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I've spent the last 8 months or so on a tear leading up to the inevitable end of my G37 lease. There's been a lot of controversy over the Mercedes-Benz CLA and in some way, I think I've been caught up in the hype as much as everyone else. The CLA is truly in a class of its own; the first FWD from Mercedes, 208hp and 258lb-ft of torque, 4-door coupe-like design and more importantly a starting price around $30k. Sounds like a winner right? Well
who here knows for sure?--So I figured I'd make time today and spent a good 25 minutes of my time with the car (I would have spent more time with it but we'll get into that later).
The CLA250 I drove was a Polar Silver metallic with Black MB-Tex with Anthracite trim. Now, this was a pretty stripped down model and the only options were the Panorama Sunroof and BECKER Pilot wiring unit. MSRP was around $33,300
. Of course I wanted to test drive a CLA with all of the trimmings (none were currently available until next week), but I opted to go ahead and spend a little bit of time anyway with the car just to get a feel of the car inside and out and to get a good look at it.
As I mentioned, this CLA250 was pretty much a glorified base model. This meant no Leather package, no premium sound, no heated seats, no navigation or rear view camera, no parking sensors, no Bi-Xenon headlights or fancy LED tail lights. The only significant features of any note outside of the beautiful panaroma sunroof are the car's standard 17" wheels, 3-memory seating for the driver and passenger, paddle shifters, ECO start/stop system, and collision prevention assist.
-Immediately you'll notice how the CLA design overall heavily invokes the feeling and presence of a mini-CLS sedan, which is a good thing as it's Mercedes' best looking sedan IMO. It has a very beefy yet elegant stance with what I feel are better proportions than the C-class. It sits a bit lower than the C-class and invokes strong front Mercedes end and ultimately gives the appearance of a more expensive car.
-For a compact of this size, it's pretty decent inside. It has a cockpit effect without feeling entirely claustrophobic. The rear legroom especially was better than expected but there is a compromise which I'll get to later. Also, many of you might be lucky to hear that the CLA has pretty good outward visibility despite its low roofline and it also has quite the nice sized trunk with non-intrusive gooseneck arms. It also has a 60/40 fold-down rear seat but no pass through (as I can recall anyway).
-The Mercedes command knob takes very little time to get used to. It's pretty intuitive and simple for navigating the menu screen (which is only 5.5" without the Multimedia package). There's just enough buttons on the center console--everything is large, clear, and the buttons feel good to the touch. The tablet-like menu unit looks very clean and crisp with good resolution. Navigating the infotainment screen is pretty simple. I was able to pair up my Bluetooth audio with my Windows phone in just 30 seconds or so and there are a couple of small storage areas to keep your phone in if your cupholders are currently full.
-As for the driving itself, the car did quite well. The car has a Eco, Standard, Manual, and Sport mode which can be toggled pretty easily. It also has an ECO feature that will save power and gas by starting/stopping the car if the engine gets too hot or if you're in stop and go traffic. You'll probably be able to get a really good rating of at least 30 mpg combined utilizing the ECO feature.
-Despite it being slightly slower than what I'm used to, the nice delta of the 258lb-ft of torque makes up for it. Passing is near effortless in this regard, especially in Manual (M) mode where the car reacts to downshifts very
quickly with little to no lag or torque steer. Due to the smooth sounding engine and transmission, which is never grinding, the car seems faster than it actually is and it never feels like it's struggling to get up to speed. It's a really good 7-speed DCT if I must say so myself! As for the ride, it's stiff and sporty but not overly harsh. It's somewhat comparable to the ride in my G37s. Interior noise is decently controlled and the brakes are up to par.
-Right off the bat, there's no push button start. Like many Mercedes these days, it still requires the use of inserting and turning of a keyfob to start. These days, that's a pretty big deal. I also noticed that the steering of the car at low speeds was lighter than I'm used to--perhaps it's not a CON-con per se. Most cars these days have variable speed steering now and with that said, the car is definitely much lighter at lower speeds than I personally would've liked. Combined with the chassis of the car which I noticed is a little nose-heavy due to the FWD drivetrain, it's not quite like driving a true performance sedan by any stretch.
