First launched as a 2014 model, the still-striking CLA sedan is billed as a “four-door coupe” by Mercedes-Benz. Compact in size but strong in finesse as well as luxury fittings, the CLA makes some near-luxury rivals from Audi and BMW look almost subdued.
Two new equipment groups, Premium and Convenience, are now included with the performance-oriented Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 edition, which also gains 19-inch multi-spoke AMG wheels. Otherwise, apart from a new Denim Blue body color for the 4-cylinder model, little has changed for the 2019 model year.
As before, two versions are offered: CLA 250 and AMG CLA 45. In the CLA 250, a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine develops 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, mating with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Acceleration to 60 mph is accomplished in 6.8 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz.
Front-wheel drive is standard on the CLA 250, but 4Matic all-wheel drive is a $2,000 option. The 4Matic system is front-drive oriented, but can send as much as half of engine power to the rear wheels.
The CLA 45 unleashes a 375-horsepower rendition of the 2.0-liter turbo, cranking out 350 pound-feet of torque. An AMG Speedshift dual-clutch transmission, also 7-speed, sends all that energy to an AMG Performance 4Matic system. Reaching 60 mph takes just a hair over 4 seconds.
Despite being marketed for several years, the CLA has never been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, the latter agency has given the CLA a Superior score for frontal collision avoidance, providing optional equipment is installed. Headlights, in contrast, were rated Poor.
Standard safety equipment includes forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking, a driver attention monitor, and a rearview camera. Additional safety features are offered as options, including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, LED headlights, and parking sensors.
Options for the CLA 250 include a panoramic sunroof, Harman Kardon audio system, parking sensors, and 18-inch wheels. Recaro seats can enhance the experience in a Mercedes-Benz CLA 45.
Prices do not include $995 destination charge.
CLA 250 ($33,100) comes with the 208-horsepower engine, dual-clutch transmission, front-wheel drive, and 17-inch wheels. Standard equipment includes an 8.0-inch infotainment screen, Bluetooth connectivity, pushbutton start, dual-zone climate control, and imitation leather upholstery.
CLA 250 4Matic ($35,100) is similar to the front-drive version, but with Mercedes-Benz’s 4Matic all-wheel drive system.
Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 4Matic ($53,100) upgrades to a 375-horsepower rendition of the turbo 2.0-liter engine. All-wheel drive, an AMG Speedshift dual-clutch transmission, and a sport suspension are standard. So are 19-inch wheels, LED headlights and taillights, blind-spot assist, an aerodynamics package, and heated front seats.
Even though the CLA 250 doesn’t quite qualify as sporty, it definitely looks the part â€“ especially if fitted with bigger optional wheels. Sharper aerodynamic elements and sizable front air intakes help give the more potent CLA 45 a particularly assertive aura.
In either form, the CLA’s swept-back profile and dramatically sweeping lines continue to attract the eye. Now entering its sixth season, the sleekly shapely CLA manages to maintain an enduring appearance. Modest modifications over the years, led by an updated front end and backed up by big, swooping-in taillights that accent the alluring roofline, have kept the design fresh.
Like other “four-door coupe” models, the CLA sacrifices back-seat room and comfort, in exchange for its sensual shape. Not only is it difficult to enter and exit from the back seat, due to small door openings, but space for legs and heads is minimal. Average-sized adults aren’t likely to be pleased, in a back seat that’s constricted for two occupants.
Front seats, in contrast, are comfortable and effectively supportive, though front doors also suffer from small openings. Being realistic, the CLA cannot truly be called a four-seater for adults.
Although the cabin contains more plastic elements than might be expected inside a Mercedes-Benz model, the interior is generally satisfying, carrying on the bold attitude of the CLA’s body. Only a handful of details fall short of luxury status. Storage bins are abundant up front.
Passengers can expect good infotainment features, provided that optional Apple CarPlay/Android Auto has been installed. Priced at $350, that option is far cheaper than Mercedes-Benz’s proprietary COMAND system.
Recaro sport seats can be installed in the CLA 45. Particularly supportive and able to keep passengers firmly planted, they’re well worth the additional cost.
With either engine, powertrains are responsive and effective, though the CLA 250 doles out more ordinary performance. Not so the CLA 45 and its 375-horsepower engine. Able to hit 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, the CLA 45 is almost 3 seconds quicker than its CLA 250 mate. Particularly crisp steering and capable braking behavior help make the CLA 45 a car for the enthusiast.
The only drawback rises from the dual-clutch transmission, which tends to keep itself busy with gearchanges. Start-offs are smooth enough, and shifts are quick, but spirited driving can induce some jerky shifts.
Each CLA model feels stable and well-planted on the road. While either CLA provides a feeling of confidence, the ride is surprisingly unforgiving. In the CLA 45, with its 19-inch wheels and modified steering/suspension components, ride quality can become downright stiff. Adding the optional adjustable suspension helps considerably, striving to overcome bumps and pavement flaws to make the highway experience more pleasing than harshly annoying.
When driven gently, at least, fuel economy is decent enough. With front-drive, the CLA 250 is EPA-rated at 24/37 mpg City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive lowers the estimate to 24/32 mpg City/Highway, or 27 mpg Combined. The CLA 45 is only a little less frugal, EPA-rated at 23/30/26 mpg.
Standard stop/start operation helps fuel economy, but may yield some awkward stutters as the engine shuts off at stoplights, then re-engages.
Styling is the Mercedes CLA’s prime selling point â€“ but also its foremost drawback, limiting ability to carry four occupants. It’s still the lowest-price new Mercedes on the road, but add in critical safety options, and the CLA still costs more than $35,000.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.