by Jared Rosenholtz
Hit a Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sedan with a short burst from a shrink-ray, slap on some typical coupe cues along with a sleek sloping roofline, and change the driven wheels from rear to front, and bam, you have yourself a CLA-Class. The top-shots at Mercedes-Benz brought about the CLA-Class with a singular goal in mind; to attract an audience not on the verge of retirement. And, it successfully did just that thanks to its clear-cut sporty design and styling, its contemporary features, and most importantly, its relatively affordable price as the cheapest Mercedes-Benz available right now. Powering the front-wheel-drivetrain of the CLA 250 and the all-wheel-drivetrain of the CLA 250 4MATIC is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four engine with peak outputs of 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission services both models by default. The CLA may be a successful seller, but with its many significant faults, things might be tough against premium rivals like the venerable Audi A3 Sedan.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class enters 2019 having received no notable changes or upgrades, with a fully redesigned second-generation due for a 2020 debut.
Though classified by Mercedes as a four-door coupe, the CLA-Class is, in fact, a four-door sedan with identifiable coupe styling. It features the new diamond-block grille and grille-integrated three-point star emblem and a "twin power dome" hood and rides on standard 17-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels. As standard, the CLA-Class is outfitted with automatic light-sensing headlamps and LED daytime running lamps. A panorama roof and LED headlamps are available as standalone options while a chrome diamond-block grille is available in the AMG Line Exterior Package.
The CLA-Class is one of the more compact coupes Mercedes-Benz has to offer with smaller dimensions and lighter curb weights than most four-door sedans in the compact luxury segment. Its total length of 182.3 inches spans a short wheelbase of 106.3 inches while its 80-inch total body width underpins an overall height of 56.6 inches. The CLA-Class rides 3.9 inches from the tarmac with a curb weight of 3,274 lbs for the FWD CLA 250 and 3,395 lbs from the CLA 250 4MATIC. The RWD and AWD variants of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan each hold around 200 lbs over the CLA-Class.
The 2019 CLA exterior color palette consists of nine options, the standard hues being Jupiter Red, Polar White, and Night Black. The available metallic paint options all cost an additional $720. These include Cosmos Black, Polar Silver, Mountain Gray, Lunar Blue, and Cocoa Brown. The Designo Polar Silver Magno with matte finish costs an extra $2,500. Any of the gray or silver hues work well with the classy aesthetic of the CLA. Otherwise, the Jupiter Red plays toward the sportier characteristics of the CLA's coupe styling.
The Mercedes CLA 250 offers a favorable appeal in its above-average power to weight ratio with its 2.0-liter turbo inline-four engine's peak outputs of 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. With a 0-60 mph time of 6.8 seconds, the CLA in AWD guise accelerates to the mark in only a tenth of a second faster than the FWD variant. Both are electronically limited to a top speed of 130 mph. The Audi A3 Sedan quattro, also featuring a 2.0-liter turbo inline-four engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, races to the mark in almost a full second and a half faster with an acceleration time of 5.4 seconds, partially due to a 20 hp increase in power over the CLA.
The base CLA 250 was the first front-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz introduced to the North American market. The CLA was designed as a FWD vehicle to help make it as compact as it is without impeding on cargo and passenger room too much, whilst also keeping its costs low for the younger market. FWD systems are typical for the compact vehicle segment with most premium competitors also offering AWD variations.
Though off-the-line acceleration is far from breakneck, the 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque produced by the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four engine are more than ample for getting the four-door coupe on the move. At lower speeds, not only is the CLA's powertrain the most inefficient, but it's here where it also behaves the worst. It exhibits prominent turbo-lag, lackluster throttle responses, and frustratingly delayed gear shifts, accompanied by clunkiness when negotiating traffic or parking lots. With light acceleration or when pulling away from a stop, the dual-clutch automatic transmission can be noticeably slow to respond. From the midrange onward, however, power delivery becomes smoother and more readily available for effective overtaking, and the dual-clutch automatic responds more rapidly. The powertrain as a whole performs and behaves favorably in a highway setting, whereas drivability within the city becomes frustrating and far from premium in nature.
