By Matt Degen
KBB Expert Rating: 9.4
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is the least expensive car in the German automaker's lineup but packs plenty of features that make it desirable beyond mere badge appeal. Billed as a coupe but in reality a 4-door sedan, the CLA is also among the newest Mercedes models. Like the also-fresh Audi A3, Acura ILX and forthcoming Infiniti Q30, the CLA-Class is positioned to lure young up-and-comers to the luxury brand with its small size and sub-$33,000 starting price. The front- or all-wheel-drive CLA250 is the base model, while the AMG CLA45 is a $50,000, 375-horsepower all-wheel-drive rocket. The CLA has a cramped rear seat and a price that easily ascends, but for aspirational buyers seeking entry into the Mercedes-Benz brand, this is their ticket in.
If you want a small-luxury sedan that is stylish, efficient, and – most of all – a Mercedes-Benz, the CLA-Class can be yours at a price not much higher than that of a mainstream car. Buyers with deeper pockets seeking a sleeper will have a blast in the high-performance AMG CLA45.
The CLA's rear seats are tiny, so if you frequently carry rear passengers or plan to in the future, you may want to make the stretch to a larger model like the C-Class or GLC SUV, or check out the Audi A3 instead.
KBB Expert Ratings
The Mercedes CLA receives Dynamic Select (selectable drive modes) as standard for 2016, while adaptive suspension is now an option. A limited "Edition: Orange" model is available for CLA250 trims, and the potent AMG CLA45 becomes more so with a horsepower increase to 375.
Much has been made about the CLA250 being Mercedes-Benz's first front-wheel-drive (FWD) car. But the reality is that you'd be hard-pressed to tell what wheels were doing the hard work...
... in this compact-luxury sedan. In Sport mode it's spry off the line, thanks to the excellent 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and only at the most extreme cornering limits do you notice front-end "plowing" in a way that belies its FWD origins. And if you're truly concerned – or live in an area where foul weather can create slick roads – the 4Matic option adds all-wheel drive (AWD) for enhanced traction. The standard 208-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder will be adequate for most, though it suffers from some turbo lag in Standard mode. For speed freaks, the much pricier AMG CLA packs 375 horsepower that enables 0-60-mph blasts in just over four seconds, along with stiffer suspension, better brakes and other performance upgrades.
The snug CLA cabin benefits from the extra glass of the panoramic sunroof option. Open it up, and you're treated to near- convertible levels of sunshine. Alternatively, you can just leave the glass exposed, creating the illusion of additional headroom.
AMG CLA45 4MATIC
It's anything but cheap, but it's hard not to marvel at the performance numbers of this top-line CLA-Class. With 2016 arrive 20 more horsepower and an additional 18 lb-ft of torque, making a total of 375 horsepower/350 lb-ft – all from a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine.
As we've mentioned, the CLA-Class has a cramped rear seat and isn't the best choice if you regularly carrry more than yourself and a passenger. But we wager this isn't a factor for most shoppers considering the CLA. And they'll find much to like in the front, where a standard 7-inch display, sturdy-looking air vents and a thick steering wheel give an air of elegance. A split-folding rear seat adds versatility to Mercedes' smallest sedan, while the two front seats now offer more comfort with their adjustable cushion length. The standard MB-Tex faux leather seats do a good job mimicking genuine hide.
While it may look like Mercedes-Benz simply took its prettiest sedan – the CLS that Mercedes also calls a coupe – and left it in the dryer too long to create the CLA-Class, there's more to it. Still, the swooping architecture translates well to the smaller car, making it look longer and wider than it really is, at least in isolation. However, the illusion breaks in traffic, when you notice how little of its lane it occupies. The low stance, narrow tires and clean shape give the CLA250 a slip-through-the-air drag coefficient of only 0.23. The new Night Package adds black 18-inch wheels.
Even the least expensive Mercedes-Benz sedan offers many standard features. Among them are dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, 12-way-power driver's seat with memory and a brake-hold feature that applies the brake for you at stoplights. The CLA's infotainment system includes AM/FM/HD Radio with CD player, USB port and Bluetooth streaming, all seen and controlled by the 7-inch display and command dial. The CLA250 boasts impressive safety features including systems that detect driver drowsiness (Attention Assist) and Collision Prevention Assist, which uses radar to warn the driver of a potential collision and, if necessary, even applies the brakes for you.
As we've mentioned, the CLA-Class has a cramped rear seat and isn't the best choice if you regularly carry more than yourself and a passenger. But we wager this isn't a factor for most shoppers considering the CLA. And they'll find much to like in the front, where a standard 7-inch display, sturdy-looking air vents and a thick steering wheel give an air of elegance. A split-folding rear seat adds versatility to Mercedes' smallest sedan, while the two front seats now offer more comfort with their adjustable cushion length. The standard MB-Tex faux leather seats do a good job mimicking genuine hide.
You have your choice of engines in Mercedes-Benz's entry-level sedan. The CLA250 gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 producing 208 horsepower, available in either FWD or AWD. The CLA45 AMG version of that engine puts out an astonishing 375 horsepower to all four wheels. The AMG engine is the first 4-cylinder engine from Mercedes-Benz's in-house tuning branch. Both are mated to 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions. At up to 38 mpg, the CLA-Class can be remarkably fuel-efficient, but keep in mind this Mercedes requires premium gasoline.
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: 26/38 mpg (FWD), 24/33 mpg (AWD)
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (CLA45 AMG 4Matic)
375 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
350 lb-ft of torque @ 2,250-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/31 mpg
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 carries a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) just under $33,000. Add AWD and you're looking at $2,000 more, and when you start adding option packages, this "inexpensive" Mercedes-Benz can easily swell toward $40,000. However, at $35,000, you're looking at a lot of car with plenty of options. The CLA45 AMG starts considerably higher, at over $50,000. However, even that is a bargain of sorts, since it's the least expensive AMG-badged model you can get. The Audi A3, a subcompact-luxury rival, starts slightly less than the Mercedes CLA-Class, while the Acura ILX is several thousand below. 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.