by Deiondre van der Merwe
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Sarah Marshall have one thing in common: they're both really great to look at but they're a little expensive. And while it's a little difficult to forget Ms. Marshall, it's all too easy to forget about the C-Class when it's svelte little sister, the CLA-Class is around. It's a sassy daily coupe that offers enough charm to bear a three-pointed star in the middle of its face, but isn't stately enough to bore the younger market. This is a winning recipe for Merc's entry-level four-door coupe because it offers merits in enough aspects to appeal to a wide variety of shoppers. It has ample tech to warrant attention from the twenty-somethings, and the right amount of luxury and refinement to catch the mature eye. The 221-horsepower four-door coupe has enough power to serve its owner well on a regular commute, too, but it has to fight against the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, the Audi A3 Sedan, and the A-Class Sedan for the top spot. Round one, fight!
2020 brings a totally redesigned CLA to the US, and the nip and tuck from Mercedes has made the coupe even more fetching than before. New tweaks to the engine now allow for an extra 13 horsepower compared to the already top-rated CLA of yesteryear, and the interior has also received a makeover. The inside of the coupe now boasts Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) as a standard feature and a digitally streamlined infotainment system from two new seven-inch screens that serve as a digital instrument cluster and a central screen, which can be controlled via a new touchpad in the center console.
Feisty as ever, the new CLA is more intimidating than it used to be, and we like it. A lot. Defined full-LED headlights bookend the classic chrome diamond-block grille, while the new face takes heavy influence from the latest CLS-Class design. It is also longer and wider than it was before, emphasizing its sensual appearance, and the rear end boasts LED lighting through a razor-sharp tail light design. The coupe sits on a set of 18-inch multispoke wheels that seal the deal perfectly along with a standard panoramic sunroof. Both models can also be upgraded with AMG Line exterior styling elements for even more aggression.
The CLA-Class shares its DNA with the A-Class, but takes on slightly different proportion for the sake of style. It is 1.9 inches longer than the previous model with a total length measurement of 184.6 inches, and the same applies to the 107.4-inch wheelbase that's 1.1 inches longer than before. A width of 72 inches means that it offers a body that's 2.2 inches wider than the 2019 model. It stands at 56.7 inches tall, with all its dimensions adding up to a curb weight of 3,362 pounds for the FWD-equipped CLA and 3,483 lbs for the 4Matic-equipped version.
You can have your pick of 12 exterior colors when purchasing your CLA, and four of those will come at no extra cost. Options for the peasants and penny-pinchers include Polar White, Night Black, Jupiter Red and if you're buying one for your daughter in high school, Sun Yellow. If you have an extra $720 lying around, you have the option of seven metallic hues ranging from an understated Digital White, Iridium Silver, Mountain Grey, and Mojave Silver to more adventurous shades of Cosmos Black, Denim Blue and Patagonia Red. If you want a color that screams "I have too much money to justify being sensible", Mercedes has just the one. A premium designo Mountain Grey Magno clothes your CLA in a velvety matte grey for $2,500.
Mercedes claims that its most affordable coupe can make the run from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds regardless of which drivetrain it employs, and its trip to 60 is only slightly slower than the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe's six-second acceleration time. It does manage to beat the Audi A3 sedan's 6.6-second time, but this doesn't come as much of a surprise, given that the base model Audi shaves quite a few thousands off of its asking price in comparison to the CLA, as well as a few horsepower. You generally can't have your cake and eat it too in this segment, and the 2.0-liter four-pot in the CLA is proof of that. It provides enough power to get the wheels turning without needing a nag but it isn't a rapid-fire coupe, even with a top speed of 130 mph. It was designed to be a daily coupe equipped with enough oomph to avoid boring its pilot, and it delivers on that, but you shouldn't expect an overly thrilling experience from behind the wheel. If performance is your be-all and end-all, perhaps the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 is worth a look. The availability of an all-wheel-drive system is great for those who aren't likely to smile at the thought of sliding around in the rain, but if you don't live in Forks, the plain-Jane FWD will do just fine.
