Polarizing or not, this car falls short on quality and only sells because of its Tri-Star badge.
Brand is an incredibly powerful thing in the minds of consumers, and subsequently, for automakers. For example, if an emergency situation demanded that you leave your kid behind to go tend to something important, who would you want to leave your baby with? An old woman you don’t know or Mother Teresa? After all Mother Teresa was an old woman and could be the same person, but it’s the name that makes the difference.
For automakers, the instant recognition is what makes the difference between high sales and having to work hard and lure customers into a dealership. As a luxury car manufacturer who usually knows what its doing, Mercedes-Benz is aware of the power of branding, so it is unfortunate that they tried to exploit it by making the CLA. During its conception, Mercedes was up to its questionable habit of trying to find a new niche to invent. In search of millennial dollars, the German brand tried to make something that looked edgy, had the attractive lines of a coupe, cost under $35,000, and had enough of a “luxury” feel that these young buyers could feel special inside the cockpit. Essentially, the CLA is Mercedes’ version of candy-flavored cigarettes.
Get em’ hooked young and you have a customer for life. Problem is that like cigarettes, the CLA ended up being a bad way to try and look cool. Based off the A-Class hatchback, the CLA is a front-wheel drive “four-door coupe.” While the car looks good and will turn more heads than many competitors in this price range, it’s the inside where things begin to fall apart for the CLA. While an initial pass over the interior might confirm that it looks expensive, an army of cheap plastics, misshapen trim pieces, and a tacky navigation screen argue otherwise. The backseat is the area that most obviously outlines the car’s youth appeal. It is so cramped and low that young singles, couples, and those with small children are the only ones that will fit inside.
The chassis has a laundry list of complaints from owners for having enough squeaks and rattles that body integrity becomes a concern. In addition, the car’s reliability has been less than stellar and mostly on the CLA’s merit, Consumer Reports has lowered the entire Mercedes brand 11 places on its most reliable brands list, landing it in 24th place. Now a lot of automakers make bad cars, but this isn’t why the CLA earns a good crushing. It’s because Mercedes is a hugely capable brand that should not be churning out subpar quality cars just to turn a quick buck. This would be like a five star Italian restaurant serving up Olive Garden and adorning it with rosemary leaves to make it look fancy.
It might fool some people at first, but sooner or later the cheap taste and poor quality is noticed and the restaurant gets a bad review. As far as branding goes, Mercedes makes enough great cars to counter the CLA’s mishaps, but it needs to pour some more investment dollars into the car and stop expecting it to be a profit machine like the S-Class. If this happens, then the CLA can become a true lure to young and emerging Mercedes customers as well as a solid alternative to those looking for an entry-level luxury sedan. With a bit more refinement, the CLA can go from being the half-finished car that it is and morph into a tasty treat for entry-level customers with the quality, luxury, and solidity that we've come to expect from the world's first automaker.