speed dual clutch.) The milestone achievement, though, is the CLA’s new adaptive dampers, which tames the rowdy rough edges from its ride while leaving its handling intact, if not markedly improved. In CLA250 form, it’s a pleasantly darty commuter car with aspirations as high as its sticker price; as a CLA35 AMG, it’s an apex-clipper that makes long detours worth the time clogged in traffic. We'll tell you what the CLA45 is like after we've driven it, hopefully with our licenses returning intact.

The CLA hasn’t gained much interior space, though the longer wheelbase means four adults can now share a ride without rank hostility. Trunk space has shrunk, somehow, but the CLA’s front seats sit swell—and in AMG trim, cinch in at the waist like a first-stage Heimlich maneuver. 

Crash-test data isn’t available yet, but the 2020 CLA has standard automatic emergency braking and options for blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, a surround-view camera system, and a head-up display. A base $37,645 CLA quickly drifts to $45,685 when the adaptive dampers, wide-screen displays, leather seats, Burmester speakers, and navigation option boxes get ticked; from there, the $47,895 302-hp CLA35 AMG’s an almost rational choice.


2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class


The 2020 CLA sports a dramatic roofline and shrunken-CLS lines, and finally, a worthy cockpit.

Like the outgoing model, the 2020 CLA-Class has a gentle arc of a roofline, a stubby tail, a low ride height, and an unmistakably large three-pointed star on the nose. It’s a Mercedes, all right, and it’s finally shucked the small-car cues that have cramped its style in the past, mostly inside its four doors. It's an 8 for style.

The CLA’s roof curves gently upward, never resulting in a flat plane. The rear window line flows into the trunk lid, which perks upward at its end to create a small, built-in spoiler. Up front, the CLA wears a large three-pointed star badge flanked by two chrome lines that run toward its standard LED headlights. Adaptive LED headlights that bend with steering wheel inputs are optional–and the logo itself lights at night, for a few hundred bucks above list.

The CLA35 AMG adopts some of the AMG Line and Night-line trim bits and fairs them into the sleek body for a squatter, more menacing look. One look and it's clear the CLA35 isn't a standard CLA-Class. From the domed hood and twin-bar grille to the 18-inch twin-spoke wheels (19-inchers are optional) to the rear lip spoiler and diffuser insert, it's clear this car's intentions are to move.

Inside, all CLAs sport a cabin that bristles with a higher grade of trim than in the previous car, which drew stern glances for its wide expanses of unsubtle plastic trim. The new car’s twin digital screens cast a high-tech sheen across a low-set dash studded by round, finned air vents and framed by wide bands of metallic or wooden trim, underlit by 64 shades of ambient LED lighting in most versions. Bolder graphically and in its dollops and filaments of chrome, the CLA’s cabin has finally conquered the cheep-and-cheerful aesthetic by wisely ditching the cheap modifier.

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2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class


Perky and grippy, the 2020 CLA is fleet of feet.

With turbo-4 power in three tunes, a snappy dual-clutch transmission and a deftly tuned suspension, the 2020 Mercedes CLA does balance better than its predecessor. 

All CLA sedans sport a 2.0-liter turbo-4, but in the CLA250 the engine’s rated at 221 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. Subdued behind a thicker firewall and more sound deadening than before, the rorty turbo-4 hooks up with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission to route power to either the front or to all four wheels. In this lower state of tune the CLA’s capable of handling it all through the front wheels, and capable of scrabbling to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds by the Benz stopwatch. Top speed checks in at 130 mph.

The CLA manages its power more precisely thanks to a redesigned suspension and more responsive electric power steering. Through the usual Eco, Normal, and Sport drive modes, the powertrain doesn’t stumble through low-speed shifts as often as it did in the first-gen CLA, nor does it get stymied by sluggish shift action. More than anything—and despite standard 18-inch wheels and optional 19s—it’s newly available adaptive dampers that shift the CLA’s ride into a higher plane. The old car’s thumping-stiff setup improves with the stock steel suspension, but it’s transformed when the adaptive shocks slot into place. Taut, yes, it’s still that, but the CLA has lost its unrefined and harsh ride motions over rough pavement. It’s especially eager and limber when it’s set into Sport mode—and no longer punishing. It’s the single most compelling reason to upgrade from the preceding model.

Mercedes-AMG CLA35

If the CLA250 is better, the CLA35 AMG must logically be better yet. It fact-checks: with the same underpinnings and with a turbo-4 spooled up to 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, the CLA35 crackles with unbridled exhaust sounds that underscore its more electric driving experience. 

Power does marvelous things to the CLA’s demeanor. It doesn’t just cut acceleration times drastically—to 4.6 seconds in the 0-60 mph dash. It fills the car closer to the brim, where it can show off how much more grip it has, how much more fluidly it can drive. Along with the cranked-up output, the CLA35 also gains three-mode stability control, standard all-wheel drive that can send half its power to the rear wheels when traction at the front fades, bigger brakes, the same available adaptive dampers, and more drive modes—now with Sport+ and an Individual mode, in which drivers can toggle their own combination of driving characteristics to go with the chainsaw buzz of the turbo-4. It’s a relative flyweight at less than 3,500 pounds, and the CLA35 AMG responds best with Sport-mode shocks and shifting, and Comfort-mode damping. There, it can clip neat apexes, clamp to the pavement with authority, and quaff up miles with utter stability.

Mercedes-AMG CLA45

If the CLA35 is better, the CLA45 must be best. The 2.0-liter turbo-4 gets charged with making 382 hp and 354 lb-ft, an astonishing figure for the busy engine. Mercedes says the CLA45 charges up to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds, all the way up to an available 168 mph top speed.