The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is a weak version of the one found in the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35. Yes, that's right, Merc threw some extra water into the Kool-Aid for this one, and even though it's a detuned version of a similar unit to the one you find in AMG-badged brethren, it still provides manageable power outputs of 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. These figures mean that the CLA has seven less ponies on offer than the BMW 228i xDrive, but both German coupes share the same torque figures. The 2.0-liter is coupled with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that's vastly more capable than the one found in its predecessor thanks to some reprogramming. The improved transmission mitigates the clunky unwillingness that once accompanied it, and though we wouldn't go so far as to say it provides silky smooth changes, it performs well enough and squeezes most of the power out of the four-pot, although catching it unaware by asking for a sownshift still yields some clunkiness on occasion.
Yet another improvement for the 2020 model, the new CLA handles lumps and bumps with far more grace than its predecessor. The old model was crashy at best, and tackling uneven surfaces was much like attempting to walk in a straight line after the first half of the Super Bowl. It's better in the new-gen CLA, but it's not perfect yet. The coupe does its level best to soak up undulations and it does well for the most part, but particularly rough surfaces will unsettle the CLA pretty quickly. An available adjustable suspension with adaptive dampers does well to mitigate harshness even further, though this will come at an additional cost of $850.
Impressively, the CLA has improved its ride comfort but hasn't lost enough firmness to result in poor performance in and out of corners. In fact, the CLA handles windy roads with an admirable amount of dexterity. Its electric steering has been refined to deliver more preciseness, and is more responsive than the previous generation. A downfall for the coupe would be that it eagerly welcomes engine noise into the cabin, which makes trying to have a conversation with passengers especially tedious on rougher roads or at highway speeds.
While its performance isn't world-beating, the CLA's mpg is still relatively frugal, especially when it's equipped with the FWD system on the base CLA250. The CLA250 has EPA estimated figures of 25/35/28 mpg city/highway/combined, while opting for 4Matic drops these to 23/33/27 mpg, which is the same as the BMW 228i xDrive. When the 13.5-gallon fuel tank is at full capacity, the FWD CLA will manage just under 380 miles of range, while the 4Matic version is capable of just over 360 miles.
A poster child for Mercedes' reputation for stellar interiors, the CLA delivers a blue-ribbon cabin experience. The coupe now gets a new-generation steering wheel with touch controls and enjoys the standard-fitted MBUX system. All of the luxury is packed into a tight space, though, and the coupe falls behind certain rivals in terms of its interior real estate offering. Positives include the front seats that cosset passengers lovingly, and premium materials encase every interior component. Essentially, the inside is luxurious, but don't expect a lot of space from the compact four-door coupe.
Seating in the CLA is a double-edged sword, because the seats are comfortable and supportive all while being easy on the eyes. It's trying to find the space to actually enjoy them that becomes an issue. The front of the coupe offers enough space for a six-footer, but toss out any notions that taller adults will manage the back without considering amputation at least once on the journey in the confines of 33.9 inches of legroom. The driver isn't likely to experience any discomfort behind the wheel thanks to eight-way power-adjustable front seats with four-way lumbar support and decent visibility in all directions but backwards.
Eight different upholstery choices are available for the inside of the CLA, and half of these are no-cost options. Four shades of MB-Tex leatherette are standard, and include Black, Macchiato Beige, a combination of Neva Grey and Black, or Black with red stitching. If you aren't a vegan, four genuine leather options are available for an additional cost of $1,450 with shades ranging from varying combinations of Black and Bahia Brown - only available when heated seats are opted for - to Classic Red that's exclusively available with the AMG Line package. Two standard trim insert options are available to choose from: Aluminum with either linear or longitudinal grain. Black Linden wood and Walnut wood are both available for an extra $325.
