For years Mercedes-Benz has been selling smaller, cheaper vehicles like the A- and B-Class all over the world, but the cheapest Benz in America has always been the C-Class. And even then it was a mid-spec model when looking at the C-Class family lineup on a global scale. Now things are changing. Mercedes is bringing out a new entry-level four-door-coupe set to do battle against vehicles like the Audi A3 sedan and Acura ILX.
|1. Pricing begins at $30,825 with nicely optioned models coming in around $35,000 after destination charges.
2. The CLA 250 is powered by a 2.0 L turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
3. Seven-speed dual clutch automatic is the only transmission offered.
4. The CLA is officially rated at 26 MPG city and 38 MPG highway.
The CLA is based on the current A-Class and B-Class platform and for now, North American models will come exclusively with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making two very different power outputs. The CLA 250 will boast 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque while the frantic CLA 45 AMG will pump out an insane 355 hp.
EFFICIENT AND FAST?
Transmission choice is limited to a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels in CLA 250 and all the wheels in the AMG model. With the lower powered engine, Mercedes claims the 250 is good for an impressive 26 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. What’s even more impressive is the fact that this engine can achieve these levels of efficiency while also motivating the 3,262-lb car to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is quick to spool and delivers power instantly. The rpms stay in the power band for a long time and, like the turbocharged four-cylinder from Audi, this four-pot feels more robust than the numbers would have us believe.
But it is not all good news with the drivetrain; the transmission lets the engine down. Like the Canadian-specific 2013 Mercedes-Benz B 250 hatchback we got to sample earlier this year, this dual clutch transmission is slow to react and jerky in its actions; odd considering how lightening quick Mercedes-Benz’s other seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission found in the SLS AMG is. Then again, it goes without saying the CLA is focused more on efficiency than performance.
With a transverse engine layout and front-wheel drive architecture, many have already written this vehicle off as a false Mercedes-Benz, never mind a luxury car. But that may be a bit unfair. Audi has always offered front-wheel drive vehicles to Americans, as has Acura. The CLA is surprisingly composed in corners and if not pushed beyond the front tires limits, is indistinguishable from an all-wheel drive car on dry surfaces. But the CLA 250 is not meant to be overly sporty; the 225/45R17 tires on the baby Benz are designed to offer a compromise between comfort, sport and efficiency.
Measuring in at 182.3 inches, the CLA is actually 1.5 inches longer than the heavier, rear-wheel drive based C-Class sedan. For those who think having two similar sedans will confuse customers, Mercedes has worked hard to distinguish them. Aside from the obvious differences in drivetrain configuration, the styling of the two cars has gone in opposite directions. While the C-Class looks the part of a traditional compact luxury sedan, the CLA has a more rakish profile that resembles a baby CLS-Class; the “CL” in the CLA name is not there by accident.
SLEEK BUT COMPROMISED
Although this does lead to a gorgeous, sleek profile, it comes at the expense of passenger space. The rear seat is miniscule and offers a tiny 27.1 inches of legroom and 35.4 inches of headroom; that’s less than C-Class Coupe in both regards. Adult passengers will have a tough time fitting back there, though kids will do just fine. Trunk space is also a casualty of the sleek shape and at a mere 13.1 cubic feet, will hold less cargo than that of a Kia Rio sedan.
Up front it’s a different story. The CLA is instantly recognizable from behind the steering wheel as a “Mercedes-Benz,” but what’s more, it also feels like a proper luxury car. No pretender trying to resemble a Mercedes here; this is the real deal with the sort of premium finishings you’d expect in any Mercedes product.
Available in six cabin colors with four accent materials, the CLA’s interior is highlighted by a large infotainment screen roosted on the dashboard. If opting for the sport package, the classic round steering wheel is replaced by a more aggressive squared off unit.
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As though it’s sleek look wasn’t enough to attract buyers, this Benz will pack Mercedes dealerships thanks to its price. The CLA begins at $30,825 including delivery, putting it on par with the upcoming 2015 Audi A3 sedan and $3,000 more than the base Acura ILX. Nicely optioned, it can still be had for around $35,000 after, which is still less than the base C 250 sedan.
Mercedes’ goal with this vehicle is to create an entirely new segment in the luxury car market; a place above the luxury pretender compacts like the Acura ILX and Buick Verano, but still below the usual suspects like the BMW 3 Series. With Audi readying the release of the aforementioned A3 sedan and BMW planning a new front-wheel drive 1 Series, it appears that the CLA is following directly in the tire treads of the CLS and is getting in on the ground floor of this new market niche.
While a true Benz, one needn’t drive the CLA to understand its appeal as its three best traits are as immediately obvious as the tri-pointed star it wears. Above all else the CLA is stylish, it’s affordable and (because one can’t overstate the value of a premium brand to aspirational young buyers), it’s a Mercedes-Benz.