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.