The stylish Mercedes-Benz CLA is the brand’s smallest sedan, capable of seating two comfortably. The CLA250 achieves good fuel economy while the CLA45AMG delivers very quick acceleration performance. All-wheel drive is available.
Introduced as a 2014 model, the 2016 CLA250 is largely unchanged, apart from a few feature, trim, and option revisions. A new Night Package option is available, and a Dynamic Select drive mode has been added for 2016. Just 750 examples of an Orange special-edition will be offered nationwide.
With its low nose and rear end, the CLA is a brash entry into the premium small-sedan category. Overall shape is similar to the larger CLS, which Mercedes-Benz dubs a four-door coupe rather than a sedan. Inside, too, the CLA resembles a scaled-down copy of a large Mercedes-Benz model.
The CLA250 comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, developing 208 horsepower and 254 foot-pounds of torque. A 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission sends that power to the front wheels. Paddle shifters behind the steering wheel paddles engage the manual-shifting provision. Acceleration to 60 mph takes just 6.7 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz, a quick performance.
The CLA250 offers a choice of 4MATIC all-wheel drive or standard all-wheel drive.
Also available is the expensive, low-volume CLA45 AMG, with a similar 2.0-liter powertrain that’s been strengthened and uprated in every way to generates 350 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque. That’s slightly more power than what the 2015 model offered, helped by higher turbo boost, yielding 0-60 mph acceleration in 4.1 seconds, which is very quick. All-wheel drive is standard on the CLA45 AMG, and its reprogrammed transmission responds far quicker, downshifting less often than previously.
Every CLA250 has a couple of safety features that aren’t typical in mainstream compact models. Collision Prevention Assist warns of obstacles ahead. Attention Assist monitors possible driver fatigue. Options include blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, parking sensors, and parking assist. Crash-testing has not yet taken place.
Mercedes-Benz wisely decided touchscreens are too distracting, so there’s no touch interface. Smartphones may be connected via a 5.8-inch screen and Mercedes-Benz mBrace2. Three navigation systems are available. One of them includes voice commands, real-time traffic data, and a rearview camera.
The CLA comes in CLA250 and super-performance CLA45 AMG versions.
CLA250 ($32,050) comes with a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch run-flat tires, a power driver’s seat, MB-Tex vinyl upholstery, Bluetooth, and cruise control. CLA250 4MATIC ($34,050) adds all-wheel drive. A Premium package groups surround-sound, satellite radio, dual-zone climate control, an iPod interface, and heated front seats. Individual options include leather seats and a panoramic sunroof. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
CLA45 AMG 4MATIC ($49,500) adds the highly modified 375-horsepower engine and a host of chassis and suspension upgrades aimed at intense performance. The CLA45 AMG can add such features as Recaro seats, uprated tires, carbon-fiber components, and black-out exterior trim.
Mercedes-Benz has given its CLA a striking and different four-door coupe appearance. In its mimicking of the curvy CLS, the smaller CLA shifts away from the long-nose profile that has typified Mercedes-Benz sedans.
The arc-shaped silhouette ends in steeply slanted glass at both front and rear. Softly tapered, that rear end features curves stamped into the fenders, along with ribbed LED taillights. Big air intakes and underbody shielding help achieve a surprisingly low coefficient of drag: only 0.23.
Air intakes are larger yet on the high-performance CLA45 AMG, which replaces the CLA250’s mesh grille with a simple set of dual bright blades. Ducts at the lower rear hint at the AMG’s performance potential.
The CLA is comfortable for those sitting up front on nicely upholstered seats that provide fine support for longer journeys. Firm bolsters help keep riders in place, installed on both the backrest and the seat cushion. Power adjustments alter the driver’s seat for position and rake.
The rear seat is too tight for adults. Think of it as a two-seater with provision to move small kids in a pinch. Small back doors and a low-to-the-ground design add to the challenge, restricting entry/exit. Headroom is skimpy, and foot space scant. So is visibility over the driver’s shoulder.
The CLA250 driver will find the shifter behind the steering wheel, but the AMG version gets a conventional lever atop the console.
Interior styling blends elements from Mercedes-Benz sports cars with those found in its larger sedans. Instruments sit at each ends of long tubes that have angled openings. MB-Tex synthetic seat upholstery is standard, with leather optional. Graphics on the dashboard screens are excellent. The cabin has a number of trays and bins for storage.
The CLA45 AMG gets red-stitched seats and red seatbelts.
Trunk space in the CLA is good, despite the tapered back end, and the rear seats fold down.
Because the CLA250 is tuned for thrifty fuel economy, it doesn’t quite qualify as a sports sedan. That said, its engine yields plenty of power and sounds good under most conditions. Wind and road noise are muted.
The CLA250 transmission tends to upshift rapidly and often. On the highway, downshift requests can take a while to occur. For the best response, skip Eco mode, in favor of Sport or Manual.
Despite being built on a front-drive platform, driving feel is on the neutral side. Compared to larger sedans, which tend to feel heavy, steering is tuned more tightly on the CLA250: quick to respond and providing a well-weighted feel. For best ride quality, skip the optional tires in favor of the standard, taller 17-inch run-flat rubber.
Able to take corners without excessive leaning, the CLA250 differs markedly from typical Mercedes-Benz models, with their compliant suspensions and high-level ride comfort. Steering effort increases while turning, improving responses.
Stop/start technology is standard, but it can emit a bit of a shiver when shutting off the engine, even more so when starting up again. The system sometimes restarts the engine before it’s needed, making operation quite noticeable.
Handling is completely different with the CLA45 AMG, which corners flat and suffers much less understeer. On most pavements, the AMG rides no rougher than the CLA250. It’s also quiet and sufficiently relaxed for everyday driving. An available AMG sport suspension improves roadholding further yet, without sacrificing ride quality. Also optional is an active-exhaust system.
Fuel economy for the CLA250 is impressive, EPA-estimated at 26/38 mpg City/Highway (30 mpg Combined) with front-drive. All-wheel drive sinks the for the CLA250 estimate to 24/33 mpg City/Highway.
The shapely Mercedes-Benz CLA250 offers an appealing blend of performance and handling.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.