We break down the CLA 250, 35, and 45.
Along with the A-Class sedan and the GLA/GLB crossovers, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class represents an affordable entry point to a prestigious luxury brand. First introduced in the 2020 model year, the second-generation CLA is a massive improvement over the outgoing car with refined styling, a vastly more luxurious interior, and three stellar engine options. Although Mercedes only sells the CLA with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the powertrain is offered in three radically different flavors.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 is a mid-level performance model that slots between the base CLA 250 and the hardcore 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. We recently had a chance to review both AMG variants of the CLA and thought it would be a perfect opportunity to compare and contrast. If you are in the market for a new CLA, here's which one you should consider.
Mercedes markets the CLA as a four-door coupe, a sedan with a coupe-like side profile and pillarless doors. Like its big brother, the CLS, the four-door coupe design gives the CLA attractive body lines no matter which version you opt for. All CLA variants offer a wide range of wheel options spanning 18 to 19 inches, culminating with forged 19-inch wheels on the CLA 45. There are subtle changes to the front and rear bumpers, but the most noticeable difference between the CLA 250, 35, and 45 is the grille.
The base CLA 250's grille features a unique dotted pattern, while the CLA 35 gets a unique AMG grille with horizontal crossbars. The CLA 45 is the most differentiated with the AMG Panamericana grille and an optional AMG Aerodynamics Package with a more pronounced front splitter, rear spoiler, and canards.
From the base CLA 250 up to the CLA 45, this second-generation model is leaps and bounds more luxurious than its predecessor. A few hard surfaces are left in the cabin, but it's awe-inspiring for an entry-level product. All except the base 250 model include the excellent MBUX infotainment system with dual 10.25-inch screens that give the cabin a futuristic look. Beautiful ambient lighting on the air vents further accentuates the luxury atmosphere. Mercedes also offers various interior color options, including grey, black, brown, red, and beige, to suit buyers' tastes.
The base seats are pretty comfortable and are included as standard on all three models. Both AMG variants can optionally have AMG performance bucket seats, transforming the cabin into a race car cockpit. Though they aren't nearly as compliant, the AMG seats hug the driver and passenger through the bends like a true performance car.
All CLA variants use a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but there are huge differences between the three. Both the CLA 250 and CLA 35 use an engine called the M260. The CLA 250 produces a reasonable 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, going to front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive through an eight-speed dual-clutch. Most buyers will find the CLA 250 quick enough with a 6.3-second 0-60 mph time.
Enthusiasts buyers looking for more flare will want to opt for the CLA 35. It dials the output to 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, dropping the 0-60 mph time to just 4.8 seconds. Previous owners trading in vehicles like a Ford Focus ST, Subaru WRX or WRX STI, or Volkswagen Golf R should be happy with this performance level.
For those who like to live life on the edge, the CLA 45 is the pinnacle with 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, and a 4.0-second 0-60 mph time. The CLA 45 uses a unique engine variant called the M139, which is rotated 180 degrees for improved performance. Speed freaks will love this engine's tremendous punch and ludicrous launch control.
All three versions of the CLA can be optioned to the gills, taking them from reasonable to ludicrous in a hurry. The base CLA 250 is obviously the most attainable, starting at $37,850 for FWD or $39,850 for AWD. Stepping up to the hotter CLA 35 costs $47,850, while the range-topping CLA 45 is considerably more expensive at $55,350. With options, a fully-loaded CLA 45 can easily top $70,000, putting the CLA well into C-Class and even E-Class pricing territory.
As long as you are disciplined with options, we think the CLA is a serious contender in the sub-compact luxury segment. We much prefer it to the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe and think it will stand up well against the incoming Audi A3, S3, and RS3. If performance isn't as important to you as style, the CLA 250 is a lovely vehicle. The CLA 35 seems like it has the most wide-ranging appeal of the three but if we could afford it, we'd opt for the CLA 45 in a heartbeat.