Editor's note: My co-pilot and I were so excited about…
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 and CLA45 AMG Review and Test Drive
BY Owen Bergwall | Green Car and Technology Contributor
German Luxury and Performance for $30,000 | A Rocket Version for $50,000
Here in Washington D.C., we have our fair share of Mercedes-Benz owners and drivers. One might say that the only thing more common than our politics, attorneys, government contractors, elected officials and cupcakeries are black, silver and grey German models of every kind (those being Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, of course). The nation’s capital faces no shortage of VIP-style German cars. But in a sea of minimalist pedestrianism, we’re missing a stylish, compact luxury car priced for the commoner.
Queue the new CLA250 coupe/sedan starting at $29,900 and CLA45 AMG at $48,000. This car is a completely new platform using either front or all-wheel drive. The CLA will be the base structure for several more upcoming models from Mercedes.
I’m hopeful that the CLA will outshine the last front-wheel-drive they offered – the C230 hatch. Perhaps the CLA has been designed to do what the original 190E did back in the early 1980’s – give an entire generation of buyers a shot at owning a small, sporty, yet affordable Mercedes-Benz.
The new demographic
We are living in a “design-driven” world. The new demographic for Mercedes-Benz spends their time texting, tweeting, and posting selfies on Instagram. They’re not at the country club or on their personal yacht.
Mercedes says the CLA is a design-driven product for a design-driven world. This just might have been a brilliant move for them. Be Car Chic took a spin in the CLA250 and CLA45 AMG to get a hands-on look at what the German luxury automaker came up with. (Sadly, Willem Dafoe didn’t show up portraying the Devil at any rest stops.)
Putting aside the notion of “how much more car for the money” one could afford with other brands, you can have a brand-new Mercedes-Benz, complete with loads of safety technology, a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, turbocharged engine and a top speed of 149 MPH. Did I mention you get all that for about $35,000 to $39,000 (including plenty of options)?
Mercedes finally brings function to its smaller sedans. The CLA comes standard with full-folding rear seats and roof rack mounting slots. Cyclists and skiers (like myself) everywhere just gave you a big virtual hug, Mercedes.
CLA250 Mechanical Facts:
- 0-60 in 6.9 Seconds
- 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission (with 3 modes) – no manual available (sadface)
- 2.0 liter aluminum, turbocharged inline 4 cylinder, direct injection
- 208 horsepower at 5,500 RPM / 258 lb. ft. torque at 1,250-4,000 RPM
- Top speed: 149 MPH
I journeyed with the CLA250 on a long, and sometimes slow, drive from our home base in the Georgetown neighborhood of D.C. out to Vintage Ridge Winery in Virginia by way of Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive. Over that time I got to know the CLA’s interior and its driving physique.
In a word, the new CLA is excellent. There are quibbles, but it’s really a fine piece of work.
Interior motives – CLA packs a luxurious punch
The CLA’s sport seats come well-bolstered, especially after engaging the four-way lumbar support. Legroom is ample for drivers over six-feet tall. Run your fingers across the interior and you’ll find soft materials like leather and smooth metal surfaces.
Keeping with the German practicality, controls are tactile buttons (not touch-screen), which may seem a bit behind the times. If you enjoy real buttons that you can press without looking at them, then you’ll like it. If you’re more of a giant touchscreen guy/gal, then you might not.
Available in either 5.8 in. or 7 in. a protruding tablet computer sits a bit awkwardly above the center stack. The CLA’s shifter is nestled behind the steering wheel, which took me back for a moment to my 1984 Buick Regal. Thankfully, it’s far from the column shifters of yore. This design not only frees up space in the center for your “stuff”, it also gives you paddle shifters. In the CLA45 you get a “normal” automatic shifter mounted in the center console.
Quibbles aside (my biggest one being that the CLA is manual transmission-less), the interior is a nice place to be. And once you get used to the control knob, the COMAND infotainment system is easy to use (as expected from its fittingly German name).