We haven't yet driven this model, but will report back when we do.

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2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class

Comfort & Quality

Better creature comfort makes for a better CLA-Class.

Mercedes swears up and down that the CLA-Class is a coupe, despite its four doors. It’s one way of telegraphing that the CLA doesn’t have lavish interior room, though lavish trimmings are on the menu. 

It’s better than it was at hosting up to four adults, but still not in the pantheon of group-friendly cars. It’s a 5 for comfort and utility, with an extra point for its front seats that it gives back for its puny trunk.

In its latest iteration the CLA sedan sits 184.6 inches, up 1.9 from the previous model. It’s 2.0 inches wider, at 72.0 inches, and rides on a 107.4-inch wheelbase, up 1.1 inches.

Spacious? Not really, but the 2020 CLA adds more head room up front plus more elbow and shoulder room all around. The front sport seats cinch in at the chest to coddle the driver and front passenger, whose power-adjustable seats can be upgraded with heating, cooling, and leather upholstery. Mercedes has rearranged some small controls and interior storage to lend the CLA a more user-friendly feel, but it’s still a backpack-in-the-trunk sized car.

The rear seats get more substantial gains. The CLA now has 33.9 inches of rear-seat leg room, which means adults can sit behind other adults for journeys that won’t end in fistfights or tears. Head room drops noticeably in the second row, though, and the CLA remains a coupe-like car with sort of difficult access to its rear seat. Think two commuters and their work gear, and you’ve clocked its existential mission correctly. 

At least the rear seat folds down, to improve the CLA’s measly cargo hold. At 11.6 cubic feet, the CLA’s trunk has lost about a third of a cubic foot of storage. That’s a surprise given interior space was hardly a selling point for the outgoing car.

Spending money where it counts more, Mercedes has classed up the CLA’s cabin with bigger, brighter touchscreens and with finer materials. The first-generation CLA caught some catcalls for plastic trim and a generally cheap-and-cheerful approach, but rubberized trim and real metal and wood have livened up the cabin considerably.

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2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class


There’s no crash-test data to report, but the 2020 CLA puts safety technology to the fore.

The 2020 CLA-Class sedan doesn’t lack for safety features, but since neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has crash-tested it yet, we can’t give it a score. 

Automatic emergency braking is standard, as are LED headlights and a system that senses an impending rear collision and grabs the brakes to reduce the risk of a rolling vehicle. 

Options include adaptive cruise control that can automatically adjust the vehicle’s speed to changing posted limits; an automatic lane-change system; blind-spot monitors; a surround-view camera system; and a head-up display.

We’ll update this section when more data has been published.


2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class


It’s no bargain, but the 2020 CLA-Class now has the standard equipment it deserves.

We give the CLA-Class an 8 for features, thanks to generous standard features, a wealth of options, and its new infotainment system.

The 2020 Mercedes CLA250 costs $37,645, or $39,645 with all-wheel drive. In either car, standard equipment includes power features, snug-fitting power front seats, synthetic leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, ambient lighting, a panoramic roof, power features, keyless ignition, Bluetooth, start/stop, drive modes, five USB-C ports, LED headlights, 18-inch wheels, and fold-down rear seats.

The base CLA250 includes a pair of 7.0-inch screens in front of the driver. One serves as a configurable instrument cluster while the other is a touchscreen for the automaker’s MBUX infotainment software that responds to “Hey Mercedes” like a smart speaker or a smartphone. With an optional data package, MBUX connects to the Internet to help users find nearby points of interest. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility come standard.

Dual 10.3-inch screens under a single glass pane are optional for an even snazzier look inside. Regardless of screen size, the displays hover tablet-like above a trio of big, round climate vents and secondary climate control toggles. A touchpad in the center console serves as the primary controller for the MBUX system, although it’s also gesture control-capable.

Other options include AMG Line and Night styling packages, a light-up star logo, winter tires and 17-inch wheels, 19-inch wheels, wood trim, leather upholstery, navigation, a head-up display, Burmester sound, wireless smartphone charging, adaptive cruise control, a surround-view camera system, blind-spot monitors, and adaptive dampers. With most of the safety options and good sound and touchscreen displays, we come to a recommended price of $45,685—a long way from the CLA’s early days of sub-$30,000 prices.

Ante up to the $47,895 CLA35 and it’s easy to soar to more than $65,000 with those options. Standard gear includes wide-screen infotainment, an AMG sport suspension, red stitching and interior trim, a flat-bottom steering wheel, shift paddles cast in steel, and AMG’s Track Pace interface, which logs in metrics from acceleration to top speed to G-forces and lap times, all through the CLA35 AMG’s infotainment system.

The $55,795 CLA45 has a breathtaking price for a small car but also breathtaking performance. It gets 19-inch wheels, twin 10.3-inch screens, all the performance hardware and sport buckets.

All CLA-Class cars are covered by a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty.

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2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class

Fuel Economy

Pretty on the road, the 2020 CLA gets better-looking at the gas pump.

Mercedes fits a small turbo-4 engine to the 2020 CLA-Class for good fuel economy. The EPA has rated just the CLA250 thus far, at 25 mpg city, 35 highway, 28 combined. With all-wheel drive, it slips to 23/33/27 mpg. 

The CLA35 and CLA45 are quick, but not overly thirsty. The EPA rates those AMG models at 23/29/25 mpg and 20/29/23 mpg for the CLA35 and CLA45, respectively.

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Styling 8
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