The CLA 250, with its sporty suspension, drives firmer than most luxury sedans. Most road imperfections and undulations can be felt through the cabin and any road short of perfection will make itself known through the small body of the coupe. An adaptive suspension is available for both the FWD and AWD models, which does allow the driver to set the suspension softer, but the ride still isn't as plush as it should be.
The cabin is suitably isolated from most exterior noise as long as you stick with the standard 17-inch alloys, otherwise, the larger wheels amplify road noise considerably and impact ride quality. The CLA's compact dimensions along with its sporty suspension and sharp steering do, however, accord it with some handling prowess. It's appealingly nimble in the city streets and with more enthusiastic driving, takes on corners with aplomb, remaining easily controlled and firmly planted to the asphalt. However, even for a FWD based compact coupe, it exhibits a lot of understeer at the limit, breaking away quicker than it should.
Though the steering is sharp and accurately responsive, it doesn't effectively communicate levels of grip with the driver. The brakes provide adequate stopping power but are nothing special.
While most Mercedes stand head and shoulders above rivals when it comes to ride comfort, the CLA seems crashy and underdeveloped, while dynamically it can't hold a candle to offerings from BMW and Audi.
The CLA's powertrain strikes a good balance between power and efficiency, the FWD guise CLA 250 returning EPA mileage estimates of 24/37/29 mpg with city/highway/combined EPA driving cycles. The AWD CLA 250 4MATIC returns slightly less attractive figures of 24/32/27 mpg on EPA drive cycles. With its 14.8-gallon gas tank filled to the brim with the recommended premium unleaded gas and with mixed driving conditions, the CLA 250 will manage around 429 miles before requiring a refuel. A core class competitor, the Audi A3, is equipped with a similar powertrain setup as the CLA returning similar EPA estimates of 26/35/29 mpg.
The interior of the CLA-Class is not as luxurious or upscale as many other Mercedes-Benz vehicles, and the build quality and materials don't give off a premium brand impression. The cabin setup is minimalistic and modern, and the layout appropriately ergonomic. Other than the center rear seat, the front and outboard rear seats are spacious, comfortable, and supportive. The front seats are 14-way power-adjustable with driver-side memory, and the rear seats are 60/40 split-folding. Accommodating all passengers is dual-zone automatic climate control, amber ambient interior lighting, and a standard Mercedes sound system. But while it technically ticks all the boxes, it feels cheaply assembled, lacking the quality of materials one expects from a brand as prestigious as Mercedes-Benz.
A total of five passengers are accommodated in the CLA-Class, but with limited room in the rear, only four of those will be comfortable. The front sports seats are comfortably firm with enough cushioning for bearable long duration use. They feature sporty contouring and bolstering for optimal support and are adorned with quality MB-Tex upholstery. However, legroom all-around is rather limited for the segment, and the sloping roofline impedes on rear-passenger headspace and driver visibility. Forward and peripheral visibility is otherwise adequate and the driver's seating position easy to set thanks to ample seating and steering adjustability. Getting into and out of the CLA-Class is leisurely, although the sloping roofline means that taller passengers climbing into or out of the rear seats will have to uncomfortably contort to some degree.
As standard, the CLA comes equipped with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and is adorned with high-quality MB-Tex upholstery with sail pattern trim. The upholstery can be had in either Black, Sahara Beige, or Crystal Gray. For $1,600 genuine leather upholstery can be opted in either Black, Nut Brown, or combination Black/Sahara Beige. There is also aluminum trim available for an extra $150, as well as Matte Black Ash wood trim and Burl Walnut wood trim, each optional for an extra $325. Multicolor ambient cabin lighting is available for $155 and is interchangeable between light blue, orange, and white.
The 2019 CLA-Class offers only 13.1 cubic feet of trunk space which is slightly above average for the small sedan segment. That's enough trunk room for a month's worth of grocery shopping. The trunk opens appreciably wide and has a conveniently deep floor, but the tapering design of the taillights creates an awkwardly narrow section which makes loading heavy items difficult. The rear seats are 60/40 split-folding and expand trunk space to accommodate larger cargo items if needed.
