Mercedes-Benz established its luxury credentials with expensive cars like the S-Class sedan and the SL-Class convertibles. The CLA-Class promises the Mercedes-Benz experience at a notably lower price level. By and large, it succeeds, with expressive design inside and out, and with powerful engines, surprisingly good handling and available all-wheel drive, the $30,000 CLA-Class declares "mission accomplished."
You'll Like The 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class If...
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA knocks the phrase "affordable Mercedes-Benz" off the standard list of oxymorons. It looks great, drives very well and, most important, still feels like a Mercedes-Benz from behind the wheel.
You May Not Like The 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class If...
The price tag isn't the only small thing about this Benz. The rear seat is tiny, and if you frequently carry rear passengers you may want to make the stretch to a larger model like the C-Class or the GLK-Class SUV.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA was all-new last year, so it gets only minor changes this year. Those include ambient lighting as part of the Interior Package, keyless start is now part of the Premium Package, and a larger 7-inch display with the Multimedia package. There's also a new steering wheel.
Is the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class intimate inside, or cramped? It depends on if you like what you see, and we're betting more will choose the latter. While the low-slung profile means there's not a lot of room, especially in the back, the interior is definitely up to Mercedes-Benz specifications when it comes to materials and assembly. Sure, some of the plastic bits feel a little cheap, but the reality is that next to its competitors, it feels more upmarket than you might think. Even the MB-Tex faux leather feels authentic enough that you likely won't miss real cowhides.
While it may look like Mercedes-Benz simply took its prettiest sedan – the CLS – and left it in the dryer too long to create the CLA-Class, there's a lot more to it. Still, the swooping architecture translates well to the smaller car, making it look longer and wider than it really is, at least in isolation. However, the illusion breaks in traffic, when you notice how little of its lane it occupies. However, the low stance, narrow tires and clean shape net the CLA250 the title of "world's most aerodynamic car" with a drag coefficient of only 0.23.
Much has been made about the Mercedes-Benz CLA250 being a front-wheel-drive (FWD) car. The reality is that you'd be hard-pressed to tell what wheels were doing the hard work from behind the wheel of this compact-luxury sedan. It's quick off the line, thanks to the excellent 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and only at the most extreme cornering limits do you notice front-end "plowing" in a way that belies its FWD origins. It doesn't matter though, as the 4Matic option adds all-wheel drive (AWD), eliminating that tendency and letting the little Benz respond sharply at the limit. If the standard 208-horsepower engine isn't enough for you despite the excellent transmission, check out the CLA45 AMG. Its engine pumps 355 horsepower through all four wheels, plus it offers a stiffer suspension, better brakes and other performance upgrades.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 carries a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) just under $31,000 including the $925 destination charge. Add AWD and you're looking at $2,000 more, and when you start adding option packages, this "inexpensive" Mercedes-Benz can easily swell toward $40,000. However, at $35,000, you're looking at a lot of car with plenty of options. The CLA45 AMG starts considerably higher, at a little more than $48,300. However, even that is a bargain of sorts, since it's the least expensive AMG-badged model you can get. Compared to the Audi A4 (starting at $32,500) and the BMW 3 Series ($32,550 base price), the CLA250 is actually a value. Be sure to check KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price to see what others are paying in your area, and note that residual values are predicted to be well above average, though still below that of the Lexus IS 250.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 comes standard with things you'd expect, like cruise control, a power driver's seat, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. However, we were surprised that more advanced features like rain-sensing windshield wipers were part of the package as well. Keyless ignition, start-stop technology and adaptive braking with hill-start assist are also standard. Bluetooth is standard on the base model, as is a USB port. CLA45 AMG models come with a more powerful engine and standard all-wheel drive, and also include the Sport Package that's available on the CLA250 models.
Most options are available in packages, like the Premium Package that adds keyless entry, as well as a harman/kardon Logic7 Surround Sound system, heated seats (which are also available a la carte) and a few other goodies. A Multimedia Package offers a bigger 7-inch screen with navigation and SiriusXM traffic and weather, as well as a 10-gig music hard drive and a rearview camera. Stand-alone options include 4Matic all-wheel drive, blind-spot assist and the "self-parking" Parktronic feature.
The snug CLA cabin benefits from the extra glass of the panoramic sunroof option. Open it up, and you're treated to near-convertible levels of sunshine. Alternatively, you can just leave the glass exposed, creating the illusion of additional headroom.
A common complaint among enthusiasts is that electrically assisted power steering robs the mechanism of "feel" or "feedback." They'll be happy to know that the CLA manages to retain its feel, making this a more entertaining driver's car.
Under the Hood
You have your choice of engines in Mercedes-Benz's entry-level sedan. The CLA250 gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 producing 208 horsepower, available in either FWD or AWD. The CLA45 AMG version of that engine puts out an astonishing 355 horsepower to all four wheels. The AMG engine is the first 4-cylinder engine from Mercedes-Benz's in-house tuning branch. Both are mated to 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions.
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (CLA250)
208 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250-4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 26/38 mpg (FWD), 24/32 mpg (AWD)
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (CLA45 AMG 4Matic)
355 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
332 lb-ft of torque @ 2,250-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/31 mpg
While Mercedes-Benz built its reputation on cars like the supremely luxurious S-Class sedan, let's face it, not everyone has that kind of budget. The 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class sedan aims to bring that Mercedes-Benz experience to a lower price point, but without sacrificing the "Mercedes-ness" of the car. Starting at around $30,000 for the CLA250, it certainly hits the price point. But what's surprising is the style packed into this compact-luxury sedan. Taking its cues from the larger CLS-Class, the CLA's sweeping lines work well with its tidy dimensions, giving it an aggressiveness and road presence that's matched by how it drives, especially the CLA45 AMG model. It's a compelling car against the likes of the Cadillac ATS, Audi A3 and other small luxury sedans.