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA is handsome and youthful, resembling a mini-CLS. Leaving only its beautifully crafted sheet metal in focus, the car maker tastefully ditches the chrome tinsel on this model. Some will never love the coupe-sedan shape, but if you enjoy more of a three-box car, the C class awaits you (as does the BMW 3 Series).
Driving the CLA250 and CLA45 AMG
Mercedes-Benz makes a car for riding, no matter which seat you’re in. The exhaust is quiet on the highway, yet exciting when pushed. Grip the three-spoke leather steering wheel, and you’ll notice that while the steering can be vague, it is direct and nicely weighted.
The 2014 CLA is composed and stays pretty flat under fast cornering. I’d argue the car enjoyed being thrown into a corner. Also, unlike most luxury cars, it can achieve 38 MPG highway.
The 2014 CLA combines power, efficiency and luxury with an admirable level of sophistication.
The BMW 320i is down 58 lb. ft. of torque and 28 horsepower and heavier, but is somehow still quicker to 60 (6.7 seconds for the BMW). This must be to do with the CLA’s gearing and that 8-speed BMW uses. No big deal for most.
CLA- Class standard safety features:
- Collision prevention assist
- Anti-lock braking system with adaptive braking (predictive brake priming, hill-hold, automatic brake drying)
- Rain sensing automatic windshield wipers
- Attention assist
- 10 way dual-stage airbags
- LED daytime running lamps
Moving on from the well balanced CLA250 to the CLA45 AMG, we see a nice car become an animal. The CLA45 is fast, has a soundtrack with exhaust crackles, yet is just as livable and comfortable as the CLA250. In fact, it might even be better for the mountain-bound thanks to its standard all-wheel drive.
Money aside, the CLA45 AMG would be my choice.
Driving the CLA45 strangely made traffic heaps more fun, paddle shifting and growling through Dupont Circle and downtown DC. The CLA45 has AMG branded 18-inch wheels, body kit, interior trim, seat coverings (alcantara inserts or “red cut” leather), red stitching all over, red seat belts, and carbon fiber dash trim. All this comes at a price. The CLA45’s cost can grow to a whopping $55,000. That’s quite a bit of cash, but man is it a well balanced little monster.
Once outside the city limits, we cruised with the CLA45 AMG along Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive. The only downside? The speed limit is 35 mph. This was lovely, and we even saw some black bears, but the car seemed annoyed (that it couldn’t unleash its power). The next day when we were able to open it up a little on the way to Annapolis, the CLA45 felt less angry. Finally, it’s exhaust could bark and roar. It also got tons of looks around town, if that’s something you’re into.
Summary: If you’re into a sleek, high-performance sports coupe/sedan, can spend around $50,000 and don’t care about having a standard (manual) transmission – drive the CLA45 AMG. It’s really very fun.
CLA45 AMG mechanical facts:
- 2.0 liter aluminum, turbocharged, direct-injected 4 cylinder – standard stop-start
- 355 horsepower at 6,000 RPM / 332 lb. ft. torque at 2,250-5,000 RPM
- Acceleration: 0-60 MPG – 4.5 seconds
- AMG specific exterior and interior trim/styling package
- AMG sport suspension, transmission and engine and tuning
- Top speed 155 MPH
The CLA250 is nicely equipped, not a stripped model, and already available for around $35,000 at dealerships. After a quick search of local DC dealership inventories, I can confirm that there are a number of cars priced right at that sitting on lots or on order.
The CLA is aimed at the upper end of Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima customers, where transaction prices are often $28,000-$40,000. I’d say it’s also going to grab some Ford Focus and VW Jetta/GTI buyers looking for a little more luxury in their life.
If you’re in the market for a new car, then do yourself a favor and test drive the CLA. Maybe you hate the idea of a three-pointed star (read: elitist) vehicle in your driveway. Maybe you’re a long-time German or Mercedes car lover and want something a little more youthful. Maybe you feel like for this price, you can move from your invisibly-styled Honda Accord to something with a little street presence.
Whatever your experience, and whatever your yacht club or boat ownership situation, the new CLA should leave you with a new impression of Mercedes-Benz – for once, a little more affordability to go with all that style.