Engine: 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine
Output: 208 hp, 258 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch auto
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 23 city, 32 highway, 27 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 9.6 city, 6.4 highway, 8.1 combined
US Starting Price: $35,625
CAN Starting Price: $37,900
If you’re looking for value, you’d have found yourself in the Chevy dealership, looking to pack on high-tech goodies like adaptive cruise control and fuel-efficient powertrains like a 1.6 diesel engine. But mainstream vehicles like the Cruze lack the outward premium appeal of something with a Mercedes badge; and in today’s world of social media posting with fancy photo filters, don’t drivers just want everyone else to know that they’re successful enough to own a Mercedes?
Well, successful owners or not, the Mercedes CLA appeals to buyers with its style and performance, not to mention the fact that it’s the most affordable Benz in the brand’s lineup. Just $33,625 USD ($35,700 CAD) will get you a car with a three-pointed star, and although it is front-wheel drive, there’s also an all-wheel drive model that’s $2,000 more ($2,200 more in Canada) and a high-performance AMG model that’s a whopping $15,700 (or just $14,400 in Canada) more than that. The CLA is filling that niche of being an affordable option from an established premium nameplate. Cars like the Audi A3 and BMW 2 Series are true competitors to the CLA, and all make a few sacrifices to suit the brand personality while meeting a lower price tag.
But back to the CLA. All models use a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which in the non-AMG versions produces 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. It’s managed by a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that is a difficult unit to truly love. At low speeds it is jerky and hesitant, with noticeable shifts that are really uncomfortable. The engine start/stop is also a bit rough, so between the engine turning off at stop signs and lights and the transmission, starts take longer than expected and feel unrefined. Basically, driving the car in traffic isn’t enjoyable at all. However, at higher speeds the transmission swaps gears very quickly and gives the CLA a sporty feel.
The engine is extremely punchy and potent, with plenty of performance. Highway speeds arrive in under seven seconds, and the low-end grunt of the turbocharged engine really helps convince drivers that they’re in a car that shares showroom space with the rest of the Mercedes lineup, despite being much less expensive. The downside is that the engine does make a lot of sound, which is noticeable outside the vehicle. It clicks and clacks and can sound like a diesel sometimes. You don’t hear it much while in the car, but step outside the car and you’ll notice.
ALSO SEE: 2015 Audi A3 Review
The CLA handles nicely and I’d venture it’s easily as good as other front-wheel-drive based compacts on the market. Weighing just around 3,400 lb it never feels stressed or overwhelmed. Suspension is kept in check, helping the car feel agile and fun on the road. Road noise isn’t as muted as it is in other Mercedes sedans, but it’s respectably quiet in the car.
The steering is well weighted, with the CLA featuring a steering wheel that feels right in your hands; those thumb indents go a long way to reinforce that impression. You definitely won’t mind taking the long scenic route home in this car; in terms of driving feel, the CLA hits the mark in many ways and should leave you satisfied.
Four Doors, Less Space
The whole interior wraps nicely around the driver, too. The front seats are sporty buckets but aren’t very soft or comfortable. The rear seats are nearly unusable, which is only okay if you buy into Mercedes description of the CLA as a “four-door coupe.” That said, if you feel like using the area behind the front seats as a storage area, it works pretty nicely (and there’s handy safety belts to keep your stuff in place.)
The interior amenities are hit and miss. There’s quite a bit of hard plastic found in the cabin, but buttons and knobs feel nice with good fit and finish. For 2017 there’s a new trim pattern that’s nice too. By moving the shift lever up to the steering wheel column, the car has an extra cup holder. The infotainment screen is modified from last year’s model. It’s slightly bigger, mounted nice and high, which is great for visibility. It’s operated by a small control knob and isn’t too hard to get used to. If you want Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support you’ll need to spring for an extra smartphone connectivity package, which is a hostile act against its target audience, when many automakers offer it as standard equipment.
Cheap for a Mercedes, Expensive As a Compact
The available features are a nice long list, but Mercedes will nickel and dime customers to get the loaded experience. A $30,000 mainstream ride like that Chevy Cruze mentioned before will have a number of driver assistance features and technology, while a $30,000 Mercedes certainly will not. That said, the CLA has a few tricks of its own, including standard forward collision warning, rearview camera, rain-sensing wipers and dual zone climate control.
Our example featured a gorgeous panoramic sunroof, push-button start and LED headlights. Additional add-ons can include a parking assist, adjustable suspension, upgraded Harman Kardon sound system and adaptive cruise control. There’s also a number of wheel options and exterior packages to choose from as well, which enhance the car’s already solid visual appeal. However, while a CLA 250 4Matic starts at around $35,000 after destination the price of the car will approach $50,000 once you start ticking the option boxes.
Fortunately, you can probably leave some of the exterior upgrades alone. In 2017 the car received updated front and rear bumpers, with the exhaust being integrated into the bumper now, making the overall package look more complete.
The Verdict: 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4Matic Review
It’s hard to suggest that a $30,000 Mercedes will have the same impact as a $30,000 Chevy, and there’s no way the Benz has the same value as more mainstream products. It’s also not nearly as luxury oriented as other vehicles in the Mercedes lineup. With traits that paint it as a pretty and fun-to-drive compact, it fills a niche nicely and makes other motorists think you’re a big shot in a Mercedes, even if you’re just on your way up.