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.