New 2018
Mercedes-Benz CLA Sedan

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KBB Editor's Overview

By KBB.com Editorial Staff

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is the least expensive sedan in the automaker's lineup, leading some to assume it's not a "real" Mercedes, just a bargain-basement ploy to lure customers into the showroom. Wrong. The CLA takes on the Audi A3 and Acura ILX, and even the BMW 2 Series, at least from a price-and-size standpoint, with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine powering the front or all four wheels. At a starting price of about $33,600, you get a decent amount of standard equipment, and the prestige of the Mercedes-Benz brand. You also get limited visibility and a cramped rear seat, but that's a small price to pay for first-time luxury-car buyers. If you want more power, the Mercedes-AMG CLA45 (reviewed separately) has it in spades, and a lot more.

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You'll Like This Car If...

If you must have a luxury brand, but don't have a ton to spend, then the 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 makes good sense. It offers solid performance, good handling, and a cool style that closely resembles the much more expensive CLS.

You May Not Like This Car If...

If you aren't brand-conscious, there are much better bargains out there from non-luxury brands. Your $35,000 could land you in a loaded Kia Optima, Chrysler 300, Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima...you get the idea. Options also quickly add to the price tag on the CLA.

What's New for 2018

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA gets a new Ice Edition, combining an AMG-look exterior, LED headlights, Dinamica trim, panorama roof, blind-spot assist, the Premium package, and special white paint and black 18-inch wheels.

Driving It

Driving Impressions

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class uses a front-wheel-drive (FWD) architecture, a departure for the company, but it's executed so well that it's almost just an academic difference. The FWD model handles very well, and the all-wheel-drive (AWD) model improves on that. Put it in Sport mode and the car zips off the line thanks to generous low-end torque and a dual-clutch 7-speed automatic transmission. The steering is nice and responsive, and you have to push the CLA to its very edge to feel the kind of understeer that betrays its front-drive architecture. However, that limit's higher than most drivers will explore, and the AWD model mitigates it significantly while adding all-weather peace of mind. All that good handling does come at the expense of ride quality, which has a hard time absorbing small impacts such as expansion joints and the like.

Favorite Features

PANORAMA ROOF
You can't get more headroom in the 2018 CLA's interior, but you can create the illusion with the big panoramic glass sunroof. When it's open, there are near-convertible levels of sunshine and fresh air, while the retractable sunshade lets in plenty of the former without the latter.

FUEL ECONOMY
While sipping fuel isn't always a priority for luxury-car buyers, the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in the CLA gets up to 36 mpg in front-wheel-drive models. It's the best economy you'll get in a Benz that isn't powered by electrons.

Vehicle Details

Interior

We mentioned the tight rear seat, but considering the youthful demographic suggested by the CLA's styling, we're guessing it's not much of a concern. Instead, concentrate on the front, and you'll be impressed by the overall quality of materials and assembly. Granted, there are a handful of plastic pieces that feel out of place, at least until you remember the price tag. The front seats offer good comfort with slightly-too-firm padding, and the smallness of the interior makes itself known with a center console that crowds your legs a bit. Still, the chunky steering wheel and 8-inch infotainment display won us over.

Exterior

The 2018 CLA is one of those rare cars that looks bigger than it really is. We blame the strong resemblance to the much larger CLS-Class of sedans -- ignore that Mercedes-Benz calls it a “coupe” -- for the illusion. On the road, the CLA looks little, tiny even, swallowed by the lane it’s in. The low stance, narrow tires, clean lines give the CLA250 a slippery drag coefficient of only 0.23, better than a Toyota Prius. New this year is an Ice Edition package, which wraps the exterior in white paint, uses black-accented 18-inch AMG wheels, and gets matte-white exterior accents.

Notable Standard Equipment

The base 2018 CLA comes decently equipped, with 14-way-power front seats with memory, dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button start, Dynamic Select driving modes, and an 8-inch infotainment display. The infotainment system includes Bluetooth, a USB input, HD audio, all controlled with the command dial on the center console. Safety features include a rearview camera, rain-sensing wipers, eight airbags, Active Brake Assist that automatically brakes when the system detects a potential collision, and Mercedes' Attention Assist drowsy-driver detector. The CLA also comes with five years of Mercedes-Benz mbrace Connect package, which lets you do things like start the car remotely from your smartphone.

Notable Optional Equipment

Beyond all-wheel drive, there are many options for the 2018 CLA-Class, most bundled into packages. For example, an interior package bundles leather, stitched dash and door trim and multicolor ambient lighting. A Driver Assist package adds active cruise control and lane-keeping assist. A multimedia package includes COMAND navigation, three years of navigation updates, and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay compatibility; if you want just the Android Auto and CarPlay, it's available as a separate package for $350. Blind-spot assist, keyless entry and heated front seats are part of the Premium package. Individual options include a harman/kardon audio system, which we wholly recommend.

Under the Hood

On paper, the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder under the hood of the CLA250 doesn't sound very impressive. It puts out 208 horsepower, and routes it to the front or all four wheels through a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. But the key is the turbocharged engine's torque: It spins out 258 lb-ft from 1,250 rpm to 4,000 rpm, the meat of the powerband where you'll spend most of the time. The upshot is that you get smooth and strong acceleration regardless of what gear you're in. Additionally, it gets good fuel economy, with front-wheel-drive models getting up to 36 mpg on the highway. The start/stop system helps, and stays out of your way enough that you might not even automatically reach to shut it off every time you drive.

2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (CLA250)
208 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250-4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 24/36 mpg (FWD), 23/32 mpg (AWD)

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Pricing Notes

A base, unadorned 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 comes with a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) right around $33,600, including the $925 destination charge. All-wheel drive adds $2,000 to that package, and note that this "inexpensive" Benz gets pricey quickly. However, while injudicious option selections can raise the price past $40,000, more careful shoppers can get what they want for closer to $37,000. That price is right about where you'd pay for a similarly equipped Audi A3, despite its lower base price, while the surprisingly decent Acura ILX starts several thousand below the CLA, and lands about where the CLA starts when fully loaded. Be sure to check KBB.com's Fair Purchase Price to see what others are paying in your area. The Mercedes CLA's residual value is expected to hold up very well in the long-run.

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