2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
New premium compact sedan with front-wheel drive.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a brand-new line of premium compact sedans that abandon the brand's classic rear-wheel drive for less expensive front-wheel drive. Rear-wheel drive is generally considered superior for sporty performance, and indeed we found the front-wheel-drive configuration in the CLA250 makes for a comfortable, if not entirely competitive, driving experience. CLA250 models are priced in the low $30,000s.
Built on an all-new platform, the 2014 CLA-Class comes in two main variants: CLA250 and CLA45 AMG. CLA250 comes standard with front-wheel drive; 4MATIC all-wheel drive will be available spring 2014. CLA45 AMG comes standard with 4MATIC.
We expect the majority of cars on the road will be the CLA250, with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine good for 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with a new 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. Standard features include an ECO engine start/stop system, designed to improve gas mileage. Fuel economy estimates from the EPA for the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 are an admirable 26/38 mpg City/Highway.
The hotrod is the CLA45 AMG, with a hand-built version of the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine good for 355 hp and 332 lb.-ft. of torque, a sport-tuned suspension, bigger brakes, more aggressive shift points and more direct steering, as well as unique exterior and interior styling.
The styling is unique but in some views looks overdone. Mercedes-Benz wants customers to consider the CLA-Class a baby version of the expensive CL-Class coupe, and the CLA-Class does bear some resemblance, especially in the sloping roofline and in its curved rear decklid. Lines are a combination of sharp and curvy. In the rear, the swoopy tail lamps create almost a sideways teardrop shape, with outer corners that appear almost as if they're dripping down into the rear bumper, a la a Salvador Dali painting.
The CLA-Class has four doors and back seats to accommodate a total of four people, but the cramped back seats are best used for small packages, not people.
Interior materials for the most part live up to Mercedes-Benz's reputation, with soft-touch materials on the dash and doors. Wood trim looks authentic and classy. Color combinations are tasteful. However, the CLA-Class does fall short in some places, like in the placement and layout of the climate control buttons, which are far too low and are made of hard plastic. The housing for the standard color display also looks rather stuck-on. Still, we feel the interior is more luxurious than many similarly priced cars.
Performance is adequate in the CLA250, and most won't notice the difference between the CLA's front-wheel-drive setup and a sportier rear-wheel-drive vehicle. The CLA45 AMG has plenty of pep and sounds tough. It handles winding roads much better with its all-wheel-drive setup, but comes in at much pricier territory.
There aren't many vehicles that go head-to-head with the CLA-Class. One close competitor would be the BMW 1 Series, which is on hiatus for the 2014 model year and is rumored to return soon, fully redesigned. Those considering the 2014 CLA-Class should also look at the BMW 320i, which offers superior driving dynamics and slightly more space, although it doesn't measure up when it comes to interior materials quality. Another excellent alternative is the Cadillac ATS, which offers track-worthy performance and a luxe cabin. At a slightly lower price is the new Acura ILX, which is available in a hybrid model, but it lacks the CLA's performance. Those considering the near-$50,000 CLA45 AMG should also look at the racy Audi S4 sedan, though it's an older product.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class currently comes in CLA250 and CLA45 AMG variants.
CLA250 ($29,900) is powered by a 208-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 and comes standard with air conditioning, MB Tex vinyl upholstery, eight-way power front seats with driver memory, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, automatic wipers, cruise control, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, Mercedes Benz's COMAND interface with 5.8-inch color display, mbrace2 telematics/smartphone integration, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, an audio system with a CD player and 17-inch alloy wheels. Options for CLA250 include the Sport Package ($2,000), which adds a sport suspension, upgraded brakes with perforated front discs, AMG styling cues and 18-inch wheels. CLA 250 4MATIC ($31,900) adds all-wheel drive, and will be available late in the model year.
CLA45 AMG ($47,450) uses an enhanced version of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 355 hp and 332 lb.-ft. of torque. 4MATIC all-wheel drive is standard. All features found on the CLA250 are included, plus a firmer sport suspension, upgraded brakes and 18-inch wheels.
Options for both CLA-Class models include a Premium Package ($2,100), which adds dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, an iPod/MP3 interface, auto-dimming mirrors, garage door opener, compass and premium harman/kardon audio with satellite radio capability. The Multimedia Package ($2,370) adds navigation, a 7-inch high resolution display screen with 3D map views, real-time weather and traffic, a 6-CD changer, hard drive storage with 10GB for music, SD card slot and rearview camera. An Interior Package ($1,500) comes with leather upholstery and unique interior trim.
Safety features include front-seat side thorax airbags, front-seat side pelvic airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag, electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes and Mercedes-Benz's mbrace2 emergency telematics. On the CLA45 AMG, drivers can select from three modes that adjust the invasiveness of the stability control. Also standard is Mercedes-Benz's Collision Prevention Assist, which will automatically cause the car to brake if the system deems a collision to be imminent, as well as Attention Assist, which monitors the driver's level of drowsiness. Optional safety features include a Driver Assistance Package ($2,500), which includes blind spot assist, lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. Rear-seat side-impact airbags ($420) are also available.
Mercedes-Benz bills the CLA-Class as a baby version of the uber-expensive CL-Class coupe, and the CLA-Class does bear some resemblance, especially in the sloping roofline and in its curved rear decklid. Lines are a combination of sharp and curvy.
In front, there's the Mercedes three-pointed star integrated into a large front grille covered with mesh that's trimmed with oval accents at each intersection that resemble tiny droplets. CLA250 comes standard with an all-black grille, while sport package and AMG models have chrome accents. Wraparound headlamp housings are lined with LED accent lamps. Two sharp vertical creases give the hood an athletic shape.
