by Deiondre van der Merwe
As the automaker's most affordable coupe, albeit a four-door one, you'd expect the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class to be slightly cut-rate. This couldn't be further from the truth for the suave coupe. Powered by a 221-horsepower four-cylinder engine, the CLA has enough power to get the job done, and after overcoming somewhat awkward proportions in its first generation, the second-gen looks the part as well. Power is routed to the ground via either front- or all-wheel-drive, with a dual-clutch automatic gearbox as the only transmission option. Part and parcel of any modern Mercedes, the CLA also boasts a gorgeous interior that outshines nearly all of its rivals. These contenders include the Audi A3 and the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe. It puts up a tough fight thanks to all of its admirable attributes, so the battle is bound to be a close one.
There have been some changes for the 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class but none of them are major. The list of updates is a subtle one, with new additions including blind-spot monitoring and 64-color ambient lighting as standard, while the MBUX Interior Assist is now a standalone option.
To put it plainly, the 4-door CLA is gorgeous. It was newly redesigned for last year so the exterior appearance is still fresh and sleek-looking. The sharp LED headlights sit low on the CLA's snout and are complemented by a diamond grille from Merc. The rear is where the true beauty comes in, but this depends on your preferences, of course. A set of slim wrap-around LED taillights graces the rear and along with two exhaust openings. Both trim levels sit on a set of 18-inch multi-spoke wheels as standard and items like a panoramic sunroof ship by default.
The CLA's dimensions make it larger than the A3 sedan and the 2 Series Gran Coupe. With a length of 184.6 inches, the CLA is longer than the 2 Seris Gran Coupe by a good six inches. The Merc has a 107.4-inch wheelbase and a body width of 72 inches which makes it over two inches wider than the outgoing model from 2019. The CLA has a 56.3-inch height. While these remain the same across both derivatives, the curb weight varies according to the drivetrain in question. The base model with front-wheel-drive weighs in at around 3,362 pounds. Opting for the AWD version will add just over 120 lbs, taking the figure to 3,483 lbs.
Customizing your CLA is easy thanks to the extensive range of exterior hues that Mercedes-Benz makes available for it. Polar White, Night Black, and Sun Yellow are the three standard colors, and if you're going to opt for a no-cost color, Sun Yellow is our favorite. Seven further metallic shades are available at a cost of $720, though most of them are variants of grey. These include Iridium Silver, Mountain Grey, Mojave Silver, Digital White, and Cosmos Black. Those who dare to go bolder will have Denim Blue and Patagonia Red to choose from. Finally, the most expensive shade on the list is designo Mountain Grey magno that cloaks the CLA in a velvety matte-finish grey for $2,500.
The CLA-Class is not meant to be a fast coupe in base form; that's why there are AMG versions available in various states of tune. This doesn't mean that the CLA is truly slow, either. The 2.0-liter turbo that's responsible for sending power to either the front or all four wheels is more than capable of providing enough power for a pleasant daily drive. It's worth keeping in mind that the Merc isn't going to be overly thrilling in the acceleration department, but it'll offer enough eagerness to avoid the total boredom of the driver.
The affordable coupe manages the run from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds in either guise and its top speed is limited to 130 mph. This makes it quicker than the vastly cheaper base Audi A3 that manages the same run in 6.6 seconds, but the similarly-powered A3 45 TFSI is 1.2 seconds quicker to the mark.
The CLA-Class shares its engine with the AMG CLA 35, it's simply a detuned version. The turbocharged 2.0-liter turbo produces 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, hooked up to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with no manual option available. While some may be disappointed that there's no way to row the gears manually, the seven-speed 'box is an excellent consolation. There's almost no clunkiness to bemoan and while it doesn't deliver truly smooth gear changes, or snatch down the gears with any promptness, it does its best to sufficiently manage all of the power that the motor has to offer. The CLA-Class's outputs are slightly less powerful than those of the 2 Series Gran Coupe, as the BMW matches the 221 hp power output but has more torque at 258 lb-ft. The CLA is, however, more powerful than the base engine in the Audi A3, although Audi's optional engine matches the Merc's outputs.
We remember the days that the Mercedes CLA was a coupe that we associated with substandard ride quality. Luckily the all-new version that was introduced to the US market last year has massively improved the reputation of the lineup. The modern CLA easily soaks up irregularities on the tar beneath it. Still, the CLA won't be especially graceful on rough surfaces, as there is a certain firmness that remains. Opt for the $800 adaptive dampers and you'll be even more hard-pressed to find fault with the suspension. Where the current generation truly impresses, however, is its dynamic abilities. Thread it through a series of twists and the front end shows genuine bite, high levels of mechanical grip, and much better balance than the previous version did.
