Front Drive Not a Factor for Luxury Buyers Says Mercedes

Front Drive Not a Factor for Luxury Buyers Says Mercedes

Mercedes is going into uncharted territory with its cheapest model yet, the CLA-Class. Along with its low pricetag, the CLA is the first Mercedes in the US to be front-wheel drive.

For years Mercedes and its European luxury rivals have been selling the virtues of rear-wheel drive, and until now, rear-wheel drive and luxury went hand-in-hand.

However, since the CLA is based on the compact A-Class hatchback, the CLA uses a FWD set-up.

“Front wheel drive is the popular choice when it comes to compacts,” says Terry Wei from Mercedes communications.

Smaller cars in other segments use the front-wheel drive format due to its more compact packaging, and not having to run a driveshaft the entire length of the car to power the rear-wheels. This leaves more space for passengers and cargo. It also allows for a cheaper car, hence the CLA’s sub $30,000 price tag.

“Front wheel drive helps with size, fuel efficiency and costs,” explains Chris Goczan, National Product Manager for Mercedes-Benz Canada. All three of those elements are expected to be huge selling points for the mainstream CLA sedan, and Wei seems convinced that CLA buyers won’t mind a different set of wheels powering the car. “[We] don’t think that consumers will be concerned,” she told AutoGuide.

And Wei isn’t the only one. “We feel that the FWD vs RWD distinction will not really factor into consumer decision making,” says IHS sales analyst, Peter Nagle. “So long as the product is well executed (which it appears to be at least in regards to Daimler’s previous attempts at entry luxury a la the underperforming C230) consumers will jump at the chance to own a Mercedes,” he says.

“It doesn’t matter which wheels are powering the car,” explains Goczan. “As long as the car is well executed, and delivers the driving feel that is associated with the Mercedes brand.”

Enthusiasts also have a particular interest in rear-wheel drive cars, since it mirrors the setup in many race cars, and allows for burnouts, drifts and more control in high-performance situations. Despite the CLA 250’s 208 hp turbocharged motor and 7-speed dual clutch transmission, it might not tick the boxes for enthusiasts out there due to its front-wheel drive layout.

For those buyers, Mercedes-Benz says the 4Matic all-wheel drive system will be perfect.

“4Matic will showcase the performance of the CLA” Wei says.

Past 4Matic setups were rear-biased, meaning that more power went to the rear-wheels than the front, simulating the feel of a rear-wheel drive car. However the new 4Matic system in the CLA will be front-biased, providing power exclusively to the front until they need help, only then will power be sent to the rear wheels. However, Goczan explained that the 4Matic system won’t hit the base CLA until next year.

SEE ALSO: Mercedes CLA45 AMG Specifications Previewed in A45 AMG

However, Mercedes will have an AMG version of the CLA also equipped with 4Matic. If the A45 AMG hatchback is any indication, the CLA45 AMG will sport 360 hp and has a special Sport Handling traction setting that allows more power to go to the rear-wheels.

With its impressive power numbers and all-wheel drive, the CLA AMG will likely hit 60 mph in under 5 seconds.

Finally, some might fear that front-wheel drive Mercedes products will dilute the brand, or move it down-segment to the level of premium-not-luxury products offered by Buick and Acura.

“Mercedes has made it abundantly clear that this is not a move ‘down segment’ but an opportunity to broaden the sales base and introduce the brand to more consumers globally,” says Nagle. “The CLA will also be the first of many vehicles that will give the brand a better foothold in faster growing luxury segments, namely premium compact crossovers and sedans.”

With the A-class platform being the basis of the CLA sedan, as well as the GLA compact crossover, it seems to be exactly the weapon Mercedes needs to take on its rivals.

Nagle explains that, “[Those products] will further help position Mercedes in the market as both Audi and BMW plan to introduce more products in the compact segment in the coming years.”

GALLERY: 2014 Mercedes CLA


 Discuss this story at Mercedes CLA Forum

  • J. W.

    The headline does not pertain to me!  I want to buy the CLA but will not if front wheel drive is given to me as my choice.  I will opt for the all-wheel drive – if it is a diesel!

