2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz Senior Editor
December 28, 2020

Buying tip

The CLA is at its best with a few options, including its wide-screen displays and Mercedes’ quality accident-avoidance tech.

features & specs

CLA 250 4MATIC Coupe
22 city / 29 hwy
20 city / 29 hwy
24 city / 33 hwy

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a stylish little sedan with plenty of personality and a hefty price tag.

What kind of vehicle is the 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class? What does it compare to?

The 2021 CLA is a stylish subcompact sedan with a dose of Mercedes-Benz luxury. Compare it to the Audi A3, BMW 2-Series, and Acura ILX, plus the related Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

Is the 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class a good car/SUV?

Review continues below

The CLA is a fashion-forward version of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class that costs about $4,000 more for the coupe-like style. It’s the best-looking small Benz, though it’s not necessarily the most logical buy. We rate it at 6.6 out of 10 on the TCC scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What's new for the 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class?

After a big redesign last year, the CLA gains blind-spot monitors and ambient interior lighting. 

Shaped more like a two-door than a four-door, the CLA is a good-looking little sedan with lines that defy its front-wheel-drive underpinnings. Sure, all-wheel drive is on offer, too, but this price-conscious sedan may make more sense with power going forward.

Underneath, it’s based on the same bones that make the A-Class a delight, and it’s a close cousin to the GLA and GLB crossovers. Mercedes offers plenty of ways to help you part with around $40,000.

The CLA comes in three basic flavors: CLA250 with 221 horsepower from a turbo-4, the CLA35 AMG with 302 hp and sportier suspension settings, and the CLA45 AMG performance machine with 382 hp and adaptive dampers. Automatic transmissions are standard on all three, though the 45 uses a trick 8-speed dual clutch. 

The CLA isn’t a practical family choice thanks to its low roof line and relatively small back seat, plus cargo space is limited. 

Standard safety fare includes automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitors, and shoppers could opt for adaptive cruise control, head-up display, and a surround-view camera system. 

How much does the 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class cost?

The CLA’s $38,000 or so base price balloons quickly with recommended options such as active safety tech and a divine wide-screen display that brings the price to $42,000. A few other niceties can push that to $45,000, at which point the CLA35 may not be a big stretch. 

Where is the 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class made?

In Hungary.


2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class


The 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is dramatic inside and out.

Is the 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class a good-looking car?

The 2021 CLA isn’t cheap, but it manages to look even more expensive than it is. The low roof and stubby overhangs combine to give it class-up styling, and for once the interior matches its exterior. We rate it at 8 for styling.

The CLA’s roof is a constant arc that’s interesting from every angle (admittedly, it’s all curves). Pert lighting and sculpted sides don’t detract, either. AMG versions have zippier-looking bits, including domed hoods and unique grille treatments. 

Unlike the old CLA, the interior matches the exterior—especially with the optional twin widescreens housed under a single pane of glass. Shop carefully since Mercedes offers a slew of interior hues and trim finishers that can be showcased with 64-color ambient lighting standard this year.

Review continues below

2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class


The 2021 CLA is fun in any form, especially the track-ready AMGs.

Is the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 4WD?

Mercedes charges $2,000 for all-wheel drive on the base CLA250. AMG versions come standard with all-wheel drive. 

How fast is the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class?

The CLA is light on its feet in any form. We rate it at 7 out of 10, with points above average for acceleration and handling. 

Base CLA250s use a 2.0-liter turbo-4 rated at 221 hp that’s just fine for most needs. The 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission handles that power well, and even with all-wheel drive Mercedes quotes a 6.3-second 0-60 mph sprint.

The CLA35 AMG uses a version of the turbo-4 enhanced by the brand’s in-house tuning firm to the tune—see what we did there—of 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. A rorty exhaust transforms the driving experience almost as much as the 4.8-second 0-60 bolt. All-wheel drive is standard. 

We haven’t driven the CLA45 AMG, which uses an almost ludicrously power-dense version of the 2.0-liter turbo-4 rated at 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. That’s darn near double the power of the base engine, and it slices the 60 mph sprint to just 4.0 seconds. 

The CLA handles well, with a comfortable, taut ride. Optional 19-inch wheels can be stiff, though, so try before you buy. A better buy is the adaptive dampers available on AMG versions for just under $1,000.

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2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class

Comfort & Quality

The sloping roof that gives the CLA such striking looks may also strike the top of your head.

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is billed by its maker as a coupe, and rear-seat riders may agree. Although better than before, the CLA is still best up front. We rate it at an even 5 out of 10. 

The power front seats are more bolstered than some buyers may expect, but they have good adjustment and can be heated, cooled, and even wrapped in leather—all for an extra cost. Rear-seat riders have a tolerable 33.9 inches of leg room but not much head space, and the rear door openings are tight enough that taller riders will need to duck to slide aboard.

Trunk space is a measly 11.6 cubic feet, which is on par with some actual coupes. 

The interior has a classy feel overall, though it’s no match for the decadent cabins Benz puts in its pricier models, of course.

Review continues below

2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class


The 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a pretty sedan that hasn’t been subjected to crash tests.

How safe is the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class?

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class will do its best to avoid a crash, but we don’t know just how well it will hold up. The NHTSA and the IIHS have not rated it yet. We’ll update this space if they do.

Standard equipment includes automatic emergency braking, LED headlights, and blind-spot monitors. Adaptive cruise control and an automatic lane-change system are bundled with a few other items in a worthwhile $1,700 package that requires a handful of additional extras first. Still, we recommend it.

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2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class


Though hardly a bargain the 2021 CLA is a well-equipped four-door.

The 2021 Mercedes CLA-Class rates 8 out of 10 on our scale thanks to good standard fare, generous options, and a trick infotainment system with a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. A 4-year/50,000-mile warranty is standard. 

Which Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class should I buy?

First, whittle down your budget. Want to be somewhere in the $45,000 or less range? The CLA250 can be well-equipped with optional active safety gear and twin 10.3-inch touchscreen displays for less than that, which leaves room for a few niceties such as Burmeister audio or leather upholstery. 

Before you start loading up a CLA250 with too many options and a $2,000 all-wheel-drive system, the CLA35 beckons. Even with standard all-wheel drive, active safety tech, keyless ignition, and a couple other items, it costs $51,700. We’d opt for the $990 adaptive dampers and a few other goodies: at $54,000 or so, the CLA35 AMG is a thrilling choice. 

How much is a fully loaded 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class?

The CLA45 AMG starts at around $55,000, but Mercedes will happily keep adding options until it tops $80,000.

Review continues below


2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class

Fuel Economy

The 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA is reasonably thrifty, even in AMG form.

Is the 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class good on gas?

Given its power output, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA is a fairly frugal sedan. Premium fuel is required, but the CLA250’s EPA-rated 25 mpg city, 35 highway, 29 combined rates at 5 out of 10 on our scale.

All-wheel-drive versions dent those figures to 24/33/27 mpg.

Even AMGs aren’t bad when you consider what’s underhood. The EPA pegs the CLA35 AMG at at 22/29/25 mpg and 20/29/23 mpg from the CLA45 AMG.

Review continues below

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The Car Connection Consumer Review

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MSRP based on CLA 250 Coupe
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Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 5
Safety N/A
Features 8
Fuel Economy 5
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