One of our only gripes with the CLA is that too much noise from the engine permeates into the cabin. Otherwise, it now lives up to the three-pointed star on the hood, delivering poise, balance, and refinement in a single package.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class performs pretty well in the fuel economy department and is one of the more frugal options among most of its rivals. The base-level CLA 250 with FWD returns EPA estimates of 25/35/29 mpg city/highway/combined. Opting for the AWD model drops these figures down to 24/33/27 mpg. The FWD-equipped Audi A3 is the best performer of the lot with figures of 27/36/30 mpg, though the CLA250 4Matic does match the BMW 228i xDrive Gran Coupe. When the 13.5-gallon fuel tank is full, the base model will traverse around 391 miles on a tank. Be careful though, the CLA-Class requires premium unleaded gasoline, making each mile more expensive than non-premium engines.
The CLA may be one of Mercedes-Benz's most affordable products, but you certainly wouldn't know that by looking at its interior. Of course, the German automaker has a reputation with regards to its gorgeous cabins, but previously, the CLA drew the short straw when it came to quality. That's all changed, and the way the digital instrument cluster is seamlessly integrated with the central infotainment screen gives the interior an immaculate, modern look. That being said, the CLA is not the most spacious offering in its segment, so while you'll probably get more luxury, you'll get less room on the inside. This a sacrifice that some would happily make, especially when you consider the target market for the CLA-Class interior. If you want space instead of style, buy an A-Class sedan.
The CLA may have an absolutely stunning interior, but that beauty is crammed into a tight space. While the seating is comfortable and the front perches boast plenty of adjustment, there isn't as much space to work with as there is in rival vehicles. Eight-way power-adjustable front seats with four-way adjustability for lumbar support are standard and grant those up front 41.8 inches of legroom and 38.5 inches of headroom. But the rear is where occupants are truly punished with just 33.9 inches of legroom. Add to this the sloping rear roofline, and not only is it cramped, but it's difficult to duck in and out of the doorframes as well.
Mercedes-Benz makes a variety of different upholstery and trim options available for the CLA, although the eight available options are far fewer than upper-tier Mercs would receive. Of the eight, two are standard with no-cost options including MB-Tex leatherette in Black or Macchiato Beige. Two other MB-Tex colors are classified as no-cost, but they require you to spec the AMG Line package before they become available. These two are Neva Grey with Black and Black MB-Tex DINAMICA with red stitching. Genuine leather is a $1,450 option, with four hues including Black, Bahia Brown, Classic Red and Black, and Titanium Grey with Black.
Additionally, four available dash and door trim inserts can be selected from, with linear grain aluminum and longitudinal grain aluminum available at no cost and Black Linden or Brown Walnut carrying a $325 surcharge.
It's not exactly wise to expect a whole lot of trunk space from coupes and the CLA is a fine attestation of this. The CLA is pretty much bested by most of its rivals in this area and that's not particularly surprising given that its trunk offers 11.6 cubic feet of space to work with. This pales in comparison to the 2 Series Gran Coupe's 15.2 cubes. The trunk will fare well enough for two small bags or one large one but don't expect the CLA to be accommodating for a week-long getaway.
Internally, things fare better as the center console has a pair of cupholders, the doors have pockets, and between the front seats, you'll find ample storage for phones, wallets, etc.
Despite being one of Mercedes-Benz's cheapest products, the CLA comes respectably loaded with standard features. These include a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and push-button start, dual-zone climate control, and 64-color ambient lighting. A multifunction steering wheel with haptic touch control is also standard, as are 12-way power-adjustable front seats with memory, although heating and ventilation are optional. There are also quite a few safety features to speak of that include active brake assist, blind-spot monitoring and crosswind assist. Opting for the Driver Assistance Package will add active distance assist, active steering assist and evasive steering assist. The Parking Assist Package adds a surround view system along with active parking assist.
The infotainment setup in Merc's junior model deserves acclaim. The standard suite might seem small at seven inches, but in reality, it's double that as the dual seven-inch screens that form the instrumentation and infotainment displays sit side by side. As standard, the basic Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) boasts Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth connectivity, along with multiple USB-C ports and an HD Radio received. It can be controlled via touch, voice, a central touchpad, or the haptic steering wheel controls.
But, the CLA gets the option of Merc's latest tech, and dual 10.25-inch screens can be optioned. Additionally, augmented reality navigation can be equipped, as can SiriusXM all-access, wireless device charging, and the MBUX Interior Assistant - which uses an overhead camera to respond to movements and gestures. If the standard sound system doesn't quite tickle your fancy, $850 upgrades to a 12-speaker, 590-watt Burmester surround sound system.
There have been no recalls as yet for the 2021 CLA Class, but there were two recalls for the 2020 model for issues relating to the interior switches not illuminating and the driver's airbag not being secured properly. If reliability is one of your primary concerns, the CLA comes with a basic warranty of four years or 50,000 miles as well as a corrosion and drivetrain warranty that's valid for the same time period and mileage limit. Roadside assistance is also standard for four years or 50,000 miles.
