Georgetown, Washington D.C. — I often hear that some new product is a ?game changer,? but I can?t think of any recent new car that would fit that description ? until now.
Mercedes-Benz is noted for their excellent luxury and performance cars, but has a limited market, simply because most of their cars are more expensive than the average person or family can afford. Currently the price of entry into the Mercedes family starts at $39,125 for a C-Class Coupe or a little less for a base level sedan and I doubt that they sell many cars for less than $50,000.
Enter the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA, with a starting (or perhaps I should say ?startling?) price of $29,990 plus a destination charge of $925 ? this is a real game changer. That?s a price I?d expect on a Toyota, Honda, Ford or dozen other mid-level cars, but not on a Mercedes-Benz.
Many premium brand automakers have tried to add entry level models to bring new customers to the brand. However, most cars simply didn?t fit the brand?s styling character, or the quality, or performance levels.
I recently spent a day driving the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250, which is their new entry into the premium entry category. I was impressed with how well the designers and engineers were able to maintain Mercedes authenticity. It looks like a Mercedes. It acts like a Mercedes and it certainly performs like one.
From a design standpoint, I think the new CLA is a real head turner. Mercedes-Benz pioneered the four-door coupe in 2004, when the CLS debuted and the CLA design takes many styling cues from the CLS, but with some fresh new elements and a smaller size.
The CLA is a few inches longer and wider than the C-Class, which is the current starting point for the brand in the U.S. market.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA design starts with a striking grille with the large Mercedes star centered in the diamond background grille. The optional LED daytime running lights create a dramatic ?flame effect? announcing that this is the CLA. The sculptured sides take cues from other Mercedes models. Of course, the tell-tale of the four-door coupe is the sweeping roofline.
The rear-end treatment is equally dramatic, designed to make the car look even wider. There?s a sporty black insert that ties the dual exhaust outlets together and air extraction slots on the rear sections of the rear fenders flow into the design.
The CLA interior looks like it belongs in a Mercedes-Benz with a familiar looking switch gear for most controls. Where it starts to deviate is with features like the round, individually control air outlets, which I thought were great. A significant deviation in design is the display screen, which many journalists thought looked like an afterthought or a Garmin navigation screen stuck on the middle of the dash. I personally liked the look which reminded me of a nicely placed Samsung Galaxy Note or smaller iPad. Evidently the next generation C-Class car will get a similar application. The screen is controlled by a console mounted dial and a couple of buttons. Because it looks like a tablet, I think it should operate more like one, allowing commands to be activated by a sweep or tap of a finger.
Where the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 gets interesting is under the hood where there is a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. Unless you know that the car is FWD or unless you happen to launch it quickly and get wheel spin, you don?t know that the front wheels are doing the work.
The four-cylinder engine is a 208-horsepower, turbocharged direct-injection 2.0-liter producing an impressive 258-lb.ft. of torque. The transmission is a seven-speed double clutch automatic that shifts very quickly and positively. The shifter is column-mounted like other Mercedes models and it has wheel-mounted paddle shifters for better driver control. The engine has a Stop/Start system that quicker and smoother than most I?ve driven. The system can easily be shut off, too.
In the spring of 2014, the CLA250 will be available with 4Matic all-wheel drive.
The CLA250 accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds and it has a top speed track speed of 149 mph. Fuel economy is equally impressive at 26 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined.
On my drive through the Virginia and Maryland hinterlands, I found the seats to be very supportive and comfortable, as well as good looking. Like many of the four-door coupes, the rear seat is a little stingy with the headroom, and access is tight. It?s rated as a four-door, five passenger coupe, but I?d stop at four passengers.
Mercedes-Benz is noted for their technological leadership and the CLA keeps pace offering features like Distronic Plus (active cruise control), Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keep Assist and Parktronic with Advance Parking Assist. Other available embellishments include leather, a sport appearance group and panoramic sunroof in addition to the navigation system. Most buyers will probably add a couple extra packages and end up spending about $35,000 to $37,000.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA will compete very favorably with cars like the Acura ILX, Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Volkswagen CC, and I?m betting there will a lot of new buyers stepping up to the Mercedes-Benz family.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG
I also drove the star of the CLA lineup, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG. That?s right, they?ve also done an AMG version of this new little gem. It?s certainly a car that sounds impressive too with its distinctive crisp exhaust note punctuated with the popping sound often heard from the blow-off valves on turbocharged racecars.
It?s hard not to be impressed with the same 2.0-liter engine that is used in the CLA250 only pumped up to 355-hp and 323-lb.ft. of torque ? it?s amazing what can be accomplished with a 26.1 psi turbocharger boost. Unlike the basic engine, this one adheres to the AMG practice of each engine being hand-built by one man and the result is the most powerful production four-cylinder engine in the world.
The CLA45 numbers are impressive: 0 to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, top speed of 155 mph and 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway fuel economy. Good numbers and exclusivity don?t come cheap, however, the base price is $48,375 with the destination charge.
To go with the 147 horsepower increase, the CLA45 gets a full AMG treatment with a high efficiency cooling system, high performance brakes, larger tires and wheels, upgraded suspension, and standard 4Matic AWD to provide the extra needed traction. Of course it has the requisite cosmetic enhancements and badging along with some different options.