-To no surprise, the CLA probably isn't the best car for those over 6'3". Headroom may become a little on the tight side given its roof line. The backseat legroom might be good but it's the headroom that really suffers. I'm 5'10" and I felt that I was maybe within 1-2 inches of hitting my head on the roof. Definitely not the kind of car you'll want if you plan on transporting a lot of taller/large adults.
-All CLAs come standard with paddle shifters which is great--however, the paddles move WITH the steering wheel which, probably wouldn't be too much of an issue for me if the car had the manual gearshifter down in the center tunnel, which it does not. Instead, the normal shifting on the CLA is on a stalk attached to the steering column as with many Mercedes. This means that the only way to manually shift through the gears is through the paddles. For me, I really prefer shifting using a shifter on the tunnel versus the paddles and if I want to use paddles, I'd prefer them to be stationary so that they're always where I want them to be.
-As for the interior, aesthetically speaking, outside of the panorama roof, it doesn't have the same kind of wow factor as the exterior. The verdict is still out in this area I suppose. Granted, I haven't seen the car in its more fancy trims such as the Brown/Ash Leather, Black Ash wood, Walnut Burl wood, or Aluminum. Even with that said, as it is right now in its lowest form, the actual materials themselves never felt like they belonged in a much cheaper car but they're likely to disappoint those looking for E or maybe C-class grade quality.
-Maybe this is a nitpick of mine, but the seating control buttons on the side of the doors from Mercedes has always bothered me. They can take quite a while to get used to and I don't like them all that much. Maybe it's just me, I'm not sure, but they just don't feel intuitive and easy to understand. It feels like one of those things that Mercedes has refused to change in their vehicles and has now become synonymous with a luxury car.
(The CLA's design feels fresh but yet still familiar. I think Mercedes-Benz did a nice job using a design language that has worked very well for them already in the CLS and create a legitimately solid looking compact sedan that looks its price and maybe moreso. The exterior definitely is where it shines the most and will definitely be the standout in the compact sedan segment. On the inside, while still good, is definitely where more of the cutting of the corners becomes evident. The verdict is still ultimately out on this until I get to sit inside and feel the available Leather and wood options.)
(The CLA has what I would call an excellent middleground of practical
everyday power. The chassis and steering is good for a FWD car with this much torque. The handling is tight and rides firm but never harsh. The 7-speed Dual Clutch transmission is quick through the gears and it's probably the car's best feature. It really did feel very reminiscent of driving an Audi A5 but with only a slightly less balanced chassis and steering feel which is still a nice compliment for Mercedes IMO)
Personal Practicality and Appeal: 7.25/10
(The CLA will get a ton of notice and popularity very quickly, both for its price and for brand recognition. With that said, I'm also being a little cautious as I feel the CLA250 is going to be a very ubiquitous car on the road very soon which may hurt resale. For me, if you can get this car for around $37k/$38k, I'd say it's a winner in the segment. Once you get to $40k or higher, you may want to start looking for something a little bit more upscale for the money. Outside of that, the CLA is still a decently put together car. I like its outside dimensions, the panaroma roof, and its overall presence. Fuel economy is also very good at a combined 30 MPG. It has good trunk space, decent visibility, and of course, the 3-point star.)
(Since this was a base model, I am going to leave this blank unfortunately. Not being able to test the Nav system, the premium sound, the parking sensors, voice control, and media interface are big and I don't think it'd be fair to score the car in this section. I'll try to come back and rate those options separately when I get the chance.)
Bottom Line: If you're on a $38k budget and you're looking for a well equipped FWD near luxury car with spirited driving dynamics for real world, everyday driving, the CLA definitely needs to be on your list of possibles. It's not the car you'd want to have necessarily if you're looking for a ton of practical space or to wow people with its interior, but I'd see it being perfect for singles or a young couple looking to show off their status.
I'm likely to test drive the car again once I find one with a few more packages and options on it. Then I'll come back to update the score. As for now, it gets a 7.8/10
based on Looks, Performance, and Practicality/Appeal.