The slopey and sleek design associated with coupes generally doesn't allow for much trunk space, a trait highlighted by the CLA. It has an especially small 11.6 cubic-foot trunk that fails to impress and is bested by the BMW 228i's 15.1 cubes. The trunk will allow for an overnight bag or two, so limit your romantic getaway to a one-night undertaking, or go away for a week and convince your partner that luggage isn't necessary.
General in-cabin storage is on par for the segment, and the glovebox can hold at least your purse and keys. Slim door pockets can be used to store phones and glasses, but not much else, while the most useful storage is under the center console armrest.
We weren't kidding about the great interior, and this is further emphasized by the CLA's extensive list of standard-fitted indulgences. A panoramic sunroof is first on the list, followed by push-button start and cruise control. Eight-way power-adjustable front seats with four-way lumbar support ensure optimal comfort for front passengers and the in-cabin environment is improved even further by dual-zone climate control. The new-generation multifunction steering wheel can be used to flit through the digital instrument cluster and infotainment system as standard, while wireless charging is additionally available for $200. The CLA plays host to an adequate suite of safety features that includes a rearview camera, active brake assist and crosswind assist as well as adaptive braking technology. However, adding the Driver Assistance Package adds must-haves like lane keep assist and blind spot monitoring. A surround view system, pre safe plus and active parking assistant can also be optioned on.
Infotainment in the CLA has been massively improved over the last generation, and the tech in the current one is a boon. Two seven-inch screens have been seamlessly integrated to form the digital instrument cluster and central infotainment screen, with the latter offering control by the touch. If the thought of grubby fingerprints on your touchscreen is too much to bear, it can also be controlled via the touchpad on the center console or via vocal commands simply by saying "hey Mercedes". The central screen enables Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while a premium eight-speaker sound system brings Bluetooth streaming and HD Radio to life. You can opt for larger screens if you'd like, with tein 10.25-inch displays also available. An optional 12-speaker Burmester sound system can be fitted for an extra cost of $850. A six-month SiriusXM trial is additionally available for $460 and a head-up display can be added for $1,100.
Two recalls have been issued for the 2020 CLA-Class so far, with the two relating to the driver's airbag not being adequately secured and interior switches not lighting up when they should. Mercedes-Benz does relatively well to ease the minds of customers regarding reliability and offers a basic warranty that is valid for four years or 50,000 miles. The same four-year/50,00-mile period applies for both the corrosion and drivetrain warranties. Roadside assistance is valid for the same time period and mileage limit as the other warranties.
There is no Mercedes CLA safety rating as neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA has performed a comprehensive review of theMercedes CLA, but the car has enough safety features to quell concerns, especially when the Driver Assistance Package is opted for.
Standard-fit safety features offered by the CLA are enough to keep it on par with its rivals. The coupe includes a rearview camera, cruise control, active brake assist, crosswind assist and adaptive braking technology, while a standard suite of eight airbags includes two front knee airbags and side curtain airbags for all occupants. Noteworthy safety features only make an appearance on the CLA when the $2,250 Driver Assistance Package is opted for, however, and the add-on suite will bolster safety features with the addition of both active and evasive steering assist, as well as an emergency stop function and speed limit assist. It doesn't end there, and lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and lane change assist are added to the list with route-based speed adaptation ending the barrage off nicely.
The new-generation CLA offers immense improvements in areas where the previous model was lacking, and it's a fine choice for shoppers in the four-door coupe market. The biggest improvements over last year's model come in the form of improved ride comfort and a redesigned interior that's now deserving of the Mercedes-Benz badge. The inside of the CLA now boasts a host of new infotainment features including the streamlined digital cockpit that is now controlled by the MBUX system. Although its engine isn't the most powerful in the segment, it provides smooth and reliable power, and the dual-clutch transmission performs with much much more capability than it did before. A BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe might have more space and a larger trunk, but the CLA has finally blossomed into a supreme all-rounder that we wouldn't hesitate to recommend to those who prefer style over spaciousness.
