If you’re young, stylish, cool, and connected, the CLA is waiting for you. The reasons for its creation aren’t revolutionary. In the simplest terms, it came down to diversification and rejuvenation. But as cars get smaller, it’s more difficult to make them look great.
Two model lines are offered, Sport and AMG Sport, as well as two chassis settings, Comfort and Sport. The Sport model line has the Comfort chassis as standard, but can be upgraded to Sport.
The CLA is a scaled-down imitation of the prettiest Mercedes on sale today, the CLS, and that’s its biggest ace. The CLA offers its elegant profile and frameless glass counter the compact-car blahs, and chip away visually at the front end’s height.
That front end may be the best expression yet of the newest Mercedes identity: the tall vertical grille and contoured air intakes show up on this year’s E-Class, too, toning down that car’s overly angular nose.
Also there’s softness in the way the CLA’s rear glass rounds off quickly, but it’s relieved by crisp LED taillamp ribs.
The back end is eye-catching, and that’s the point. The masses that Mercedes hopes to lure don’t care if bodylines or symmetry are perfect. Just beautiful!
The sporty cockpit lifts its inspiration from the SLK, not the C-Class, and the mix-and-match aesthetic works extremely well. The CLA has a beautiful cockpit lined primarily with supple, black faux leather that Benz calls MB Tex.
Piano-black trim pieces accent the synthetic material nicely, but the heavy hand in plastic usage did gain some complaints. Details such as the galvanized climate control vent surrounds look great and bring the flavor of higher models to an entry-level audience. The three-spoke steering wheel, with its thick diameter and multifunction buttons, feels brilliant in hand and looks spectacular.
The back-seat room is tight, with minimal headroom for medium-sized adults and somewhat difficult entry and exit in through the rear doors. Trunk space is good, with a flat load floor, and the CLA has a few useful storage bins in the cabin for small items.
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.
The 7-inch center display is always readable, even in direct sunlight.
The small multi-information display LCD between speedometer and tachometer can show you basic navigation, phone, entertainment or trip information. I had no problem pairing phones and connecting an iPod and iPad. Mercedes offers several infotainment options. The Drive Kit Plus for iPhone provides additional features access to Facebook, Twitter, Google Places, internet radio.
Engine choices include a strong 2.1-litre diesel with decent running costs, along with two petrol engines. This 2.1-litre engine is one of the best all rounder I drove since a while, offering a good amount of power and strong acceleration.
It sprints from zero to 100 km/h in 8.6 seconds and has a top speed of 230, but is happy with an average 5.5 l/100 km of fuel, meaning CO2 emissions of 127 g/km.
For the petrol engines, the CLA 180 is powered by 1.6-litre producing 120bhp and the CLA 250 by a 2.0 L turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 208 hp. The CLA250 is at sports car level, with acceleration from zero to 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 240 km/h. Nonetheless it has the best fuel consumption in this class at 6.1 l/100 km, and CO2 emissions of 142 g/km.
Mercedes has a long tradition of rear-wheel-drive chassis engineering, but with the CLA it’s created a sweet-handling front-wheel-drive sports saloon. There’s good grip in corners and the steering is progressive and well weighted. Add positive turn-in and taut body control, and it makes the Mercedes feel sportier and sharper.
Riding around in the CLA is fun. My first taste of the CLA occurred in the Brussels ring mess. Spending any time in traffic is painful but CLA’s start/stop-equipped 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder died and resurrected as quickly and smoothly.
This is not the nearly self-driving Mercedes-Benz S-Class or E-Class because lane keep
assist here will move the car away from lane markings but it won’t auto-center the car. ACC works the same as on the bigger cars. The blind spot detection warning was a lighted indicator and a chime, rather than a steering wheel vibration that doesn’t rat you out to the passengers. The standard suspensions are good.
Collision prevention assist is effective. If you come up too quickly or the car in front slows suddenly, LEDs on the dash light up and a warning chirp sounds. It is impossible to miss the combination even if you were, say, glancing down at an incoming text on a phone held low so cops didn’t see you. It also helps provide additional braking for drivers who don’t brake hard enough.
The parking sensors with parking assist are really helping as the visibility isn’t so great to the rear. Could be nice that the rearview camera gets liberated into an inexpensive, stand-alone option in the near future.
The sleek and compact CLA is fabulously good-looking. This car is instantly recognizable from behind the steering wheel as a “Mercedes-Benz,” but what’s more, it also feels like a proper luxury car with a lot of safety tech in the base model.
If style is your main interest, sign on now. The CLA250 is a good deal, relatively speaking for luxury-sport cars.
Mercedes’ goal with this vehicle is to create an entirely new segment in the luxury car market; 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.