Occasionally one of the 150 cars we drive each year stirs some extra excitement or perhaps it?s ?I want one? lust. The most recent car to inspire that response for us was the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA.
Bill had driven the entry-level Mercedes sedan at the national introduction in Washington D.C. last September and was excited for Barbara to drive it because he thought she would like it. When it finally arrived at our home for testing and she spent a week driving it, she didn?t want to give it back, she just kept saying, ?I want one, I want one!?
From a design standpoint, the CLA is a head turner. Mercedes-Benz pioneered the often mimicked four-door coupe design in 2004, when the larger CLS debuted. The CLA design takes many styling cues from the CLS, but with some fresh new elements and a smaller size. We like the ?personal size? of the CLA. It?s perfect for a couple, with room for occasional passengers ? but it?s not necessarily a car for four adults on a road trip ? children would be fine. The CLA is actually a few inches longer and wider than the C-Class, which was 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. The optional LED daytime running lights create a dramatic ?flame effect? announcing to oncoming traffic 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.
The CLA interior looks like it belongs in a Mercedes-Benz with a familiar looking switch gear for most controls. Where it starts to differ is with features like the round, individually control air outlets, which we really like. A significant deviation in design is the display screen, which many journalists complained about because they thought it looked like an afterthought or a Garmin navigation screen stuck on the middle of the dash. We were split on the screen with Bill liking it and Barbara not liking the look but liking the function. It resembles a nicely placed Samsung Galaxy Note or smaller iPad. The screen is controlled by a console mounted dial and a couple of buttons. Evidently the next generation C-Class car will get a similar application. Because it looks like a tablet, we think it should operate more like one, allowing commands to be activated by a sweep or tap of a finger.
The standard seats are the high quality MB-TEX along with the stitched material on the dash and door panels, but our well-equipped test car had the optional leather trim with bright yellow (Neon) stitching along with a similar contrasting stitching treatment on the dash.
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 CLA250 is also available with 4Matic all-wheel drive as a $2,000 option.
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 very quick and positive. 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?s quicker and smoother than most we?ve driven, but if you don?t like it, you can easily shut it off.
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. We averaged 34.1 mpg during the week we had it, but note Barbara did most of the driving.
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 $36,725 for a C-250 sedan, but we doubt there are many sold for less than $45,000 or $50,000.
Enter the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250, with a starting (or perhaps we should say ?startling?) price of $29,990 plus a destination charge of $925 ? this is a real game changer. That?s a price we?d expect on a Toyota, Honda, Ford or a 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.
We were 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 a Mercedes.
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. Our loaded test car which included nearly every available option had a total retail price of $45,295.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA will compete very favorably with cars like the Acura ILX, Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Volkswagen CC, and we?re thinking there will be a lot of first-time Mercedes buyers for this car.