The entry point of the CLA range is the FWD-equipped CLA250, and it carries an MSRP of $36,650 in the USA. This is significantly more expensive than its closely related A-Class, which has an asking price of $32,800 at base level. Upgrading to 4Matic all-wheel-drive increases the Mercedes CLA's price up to $38,650, which essentially means that you're paying an extra $2,000 for all-wheel-drive, and if you're going to buy either of the models, you'll need to pay a $995 destination fee over and above the MSRP.
Two trim levels make up the CLA-Class range, and the only real difference between the CLA250 and the CLA250 4Matic is that the latter comes standard equipped with all-wheel-drive. The CLA-Class employs a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot as its driving force, and the engine is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The same features are shared between the two spec levels, including a set of 18-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, push-button start and eight-way power-adjustable seats with four-way lumbar support for the front. A new-generation steering wheel joins the list along with dual-zone control, and infotainment has seen an upgrade with the addition of a digital instrument cluster and the standard MBUX cockpit control system. A seven-inch touchscreen enables Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as HD Radio and Bluetooth streaming; audio is pushed out through an eight-speaker sound system. The standard suite of safety features are inclusive of a rearview camera, active brake assist, crosswind assist, and adaptive braking technology.
Four main packages are offered for the Merc CLA as well as a number of standalone options. We'll start with the most expensive one. The Driver Assistance Package adds the most value out of them all, but the Multimedia Package will need to be opted for before this becomes available. For $2,250, this will bolster the safety of your CLA significantly. This package adds distance assist, active and evasive steering, brake assist with cross-traffic monitoring, and lane keep assist. Blind spot monitoring is also part of the package, as is lane change assist and Pre-Safe technology, along with route-based speed adaptation. For added luxury, opt for the $1,650 Premium Package that upgrades the inside with two 10.25-inch screens and blind spot monitoring. The Multimedia Package adds a navigation system and speed limit assist for $1,150. For $1,090, you can add the Parking Assistance Package that includes a surround-view camera and active parking assist. Notable standalone options for the interior include the $1,100 head-up display, the $850 12-speaker Burmester sound system, and heating/ventilation for the front seats at $1,030.
As we mentioned previously, the only shoppers who should consider the 4Matic are the ones that live in rainy or snow-prone areas. If you regularly enjoy clear skies, the CLA250 will fare just fine. We'd recommend opting for the coupe in the eye-catching shade of Jupiter Red and adding some bits here and there in the way of the Driver Assistance package for some extra safety, and by default, the Multimedia Package will need to be added too. The interior is also improved with the addition of the two 10.25-inch screens. The adjustable suspension is also worth adding, as it improves comfort on the daily commute. This brings our ideal build total to just over $41k.
The C-Class has a less modern exterior design, at least from the front end, and it carries a heavy $45,950 price tag in comparison to the CLA-Class' MSRP of $36,650. But it's also a larger class of vehicle, and is a true coupe unlike the four-door CLA. More power is offered from the 2.0-liter turbo in the C-Class, but the interior in the CLA is more modern thanks to its digital instrument cluster and MBUX functionality. The C-Class is also less economical in terms of gas mileage, thanks to its extra power and heavier curb weight resulting in EPA estimated figures of 22/31/25 mpg. In this case, the CLA-Class would definitely be the better choice of the two. It's lighter on fuel, more modern on the inside and offers a more updated exterior design.
The CLA-Class and the A-Class share a lot of DNA, and when we get down to brass tacks, they're closely related. Both play host to a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot, but the one in the A-Class delivers slightly less power with outputs of 188 horsepower and 221 lb-ft. The A-Class also does away with a good few thousands in terms of its asking price, and is nearly $4,000 cheaper than its more powerful relative. Their interiors are extremely similar, and the CLA-Class only manages to be minorly more luxurious, but the A-Class strikes back with a typical sedan shape aiding rear seat passenger space. The two Merc-badged contenders share the same fuel economy figures, and the list of standard features are similar, though making the decision more about what you prioritise in life. If you prefer practicality and a sensible price tag, we can't fault the A-Class, but if you live for style and performance, the CLA is the pick of the pair.
Check out some informative Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class video reviews below.