The NHTSA hasn't given the CLA-Class reviews for its safety as yet, and the IIHS hasn't published a review for the Merc either. The previous-gen CLA didn't fare well in these tests, but it's expected the current model will receive a vastly improved rating and may yet become the top-rated vehicle in the segment.
There are a few notable safety features to speak of for the CLA that include both traditional and tech-focused features. The traditional suite includes a rearview camera, cruise control, and an eight-airbag system that includes front, side, side curtain, and front knee airbags. Modern driver-assist tech includes active brake assist, blind-spot assistance as well as crosswind assist. LED daytime running lamps are also standard as well as an advanced tire pressure monitoring. Furthermore, a whole load of advanced assists and semi-autonomous functionality can be equipped through the options list.
If you've been a long-term CarBuzz reader, you'll likely know we weren't exactly fans of the first-generation CLA-Class. In its second iteration, many of the faults have been fixed. The chassis is now compliant, handles well, and rides serenely. The base engine, while not the most potent among its peers, has enough get up and go to satisfy most buyers' expectations, and it's relatively frugal in doing so. It isn't the quickest of its peers, it isn't the most spacious, but it has moved the game on in a big way for the German brand. Sure, you can attain a little more practicality in a cheaper A-Class sedan, but the CLA combines the best attributes of this segment with an additional helping of style, and in our books, that makes it a compelling option.
The price of the Mercedes CLA depends on how freely you add additional packages and whether you opt for FWD or AWD. The base MSRP of the CLA starts at $37,850 in the US when equipped with FWD. Opting for the AWD version will see the price increase to $39,850. The pricing for the CLA-Class is exclusive of the $995 destination fee. Stack up the options, and the CLA can easily eclipse $58,000.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class range is made up of two trim levels: CLA 250 and CLA 250 4Matic. The only true difference between the two models is that the CLA 250 4MATIC gets standard all-wheel drive in place of the base model's FWD. Both are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The standard features on the base model are inclusive of a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and push-button start, dual-zone climate control, 64-color ambient lighting, and a multifunction steering wheel with haptic touch control. The infotainment system consists of two seven-inch screens with one being touch-enabled. The seven-inch touchscreen enables Bluetooth streaming, HD Radio, and full smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The standard suite of safety features is inclusive of a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring and active brake assist as well as crosswind assist.
If you want to customize your CLA, Mercedes-Benz makes a host of additional packages available for this. The Premium Package costs $1,200 and adds a 10.25-inch touchscreen and a digital instrument cluster of the same size. The Multimedia Package includes navigation and speed limit assist for $1,295. The AMG line adds unique body styling with 18-inch wheels, a chrome grille, and sport steering wheel. The AMG line with Night package adds black wheels along with all of the same features as the AMG line package for $3,000. Standalone options are worth considering too, like the $850 Burmester 12-speaker sound system, or the $00 heated front seats. Adaptive LED headlights with high beam assist can also be equipped for $900.
In reality, only those in cold-weather climes need to spend an extra $2,000 on AWD. For most, a FWD CLA 250 is perfect. Sun Yellow is a striking, cost-free paint option, which means more money to upgrade with the Exterior Lighting Package at $900 and $3,000 AMG Line w/Night Package. Inside, Black Linden Wood trim and heated front seats are must-haves, as are the dual 10.25-inch screens of the Premium package at $1,200. Lastly, we'd add the Burmester sound system, keyless entry and start, and the $1,090 Parking Assistance Package. All in, you're looking at $46,015 excluding destination.
These two coupes share some similarities given that they come from the same automaker, but there are a few key differences that separate them. The C-Class is A- a genuine two-door coupe, and B- part of a larger classification of vehicle, which means it's more expensive. But, it's also older, so it makes use of dated tech and infotainment and is nowhere near as easy to use from this perspective. There are other core differences, though, such as the C's rear-wheel drivetrain and more powerful engine, or the fact that it has a larger trunk. Truth told, they appeal to different buyers, with the CLA appealing to the youth while the C-Class Coupe is aimed at middle-aged buyers wanting luxury without fear of compromise.
The A-Class and CLA-Class are remarkably similar since both share mechanical underpinnings and are classified as subcompact luxury cars. But the two are different from a visual perspective, with the CLA charging a premium for its visual appeal. Mercedes has differentiated the two in the USA with more than just the A-Class's greater sense of practicality, though, as the CLA-Class has more power in its base version, with the CLA 250 delivering 221 hp to the A 220's 188 hp - both from turbocharged 2.0-liter engines. This naturally makes the CLA the quicker derivative, which is some compensation for the smaller trunk and rear seats. Ultimately, you buy the CLA if you want style and performance, but you buy the A-Class if you want practicality.