From the side, lines are sharp and distinct. One flows seamlessly from the headlamp housing, over the front fender and into the rear door in a graceful arc a la the CLS. On the bottom, a deeply sculpted reverse arc rises from the front wheel to the back. Dual horizontal stripes across the sideview mirrors are integrated turn signal indicators. Wheel designs vary by style; the base CLA250 gets 17 inch wheels, while the sport package and CLA 45 AMG gets 18s.
In the rear, the swoopy tail lamps almost resemble a sideways water drop, like they're dripping over the rear fenders, a la a Salvador Dali painting. While the shape is unique, from straight on it also gives the CLA-Class the appearance of a droopy behind. Dual exhaust tips are tucked nearly beneath the rear bumper, creating a symmetrical look.
Interior materials for the most part live up to Mercedes Benz's reputation, with soft-touch materials on the dash and doors. Standard silver-toned trim is attractive and fine for the price point. Optional burl walnut wood trim looks classy, and all interior color combinations are tasteful. However, the CLA-Class does fall short in some places, like in the placement and layout of the climate control buttons, which are copious, far too low down on the center stack and made of hard plastic.
The color display sits high up on the center stack and is easy to read, but looks cheap and stuck-on, like an aftermarket unit. Still, we feel the interior overall is more luxurious than that of the BMW 320i, though it may not be as nice as that found in the Cadillac ATS.
In front of the driver are large, analog gauges that look good and are easy to read. As in all Mercedes Benz models, drivers can toggle through a variety of information on the display screen. The steering wheel feels good in-hand, and is substantial, but not overly stuffed. This is especially nice on the CLA45 AMG, which is partially wrapped in suede-like material for extra grip, which we prefer over the ridiculously thick BMW M Sport steering wheel.
While seats in most cars keep getting bigger, those in the CLA250 and CLA45 AMG are relatively svelte and fit us nicely. Those of smaller stature fit comfortably, without the long seat cushions found in larger cars that prevent knees from bending. Six footers fit without complaint as well, though there is less headroom in the CLA-Class than in the BMW 3 Series or Cadillac ATS. The seat design uses integrated headrests, which look good (and are presumably also less expensive to manufacture). The headrest angle in the CLA250 is comfortable, though in the CLA45 AMG, they slant a tad too forward, which created an awkward gap between our neck and the seat back.
Rear seats are best left unoccupied, or for storage. While they will carry passengers in a pinch, they aren't roomy enough to be comfortable. Rear legroom measures a paltry 27.1 inches, compared with 35.1 inches in the BMW 320i and 33.5 inches in the Cadillac ATS. The sharply sloping roofline of the CLS-Class also limits rear headroom, offering only 35.6 inches, compared with 37.7 inches in the BMW and 36.8 in the ATS. Bottom line: Only get this car if you're planning on driving solo or with someone riding shotgun.
Trunk space in the CLA-Class is quite good, with 13.1 cubic feet of space, compared to 13 cubic feet in the BMW 3 Series and 10.2 in the Cadillac ATS.
Performance is adequate in the Mercedes-Benz CLA250. The CLA250 uses front-wheel drive, which lacks the sportier driving characteristics of rear-wheel drive. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes the most of its 208 horses, with torque that's fully available from as low as 1250 rpm, for good low-end boost. The engine is noisy when accelerating hard and at higher revs, normal for an engine of this size.
The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission shifts quickly, though shifts feel hard when accelerating quickly. CLA250 models equipped with the sport package and all CLA45 AMG models have three drive modes: Comfort, Sport and Manual, the latter of which allows the driver to select gears via the steering-wheel-mounted paddles. Modes alter shift points and throttle mapping to be either more efficient or more sporty, but different settings do not change steering or suspension like many performance-oriented cars. Comfort is best for commuting, while Sport is better for spirited driving.
Steering in the CLA250 is fine for driving around town. In the center, it feels a bit numb; Mercedes-Benz engineers say this is by design, so the range is more comfort-oriented in straight lines. Only on twisting roads does the steering feel more direct, when the steering wheel is at a sharp enough angle for the system to tighten up.
Ride quality is on the firm side, but it's not teeth-chattering. Our CLA250 test car was equipped with optional 18-inch wheels with performance tires, which come at the expense of ride quality and increased road and tire noise. The 17-inch wheels and tires that come standard on the CLA250 should, in theory, be quieter, but we have not driven it and verified that.
The CLA45 AMG is a whole other animal. It has plenty of pep and handles winding roads much better with its 4MATIC all-wheel drive. Steering is more direct and precise in the CLA45 AMG, and it handles nicely. The sound of its 355-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 is its most compelling element, with an obnoxious whine that lets others know you're coming. Downshifts come complete with a loud crackle, adding insult to injury when passing other drivers.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a fine daily driver with a comfortable cabin for those looking to take the leap into luxury car territory, but it lacks the athletic handling of rear-wheel-drive vehicles around the same price. The CLA45 AMG is fun to drive and sounds great, though there are plenty of worthy competitors at the near-$50k mark.
Laura Burstein filed this report after her test drives of the CLA250 and CLA45 AMG around Washington.
Mercedes-Benz CLA250 ($29,900); CLA250 4MATIC ($31,900); CLA45 AMG ($47,450).
Options As Tested
Multimedia Package ($2,370) with navigation, rearview camera, 7-inch high resolution display with 3D map views, real-time weather and traffic, 6CD, hard drive storage with 10GB for music, SD card slot; 18-inch wheels with high-performance tires ($500); rear decklid spoiler ($300).
Mercedes-Benz CLA250 ($29,900).
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