BMW is taking it to Mercedes in the small sedan market.
Mercedes has been making hay while the sun shines here in the US with its compact four-door coupes, but two clouds have just swum into view and threaten to throw shade on the Mercedes party. Those two clouds are arriving in the US in the form of the new BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe. The offerings from both of the German premium brands promise to bring style and relative affordability to the entry-level of premium sedans which makes it a great time to be shopping for your first premium vehicle. But if you want a four-door sedan, should you be shopping with team Mercedes or team BMW?
Price is the battleground where BMW hasn't drawn its weapons yet. The BMW 228i will face off with Mercedes' CLA 250 which starts at $33,100. However, the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe arrives in the US with all-wheel-drive as standard. To get into an all-wheel-drive optioned CLA 250 you'll be paying at least $35,100.
BMW's sportier M235i will square off against the more powerful Mercedes-AMG CLA 35, and both are waiting for pricing to be announced.
Performance from the base models of both cars isn't going to snap any necks, and the game here definitely won't be won on horsepower. The Mercedes CLA 250 uses a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine that makes 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. BMW's 228i also uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but BMW's makes 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. That's 20 more horses under the BMW's hood but the exact same amount of torque.
Both the sportier versions of the car use the same engines but with the power output cranked up. BMW's M235i generates 301 hp with 332 lb-ft of twist, while the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 doesn't match up this time in torque, and makes 302 hp with 295 lb-ft of twist. What we're waiting for now is to drive them both so we can compare the available grip and handling in the hope that the CLA 35 can keep up with the M235i through the corners.
While the German premium brands love the marketing term "four-door coupe" the reality is they are 4-door sedans with coupe-like rooflines. Although the term "4-door coupe" may tarnish the automotive soul, it's hard to deny the sloping rear-roofline makes for a good looking silhouette. Mercedes' new diamond-block grille adds back an element of class lost by the increasingly large three-point star emblem on the front, while the 2 Series Gran Coupe's ever-increasing kidney grills are going to be a point of contention for many.
The biggest difference as first impressions go is how the Mercedes A-Class pulls off a more elegant look, while BMW's 2 Series Gran Coupe has a much more aggressive-looking face.
When we reviewed the CLA 250, the interior was a disappointment. The problem isn't in the style but in the execution. Build quality isn't what you expect from a Mercedes badged car and neither was the materials. We've seen the BMW, but as far as we know nobody outside of BMW has driven one with a finished interior yet. BMW has had plenty of practice at entry-level price points and putting together a decent interior but the proof will be in the pudding.
What we are hoping for, and what this little skirmish in the premium level wars is shaping up to be, is a case of choosing between a more sedate and pleasant to drive Mercedes and the tauter, sportier, BMW style of driving dynamics. In a perfect world, there'll be a perfect flavor for every customer.
That looks to be how the CLA 250 and 228i will shake out in the real world, but when it comes to the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 and the M235i the BMW looks like it may win out. From an AMG fettled engine, the expectation is for a monster to lurk under the hood, even if it's a little 4-cylinder monster. However, the M235i's extra 37 ft-lb of torque is substantial if curb weight is approximately equal. For the little beast under the hood though, you'll have to step up to the AMG CLA 45 Coupe and it's 375 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque while writing a check for $53,100.