WASHINGTON, DC – Determined to gain an even larger share of the luxury car market, Mercedes is introducing a new front-wheel-drive sedan, the CLA-Class. Based on the same NGCC platform found beneath the current entry-level Merc, the B 250, the CLA is a sedan with a swoopy coupe-like shape like that of the CLS.
In base CLA 250 form, the new model slots in between the B 250 and the C 250 sedan price-wise.
While it would appear the 2014 CLA will poach sales from the C-Series, which is currently holding down second place in the small luxury segment in Canada, that model is due for replacement in the coming year. Look for it to move up a smidge in size and price making room for its new sibling.
We reported on our First Drive in the CLA Class last spring but to recap, the CLA 250 comes with a 208-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels.
We had a chance to drive the CLA 45 AMG, as well as to refresh our impressions of the CLA 250 recently in Washington.
A first for the U.S.
The B-Class, whose platform the CLA shares, has not yet been offered in the U.S., making the CLA the entry-level Mercedes there and the prospect of a four-cylinder front-drive Mercedes a novelty.
Canadians have grown accustomed to that combination thanks to the B 250, which has been a sales success for the brand here. With our general desire for smaller, less expensive vehicles than buyers south of the border, Mercedes also foresees great things for the CLA which rolls off the same assembly line in Kecskemet, Hungary as the B-Class.
Combine those proportions with a snubbed nose, sloping roofline and slot-like side windows and you have the appearance of a coupe intended to attract new and younger buyers to the brand.
Mercedes-Benz feels the CLA's customers will place a premium on style and forgive the tight entry into the rear seats and restricted vision once in there, as well as the restricted rear vision for the driver. There is, however, a surprising amount of room once ensconced in the rear seats.
The CLA has a contoured hood with dual power domes and upper trim levels boast distinctive bi-Xenon headlights. All come with LED running lights, frameless side windows and a matching pair of rectangular exhaust outlets.
The interior has a lot of metallic accents and trim, with its machined-aluminum look instrument panel festooned by a quintet of ringed circular vents breaking up the door-to-door stretch.
A pair of traditional analog instruments flank a configurable digital display
The screen for the optional navigation system and rear view camera (not standard on a $34,000 car – shame!) juts out of the IP top and looks like an afterthought. But Mercedes stylists say it was intentionally meant to look like a tablet, so commonly used by the intended buyer set, propped up there.
There is no question about its functionality and that position puts it closer to the line of sight and makes it less susceptible to glare.
The seats are German firm which puts those who prefer soft cushions off. But for me the firmness pays off over extended sessions.
As mentioned above, the rear seats are much more spacious than the exterior design would have you expect with plenty of legroom for a near six footer sitting behind someone of similar dimensions. Headroom can be a bit limited though thanks to that sloping roof, especially if the car has a sunroof.
The trunk is respectable in capacity, certainly for this vehicle size range, but there is not a lot of height. The rear seats do fold flat for additional space.
The CLA 250 is powered by a turbocharged four and is more than capable of keeping up with the pack. Power delivery is linear but there is a notable amount of turbo lag on occasion.
The seven-speed automatic is a great companion with seamless but rapid shifts. It comes with driver-selectable comfort, sport and manual modes. An "eco": setting activates the automatic start/stop system adding to the 250’s parsimonious use of fuel.
Mercedes says premium fuel is required but the occasional use of regular or mid-grade will do no harm other than reduce performance slightly.
But the big gun in the lineup is the CLA 45 AMG, which provides a major step-up in performance, accompanied by a less distinct change in appearance.
Displacing the same 2.0 litres as the base engine it produces an astounding 355 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque!
Floor the CLA 250 from rest and you’ll get some squeal from the front tires. Do so in this beast and the same thing happens.
Why not more? Because the CLA 45 AMG comes with a 4Matic all-wheel-drive system able to distribute all that power to four contact patches, thus allowing it to vault from rest to 100 km/h in just 4.6 seconds.
The steering and braking of this little road rocket are similarly amped up and the suspension tightened down to what might be considered stiff to those looking for a supple ride.
The exhaust note, complete with a little "bark" between shifts, will similarly be music to the ears of enthusiasts but something else to those wanting a relaxed highway demeanor.
This combination of abundant power, a tied-down suspension, powerful brakes, communicative steering and distinctive good looks will surely attract some new folks to Mercedes-Benz stores.