In-cabin storage solutions are rather limited but suitable. Key solutions include wide door side pockets with bottle holder slots on all doors. In the center stack, there's a small sealed cubby, dual cupholders, and a sizable armrest storage console. The glovebox is decently spacious. The center rear seat backrest folds down to present dual cupholders.
As the most affordable Mercedes-Benz available at the moment, the CLA-Class is outfitted with a very basic level of standard vehicle features but consequently has a vast range of optional features and packages available. As standard, the CLA-Class is outfitted with push-button keyless start, SmartKey remote locking, an ECO Start/Stop system, a power tilt/telescoping steering column, dual-zone automatic climate control, and amber ambient cabin lighting. Also featured are 14-way power-adjustable front seats with driver-side memory function and 60/40 split-folding rear seats. Some standard exterior features include heated power and auto-dimming rearview mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a grille-integrated Star and "twin power dome" hood. CLA-Class models also feature a Dynamic Select comprising four drive modes including ECO, Sport, Comfort, and Individual. Active distance assist, lane-keeping assist, active parking assist, and blind-spot assist are all available as additional driver assistance systems.
Infotainment in the CLA-Class is delivered by an eight-inch high-resolution floating display tethered to a rotary controller and standard Mercedes-Benz audio system with an in-dash CD player with MP3 capability, HD Radio receiver, hands-free Bluetooth interface with Bluetooth audio streaming, and SiriusXM Radio with a six-month all-access trial. The media-hub comprises dual USB ports for device connectivity and charging and an SD card reader. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality are not standard but are available via the optional Smartphone Integration Package. The system utilizes the outdated Mercedes COMAND user interface which is not as contemporary, user-friendly, or intuitive as rival systems. The standard central remote controller is also an unintuitive and distracting aspect of the infotainment system itself.
There have been no major recalls for the 2019 year model Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, with previous recalls occurring in 2018 for problems with the front airbags. J.D. Power gave the 2019 CLA-Class an above-average predicted reliability rating of four out of five. Mercedes-Benz covers the CLA-Class with a standard new vehicle four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty and offers various warranty extensions.
Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has evaluated any year model of the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class for its crash-test effectiveness, but the IIHS did rate the optional front crash prevention technologies as Superior.
Standard safety equipment comprises eight standard airbags including dual front knee airbags, a rearview camera, radar-based active brake assist, and attention assist with driver drowsiness detection. Also standard are adaptive brake assist with hill-start assist, three-stage electronic stability program, emergency-sensing brake assist, and an advanced tire pressure monitoring system. Blindspot assist is available as a standalone driver-assist option and the optional Driver Assistance Package comprises active distance assist and lane-keeping assist.
The 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a great car for anyone who wants a compact, modern, and economical four-door with a coupe aesthetic. However, it is no ordinary compact sedan, competing in the luxury segment it fails to live up to the premium standards expected of its ride quality, and while its interior may look Mercedes, the build quality and materials together elicit a cheap impression. Some indication of its level of crash-test safety would benefit buyer confidence seeing that the CLA is aimed at a younger audience. It is also rather short on active safety and advanced driver-assist features at the standard level and has only a limited selection of optional additions. The CLA's infotainment system is outdated, and the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality on the standard features list is a glaring omission. We'd recommend waiting until the release of the fully redesigned 2020 CLA for the new and more advanced MBUX infotainment system, as well as a new vehicle architecture that should go some way towards remedying the problems with the current CLA.
The 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 FWD is available on the market with an MSRP of $33,100, while the CLA 250 4MATIC is $2,000 more with an MSRP of $35,100. That's excluding Mercedes-Benz's destination and delivery charge of $995 as well as any tax, registration, and licensing fees and any dealership incentives. German cars are known for their pricey options, so be careful which boxes you tick, or the price climbs quickly..
Making up the 2019 CLA-Class trim lineup are two model options; the CLA 250 and CLA 250 4MATIC.
