The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA boasts styling changes. Now in its fourth year, the CLA is an entry-level luxury car. The smallest sedan that wears the Mercedes-Benz badge, it looks more like a coupe than a sedan and is shaped like the larger CLS, which is referred to as a four-door coupe.
The 2017 CLA sports new bumpers, a new front fascia with expressive air intakes, LED headlamps and taillamps, and a new rear spoiler. The styling updates scratch the surface of relative flamboyance and make its chief rival, the Audi A3, look downright dowdy. More changes for the 2017 CLA include new upholstery, trim, and gauges with red needles.
The entry CLA is the Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 with solid and economical performance from a 208-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a strong 254 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The engine is mounted transversely, with front-wheel drive standard, making the CLA 250 the first front-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz sedan ever sold in the U.S. All-wheel drive is optional. The CLA 250 can accelerate to 60 miles per hour in less than seven seconds, and it gets an EPA-rated 26/38 miles per gallon City/Highway, or 30 mpg Combined. With all-wheel drive it’s three miles per gallon lower.
The CLA45 AMG ups the performance by a ton. It’s the hot rod, as any AMG is, designed for the enthusiast. It uses the same basic 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, pumped up to an amazing 375 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. (We wonder whether the CLA 250 is super-durable because it’s apparently so under-stressed.) A vast number of mechanical parts on the CLA45 AMG have been strengthened or in some way improved, including the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. It’s all-wheel drive. It will zoom to 60 in just 4.1 seconds.
Curiously, although they both use a 7-speed transmission, neither car comes standard with paddle shifters, they’re optional, for both. The CLA 250 uses a retro column selector, and the AMG shifts on the console.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA includes the CLA 250 ($32,050) with front-wheel drive, the CLA 250 4MATIC ($34,050) with all-wheel drive, and the high-performance CLA45 AMG ($49,500) with all-wheel drive.
Standard equipment includes a rearview camera, new for 2017, Bluetooth, Mercedes-Tex vinyl upholstery, and an Attention Assist system that tells you when to drink coffee. Optional for the 2017 CLA are LED high performance headlamps and multi-intensity taillamps. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
The CLA 250 presents a dramatic shape, with an arc-like profile from a radically raked windshield and back glass, over a high beltline and around curved fenders to a low nose and tail. There are no upright frames in the side glass to break up the swoop. The result of all this is a coefficient of drag that’s just 0.23, helped by aero shields under the car.
Meanwhile, the CLA45 AMG takes the same shape and makes it look like a street fighter. The already big front air intakes yawn wider, and the CLA 250’s mesh grill gets replaced by two silver blades.
The interior matches the exterior for swoop and drama. The only problem is that on the exterior, swoop is aerodynamically efficient, but on the inside it just wastes space, or at least prevents opportunities to use it. For example, the sexy roofline reduces back-seat utility, along with rearward visibility, with the pinched view in the mirror compounded by the lip spoiler and uplifted rear deck.
There’s not much room in the rear, and the slim doors make it difficult to climb in and out. Legroom and headroom are limited and it’s no place for old men. But there are a lot of small storage bins and trays.
A big LCD rises from the low dash, which some love and some hate. It’s been made smaller for 2017. The rest of the dash feels inspired by consumer electronics. It’s crisp and modern, with graphics on various screens that are clear.
The new trims for 2017 include something Mercedes calls sail-look, black Dinamica micro fiber, and more traditional matte black ash wood.
When normal mode is selected, the CLA 250’s dual-clutch 7-speed automatic transmission can act like it’s caught off guard when you hammer the throttle, as if it’s not programmed to accept that sort of behavior in the modest car. So put it in Sport mode if that’s what you plan to do. This lag might be a result of the pursuit of fuel mileage, with programming to keep the transmission in higher gears that use lower rpm.
The CLA 250 rides with a firm, heavy and planted feeling, like a Mercedes-Benz, in other words. Its steering feels tightly tuned, again like a Mercedes-Benz. The steering is nicely weighted and the response is quick, getting heavier and quicker as cornering speed increases. Feedback is minimal and typical electric-steering numbness survives. It corners flat. The standard run-flat 17-inch tires deliver a ride that’s reasonably compliant but sometimes unsettled. Eighteen-inchers are available, which might settle things and will probably change the steering. If you’re going to corner the CLA 250 hard, we’d say choose the all-wheel drive for $2000.
The CLA45 AMG feels totally different, even without the available AMG sport suspension package. It corners flatter than the flat of the CLA 250, without feeling any harsher on rough surfaces. The 7-speed dual clutch transmission shifts sharper and more aggressively, meaning more often. The all-wheel drive starts out driving the front wheels but shifts to as much as 50 percent in the rear when traction is needed at the rear wheels, which might be often if you drive hard and pitch it around. When it gets to 50/50 it’s like a Subaru (a leader in all-wheel drive technology).
Of course there’s no reason the CLA45 AMG should feel like the CLA 250, because its steering, suspension and brakes are different. The steering has a quicker ratio and its suspension sits one inch lower and one-half inch wider, with three links and stiffer bearings at each front wheel, to handle the tremendous torque. The front anti-roll bar is fatter. At the rear, there are four links, coil springs, a body-mounted subframe, another fatter anti-roll bar, and 18-inch wheels (19-inch optional). The electronic stability system includes torque vectoring, adjusting the braking and power to each wheel to assist traction at the wheel during cornering.
The result is powerful acceleration and eye-popping grip with totally neutral handling with zero understeer and undetectable torque steer. And if you want to play drag racer, there’s Racestart launch control, to keep the tires from spinning when you floor it from a standing start.
The owner of a Mercedes-Benz CLA will likely have the prettiest car on the block. The CLA 250 has all the right Mercedes-Benz smooth stuff, with none of the stodginess, although the price of styling is rear passenger comfort. The CLA45 AMG, for a lot more money, is an outright hotrod; as such, it has more competition.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with staff reports by The Car Connection.