  • Deprince10

    Front wheel drive is a factor in this class, I shall have to move to BMW now

  • L Arse

    Hmmm…AWD..Jaguar X Type Anyone?

  • Dave

    Does anyone believe that a front based AWD system, no matter how intelligent the software design and how clever the engineering in the likely active differential and torque vectoring toe-in at the rear wheels, just as Honda has been offering in its “SHAWD” for nearly a decade, is going to provide the same kind of vehicle dynamics in this price and marketing position?  Until very recently, Audis were known for terminal understeer, due to weight bias of engine position to accomodate primarily FWD driveline angles, and I cannot imagine even the wizards at Singelfingen are going to have a new solution.

    However, if one is alluding to “cost” as one factor, certainly it is easier to bolt up a nearly complete drivetrain for economy of scale. Does that mean that actuarial considerations trumped vehicle dynamics?

  • John

    I recently purchased two cars. Both are rear wheel drive.  One was the Mercedes C250 purchased over the VW CC precisely because it was rear wheel drive and the other was a Hyundai Genesis purchased over their less expensive Sonata front wheel drive car.  I drove both and could easily tell the difference.  I think Mercedes will be in for a surprise when BMW touts that they are not getting a true handling and performance car if they buy a front drive Mercedes.

  • Ajnath4

    I think Mercedes is going to realize they have made a huge mistake by making CLA a front wheel drive car. At least, I will never buy a front wheel drive car. They are just too boring to drive.

  • 300CEownerx2

    This is just another way that the REAL Mercedes name is being destroyed.  I think Mercedes will see that a REAL enthusiast will not touch these cars because they know the handeling won’t be the same and it won’t be what a REAL Mercedes was truly meant to be.  It’s so sad that they think they need to downgrade their product to meet a wider number of buyers.  If you are a true Mercedes-Benz enthusiast, as I am, you know EXACTLY what I am referring to!

  • nopcbs

    If you think FWD cars cannot be handlers or engaging, you have never driven something like a GTI or a Mini.

    A well thought out FWD car can be just as engaging and fun to drive as a RWD drive, you just can’t over-power them.

    It is also worth noting that in Europe, where BMW sells loads of 1-Series RWD cars, most OWNERS of the cars think their cars are FWD. In Europe people think, correctly, that anything that small should be FWD for efficient space utilization.

    BMW was too lazy/cheap to do a new FWD platform for the old 1-Series (it is just a scaled down 3-Series) and ended up with an inefficiently packaged silly car (witness the Top Gear comparison of the 1-Series hatch vs. a Golf where the Golf completely blew away the 1-Series). The thing still sells because of the Roundel on the hood.

    In any case, BMW have seen the silliness of their ways and the next 1-Series is…FWD.

  • Deprince10

    I have a GTi Mini and whilst it is good, there is nothing that drives as well as rear wheel drive. All good cars are rear wheel drive, Like Jaguar, Bentley, Roll Royce, BMW, By the way  I AM in Europe. My everyday car is a Merc E320 cdi. I shall not patronise Merc any longer now that they have degraded themselves with front wheel drive. They are poor handling and just cheaper to make. Accountants again. 

  • Fred2202350

    I live part-time in a very blue-collar city in Italy, nearly all cars are small hatchbacks. The M-B A-series cars are plentiful, but not bought by folks who’ll ever move up-market. The almost total absence of the B-series models shows that, too. Maybe introducing the sporty model (which will be new to europe, too) will change the paradigm, but it’ll have to compete on price alone once the ‘regular’ models come to the US. I’m not sure that’s what Mercedes wants, but they’ll need to have a better car versus the competition than the old A-series. I saw a new one a friend rented in July, and it was a total makeover, much nicer looking than the previous one, but quality and content (esp. technical stuff) will have to be great, too. There are a LOT of great cars in the $27K to $29K segment in the US. And BTW, I just sold my Mercedes diesel, and bought a new Jetta TDI, smaller but in my mind nearly the equivalent of the 240D I drove for 24 years – the Passat was more clearly eqivalent, but after driving them both I couldn’t see enough difference and a manual properly optioned Passat was going to be really hard to find, it seemed. Mercedes isn’t going to offer an A-series diesel, and I’d estimate nearly 90% of them where I live in Italy are diesel, which is what I prefer for an everyday driver, too.

