A decade ago, the thought of a direct comparison between entry-level sedans from Acura and Mercedes… well… to be honest it just wouldn’t have made sense.
Fast forward by a little more than 10 years and we’ve got a real dogfight on our hands.
See, here’s the thing, back in 2004 – the first model year for the TSX – Acura was selling front-wheel drive cars with admirable driving dynamics, stupendous transmissions and high-revving Honda VTEC engines.
As much fun as they were, there still wasn’t any masking the gap between Acura’s cars and what you could get from the Germans. I mean, we’re talking rear-wheel drive, smoother engines and, inexplicably, a telephone number pad.
Of course, the most important of those is rear-wheel drive, and up until 2014, every Mercedes product you could buy in America powered the rear axle first.
Then the CLA showed up and suddenly the story changed because it uses a transversely mounted engine to power the front wheels. As you probably know, it does that through a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a dual-clutch transmission.
One year prior to all that, Acura launched the ILX and quite honestly it was a stinker. I say “was” because this year Acura dropped the smaller engine and both of the old transmissions in favor of an eight-speed dual clutch gearbox with a torque converter.
Suddenly the entry-level products from Acura and Mercedes have some striking similarities.
Driving Dynamics and Mileage
The differences between these two are impossible to ignore once you start driving. The CLA just edges out the ILX by seven horsepower, but offers a whopping 78 more lb-ft of torque courtesy of its turbocharged engine. That makes the CLA more entertaining to drive, but the added power isn’t without drawbacks.
We found the ILX’s naturally aspirated 2.4-liter engine to be more efficient than the CLA’s turbocharged 2.0-liter powerplant. The ILX delivered 29.4 MPG compared to the Mercedes’ 27 MPG.
It’s worth mentioning that the Mercedes’ powertrain isn’t without its quirks. The seven-speed dual clutch transmission feels abrupt during initial engagement from time to time, but it’s also quick to shift once you get underway. The ILX’s eight-speed dual-clutch transmission feels is smoother because it uses a torque converter.
And if you activate “sport” mode, the ILX delivers quick downshifts when you lift off the throttle or apply the brakes.
Unfortunately, that’s the only bit of Sporty DNA to be found in the ILX. In every other application, the CLA has it beat. The steering is more responsive and better calibrated for spirited driving. The CLA is also more adept to taking corners are higher speeds than the ILX is. In comparison, the ILX has light steering and a softer suspension setup, and isn’t as much fun to drive.
Of course, the optional “Sport Plus” package has a lot to do with that. It includes an AMG tuned suspension and upgraded brakes, which are really noticeable and provide great confidence on the road.
Finally, while the ILX is only available with front-wheel drive, while the CLA is available with all-wheel drive. It costs an extra $2,000 and lends the Mercedes better all-weather capability while neutralizing the risk for torque steer tied to a turbocharged front-wheel drive powertrain. As optional equipment goes, 4Matic is a must-have in the CLA.
CLA offers a much more stylish interior with ambient lighting, highly decorative panel design, a thick-rimmed flat-bottom steering wheel and sport seats that do a splendid job of gripping both the driver and the front passenger. But like so many other stylish things, there is very little space inside. In fact, this really might as well be a coupe because I can’t even sit up straight in the second row.
For some perspective, both of these cars are about the same length and slightly wider than the W204 C-Class.
The ILX isn’t nearly as stylish as the CLA, but by ignoring the silly “four-door coupe” trend the ILX has a real leg up in interior volume. The seats don’t hug you as tightly, but the cloth inserts do a good job of preventing your butt and back from sliding around mid-corner.
Speaking of materials, that’s another area where Mercedes has Acura pinned. There’s nothing wrong with the ILX, but the buttons, dials and gauges in the CLA are more appealing. At the same time, it still feels like a downmarket Mercedes and that isn’t really a good thing.
Finally, trunk space is basically a tie between the two, but we’ve got to hand it to Mercedes. You get a 60-40 split rear seat and a pass-through window, both of which are disappointingly absent in the ILX.
Money and Technology
If you’re after value, the ILX is hard to beat. It starts at under $29,000 and tops out at $35,810. On the other hand, the CLA starts at $34,425, which isn’t far from what the fully loaded Acura costs.
This fully loaded ILX offers cool features and driver assists for a low price. That includes things like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and forward collision warning. Considering that you can get all of that for under $36,000 and the ILX is a great choice if features are high up on your shopping list.
To put it in perspective, if you wanted to equip this CLA with the same features, it’ll end up costing over $10,000 more than the ILX.
And while it will cost you, the CLA does get a few cool exclusive features like a panoramic sunroof and that performance package that makes the car so enjoyable to drive.
The Verdict: 2015 Mercedes CLA 250 vs Acura ILX
The refreshed ILX is a massive improvement over the early model. It looks better and feels more premium to drive and that ends up elevating the Acura brand as a whole.
In the same token, the CLA 250 feels more like a step down for Mercedes-Benz that we still aren’t totally sold on. The CLA 250 is more car than the ILX by every measure including price and if it were our money, we wouldn’t be ready to go that far over the top.