The only difference between the trim options is their respective drivetrains where the CLA 250 powers the front wheels and the CLA 250 4MATIC is all-wheel-drive. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine powers both models along with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Both models ride on 17-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels and are fitted with LED head and tail lamps as well as daytime running lamps. Standard interior elements include a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel and high-quality MB-Tex upholstery with sail pattern trim. In-cabin seating is made up of 14-way power-adjustable front sports seats with thigh and lumbar support and driver-side memory functions and 60/40 split-folding rear seats. Some key standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control and Dynamic Select drive modes. An eight-inch high-resolution touchscreen display and standard Mercedes sound system deliver infotainment along with an in-dash CD player with MP3 capability, HD Radio receiver, hands-free Bluetooth interface with Bluetooth audio streaming. Standard safety equipment comprises a rearview camera, radar-based active brake assist, and attention assist with driver drowsiness detection.
A base model CLA is generously equipped, but there are still means of decking it out further with an assortment of packages and standalone options.
For $1,800, the Premium Package can be optioned which adds keyless-Go with a hands-free access trunk opener, heated front seats, blind-spot assist, and SiriusXM Radio with a six-month all-access trial.
The Convenience Package cost $400 and includes an auto-dimming driver-side and inside rearview mirror, a compass, and a universal garage door opener. The Driver Assistance Package outfits the CLA 250 with active distance assist and lane-keeping assist for $1,500.
The $2,300 Multimedia Package comprises Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, voice control with learning feature, COMAND navigation, three years of navigation map updates, and five years of SiriusXM Traffic and Weather services. The Smartphone Integration Package adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality for only $350.
There is also an AMG Line Exterior package that sculpts the CLA with AMG body styling and adds a chrome-tipped diamond-block grille, 18-inch AMG twin five-spoke silver wheels, and perforated front brakes with painted calipers all for $2,400. The $300 Night Package is another cosmetic bundle that gives the CLA gloss black exterior accents and 18-inch AMG twin five-spoke wheels with black accents.
The decision between which model to opt for really comes down to a single and easy to answer question: do you require the all-weather capabilities of the CLA 250 4MATIC, or not? Either way, both models are identical in every other regard. So along with whichever model you pick, we also recommend ticking a couple of options boxes, especially the Premium Package for the blind spot assist, hands-free access trunk opener, and heated front seats. We also suggest the Smartphone Integration Package for the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, as well as the Driver Assistance Package for the active distance assist, and lane-keeping assist. Avoid the larger wheels, as they compromise ride comfort oo much for the sake of style.
For marginally better power, acceleration, and in-cabin passenger room, the base Mercedes-Benz C300 Sedan asks only $8,300 more than the CLA 250. With peak outputs of 255 hp and 273 lb-ft, the C300 is faster than the CLA, accelerating from 0-60 mph in a full second faster. It is, however, marginally less economical than the CLA. Surprisingly, the larger C300 offers slightly less trunk capacity at 12.6 cubic feet, however, with a larger wheelbase the C300 has more in-cabin passenger room and a traditional roofline that doesn't impede on headroom. In-car connectivity is better with the C300, too, as it comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard, while these are only optional on the CLA. Actually having been evaluated for crash-test safety, the C300 was named a Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS and received top-notch safety ratings from the NHTSA. Though in a higher pricing bracket than the CLA, the C300 is more of a premium sedan, boasting more features, more space, and more comfort. The C300 is well-worth the premium pricing; as a luxury vehicle, it just delivers more than the CLA in just about every aspect.
While the base level trim option of the 2019 Audi A3 is available for $2,000 more than the base CLA 250, those looking for a sportier drive will want to consider the Audi A3 Prestige. Equipped with the 45 TFSI 2.0-liter inline-four turbo engine the A3 offers far more performance, and to put it plainly, a far more enjoyable ride. The A3's sportiness is positively augmented by its handling dynamics as well, and Audi's superior craftsmanship of AWD systems shines through when the A3 is thrown around at its limit. Not only will the A3 leave the CLA for dead at the starting line, but it'll tackle every corner with more grace and poise, while remaining more comfortable throughout. The interior of the A3 further shames the CLA with its more premium feel, futuristic design, and its greater tech, with the optional virtual cockpit simply leagues beyond anything the CLA offers. The Audi A3 sticks to its guns as a compact luxury sedan with no desire for sleek coupe looks, benefitting interior volumes and giving buyers something more traditional. But it performs better, rides better, and feels better, too making it the better vehicle in all aspects bar trunk volume.