  • Never buying a FWD Merc, that is just wrong. Sticking to my 93 E-class for many years to come anyway, this thing is unbeatable in terms of reliability. BTW, Blue collar

  • Doug

    Re: Front Drive Not a Factor for Luxury Buyers Says Mercedes…  They’re wrong.  Of course, there are plenty of people who live with FWD, and most of them don’t even know the difference.  But anyone *paying attention* can feel the (disgusting) difference between being yanked along the road with engine torque in the steering wheel, compared to the relative elegance of being propelled by a proper RWD configuration.

  • George

    U/30k means 38.5K with options…
    Don’t look now but Buick and Caddy are building performance sedans with RWD!

  • Deprince10

    Rear wheel drive Caddy’s and Buick’s……….. here I come !!

  • Jack

    Lets correct some false statements here;
    FWD is around 15% cheaper to manufacture and that is the reason for their popularity.
    Fuel consumpion is debatable.  While RWD has few kg more masses to accelerate, RWD has more energy losses due to drive tyre fex on bends. 
    FWD loosing the grip when accerating because the center of gravity is moving backwards.
    RWD has opposite, this is why you wont see FWD’s on drag races.
    FWD is also not nice when it trying to straighten steering when accelerating.
    FWD suits someone who can’t afford RWD, but if you like true comfort and FUN driving, then buy RWD.  I rather buy few years old S-class than brand new volksmerc.  Keeps its value better too and most likely drives further…

  • Buick8

    A Mercedes by definition should be harder to attain, so the rush to trade on the name and history with a cheap car is shameful. It will look Mercedes- ish and have a star, but still be a cheap car. When people see downmarket people on the showrooms and driving them the real Mercedes customers will be turned off.

  • Kingndi

     FWD has changed a lot!  Try a Sonata Limited 2.0T.  274 Turbocharged hp with no lag is pretty fun in this light car, and it has every amenity you could want for $31K

    I admit, I have yet to see if it lasts as long and is as reliable as our 1990 E300, but Hyundai must be pretty confident to offer a 10 yr/100,000 mi warranty on the drivetrain.

    While I loved to drive our SL500, it was in the shop often and was expensive to own.  We sold it.  I was/am so emotionally attached to that SL, that I would go through it again!!  That’s SICK!!

    The Sonata is fun to drive and the front wheels burn rubber no problem.  I have to admit that I have loved/owned Benz RWD cars, but they were all lousy in the snow, something we have to deal with in Chicago.

    Abandoning MB just because they have decided to make one FWD model is idiotic, but to each his own…

  • Kingndi

     It isn’t a mistake to offer lower cost cars; MB is in deep sh*t in the US.  Sales are way, way, down.  They need to offer cheaper cars to survive.

    Please go to a Hyundai dealer and drive a Sonata Limited 2.0T.  I think you will enjoy it.  They offer huge value for the money.  I am a Benz lover too.

  • nopcbs

    The cheaper part has some truth to it, but if you are coming up with a fresh design and not just shrinking an existing design, as BMW did with the 1-Series, it is the other way around. The big driver favoring FWD in small cars is weight saving (fuel economy) and much better space utilization. FWD drive cars also have an inherent advantage in snow and with a small/light car, that is more important than in a large car. Some of what you talk about only comes into play at high hp levels and is not an issue with low to moderate power cars. The steering claim you make is only true with an over-powered car or with poor design not taking into account torque steer. The affordability claim holds no water as virtually all small cars are FWD for good reason…there really is little choice in the way of small RWD cars. Next to none.

    The claim of “no fun” is nonsense (GTI, Mini, loads of other Euro hot hatches) and the comfort claim is even less logical. Go try to cram a human being into the rear seat of a small RWD car and see if the word “comfort” ever comes up. Then try the same thing with a Golf and see which they prefer.

    Finally, MB, like everyone else, has to accommodate the new fuel economy standards and they will need to sell a lot of high mpg cars so that they are allowed to sell a smaller number of very expensive, but poor mpg cars. You should applaud them introducing the new small, high mpg models.