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.
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.
“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.
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