Mercedes-Benz's high-end reputation was built on pricey cars like the commanding S-Class sedan and the iconic SL roadster, but the German manufacturer is hoping its all-new 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class sedan can draw more buyers from the growing entry luxury segment, attracting a younger generation of brand loyalists with an attractive starting MSRP of $29,900. Borrowing styling cues from the bigger and more upmarket CLS, which launched the so-called 4-door coupe trend, the all-new 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class wraps a more aggressive version of those looks into a smaller, tighter package that aims to steal car shoppers away from compact to mid-size sedans like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Cadillac ATS. That's why we named it one of the 10 Best Luxury Cars Under $40,000 for 2014.
You'll Like This Car If...
The Mercedes-Benz CLA boasts two primary selling points: premium looks and a surprisingly accessible price of entry. Sure, it's not an elegant, proportional masterpiece like its upmarket sibling the CLS, but this chip off the block is still arguably sexier than virtually all of its competitors.
You May Not Like This Car If...
If you're serious about using the rear seats, you might want to skip the CLA. While there's enough headroom for most folks under 6-feet tall, getting in and out of the rear quarters – not to mention maneuvering a car seat back there – poses a serious challenge.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA is all-new for 2014. Though it slots below the C-Class in the manufacturer's lineup (and undercuts the C250 by about $5,000), the CLA is slightly longer. However, when the redesigned C-Class debuts later this year, it will trump the CLA in size.
Driving the CLA-Class
If you were to slip behind the wheel of a standard Mercedes-Benz CLA250 and hit the road, you'd be hard pressed to tell it was a front-wheel-drive car. The car...
... launches smartly off the line, and only under the most extreme dynamics does it reveal the "plowing" – aka, understeering tendency front drive cars are known for. Nonetheless, more dedicated drivers might want to opt for the 4Matic all-wheel-drive version, which better responds to aggressive steering and throttle input at the limit. The turbocharged 4-cylinder engine produces a mild 208 horsepower, but that's enough grunt to help the CLA feel peppy under most circumstances, thanks in part to the well-chosen ratios of its crisp shifting 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Hardcore enthusiasts should find their bliss in the CLA45 AMG, which packs a serious wallop with its 360-horsepower engine, stiffer suspension and standard all-wheel drive.
PANORAMA ROOF Especially since the CLA cabin is somewhat snug, the available panorama roof opens up the space to make it feel spacious and bright using a fixed polycarbonate cover, and a glass panel that slides back.
ELECTROMECHANICAL STEERING Many electric steering systems feel numb and disconnected, but the CLA's setup manages to infuse plenty of feel at the wheel, making for an entertaining dance partner on winding roads.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Details
The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class feels intimate on the inside, especially when compared to the C-Class sedan – which actually has a smaller overall footprint but a bigger interior. Credit (or criticize) the CLA's low-slung roofline for the counterintuitive discrepancy. Nonetheless, the CLA's cabin is outfitted with surprisingly decent materials, from the dash and trim components to the standard MB-Tex upholstery, which didn't make us miss real leather hides. Our only gripes came from small plastic bits like the cup holder and the mirror control surrounds. Other than those minor slips, the CLA's interior feels more upmarket than its price point might suggest.
The CLA takes on an aggressive stance with its arched silhouette and strong character lines, though its relatively narrow width and surprisingly skinny tires betray its otherwise imposing road presence. At least those items help the CLA250 achieve the title of "World's most aerodynamic car," beating hybrids like the Toyota Prius in the wind tunnel with a drag coefficient of only 0.23.
The CLA250 comes equipped with a surprising amount of standard bells and whistles, including rain-sensing windshield wipers, cruise control, and a power driver's seat. Hill-start assist and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters are also part of the $29,900 entry price, as well as safety features like collision prevention assist and attention assist. Bluetooth is also standard on the base model, though you'll have to opt for the Premium Package for an iPod/MP3 interface.
Spring for the Premium Package ($2,300), and you'll get a harman/kardon Logic7 Surround Sound system with SiriusXM satellite radio, heated seats (which are also available a la carte), and a few other goodies. A Multimedia Package ($2,370) offers a bigger 7-inch screen with navigation and SiriusXM traffic & weather, as well as a 10-gig music hard drive and a rearview camera. Standalone options include 4Matic all-wheel drive, blind-spot assist, and the "self-parking" Parktronic feature.
Under the Hood
Mercedes-Benz's entry-level sedan is available with two powertrain configurations: a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 producing 208 horsepower on the CLA250, and the tire-slaying CLA45 AMG version of that engine churning 355 horsepower. The pumped-up AMG iteration earns the distinction of being the first 4-cylinder engine from Mercedes-Benz's in-house tuning branch. Both mills are mated to 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions. The standard configuration is front-drive, with 4Matic all-wheel drive available on the CLA250 and standard on the CLA45 AMG.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 starts at $30,825 including destination charges), though that price can swell towards the $40,000 mark when loaded with options. However, thanks to available bundles like the Premium and Multimedia packages, scoring a well-optioned CLA for around $35,000 should be feasible. The high-powered, specially tuned CLA45 AMG commands a noticeably higher price that starts at $48,375. Compared to the Audi A4 (which starts at $32,500) and the BMW 3 Series (with its $32,550 base price), the CLA250 proves an excellent value thanks to its decent basic equipment list and available standalone options like 18-inch wheels, heated seats and burl walnut wood trim. Residual value of the new Mercedes-Benz CLA is predicted to be well above average, though still below that of the Lexus IS 250.
Pros: "New features - had a lot of learning to do"
Cons: "Hesitates when downshifting is required"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 5
"Vehicle is hard riding and noisy, especially with the low-profile 'run flat' tires. I'm extremely unhappy that the vehicle hesitates when it is suppose to downshift and when it does, it will suddenly accelerate very rapidly - must be careful if an object is in front of you. Fuel mileage per gal is better than a Mercedes GLK350 I previously owned. A lot of new features to learn and I had to read and re-read the operators' and command manuals."
"Every body look at this car because is a beautiful model and it feels very reliable too, is a powerful turbo accelerator sometimes I got a little scared because it goes from 0 to 60 mph in only 4 seconds it has a lot of features for the price."
"Owned the car since Sep 2013 (yup i was told mine was the very first CLA the dealership delivered). I am very pleased with its interior quality and driving dynamic as you would expect from a MB. Gas mileage is almost as good as advertised (I got low 20s in city and mid-low 30s on hwy). A lot people don't but personally I absolutely love the stop/start. The DCT transmission sometimes feels reluctant to shift (eg. when you push it too hard), which took me a while to get used to. Mine CLA got the sports suspension which is super fun through corners but can be too stiff as a family car. Overall I'd definitely recommend this car to anybody."