When you say entry-level anything you’re usually talking about compromise or an affordable way to acquire a scaled down version of something that you really want but can’t afford. That’s not an area that Mercedes-Benz usually operates in. But that’s about to change with an all-new compact sedan, the CLA. Let’s see if it’s more about compromise or competency.
The last North American entry-level effort from Mercedes-Benz, the C230, wasn’t a big hit here. Its 3-door hatchback style just didn’t fit the American image of prestige for the brand. So, rather than just giving us a small three-box shape, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA looks like a scaled down and hot rodded version of the Mercedes CLS, boasting the lowest coefficient of drag of any production sedan at 0.23.
So, the racey lines and its 4-door coupe style are purposeful as well as they are truly soulful. C-pillars tuck in to the rear fenders to give a very muscular look at the back where the width is accentuated with horizontal tail lights. Standard wheels are 17’s; 18’s a standalone option, or as part of the sport package.
Another thing that will appeal to a wide crop of American buyers is that the CLA is front-wheel drive. Derived from European A- and B-class compact five-door hatchbacks, it’s the first front-drive Mercedes branded car sold here.
As small cars don’t usually ride as well as larger cars, we were prepared for a more “solid” ride in the CLA. It only gets a little too much so over major bumps. And, that’s the only time it’s not totally quiet inside as well. Most of the premium feel expected in a Mercedes remains intact.
Not surprisingly the standard motor is transverse mounted 4-cylinder. But, it’s a 2.0-liter turbo i-4 with a very respectable 208-horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque, managed by a 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. 4matic all-wheel-drive comes later, as will other powertrain choices including a 355-horse AMG version.
When it comes to comfort and convenience, the CLA has many of the features found in larger family members. Eco stop/start, mbrace2 connectivity, and collision prevention assist are standard. The premium package adds heated front seats, Logic7 surround sound, and auto climate control. Our car’s multimedia package adds a larger 7-inch command system with navigation and back-up camera.
All set in a dash that is wide and familiar. The command screen floats over the center stack and really gets your attention. Cost containment is obvious with lots of hard materials. Still, it’s overall nicely done and the black ash wood trim is a reasonable upgrade.
Front seats offer good side and back support, but the bottom cushions are flat and harder than the already stiff cushions on most Benz cars. As expected, the swoopy roof styling makes getting into the rear seats difficult, and there’s only child size room once you’re settled. On the other hand, there’s a good amount of trunk space, some 13.1 cubic feet, behind the standard split folding seatbacks, and the space is very well finished.
At wide open throttle this front driver 2.0-liter makes more noise then we’re accustomed to from Mercedes-Benz, but it still got us to 60 in a good 6.6-seconds. Even with a bit of turbo lag at launch, we had to use some finesse to keep wheel spin in check.
The paddle-shift automatic gives quick shifts to keep the momentum flowing. Still the quarter mile was completed in a rather lengthy 15.2-seconds, but at 99 miles per hour.
The CLA is no beginner when it comes to corners either. Our initial runs exceeded expectations as to grip and balance. You could even hang the tail out a bit like a traditional rear driver. But, push too hard and the front-wheel drive nature of the CLA comes roaring up with lots of body roll and increased understeer. Still, we were impressed.
There is a sporty, nicely weighted feel to the electromechanical power steering. The EPS also works with stability systems to provide corrective steering in emergencies, as well as help with torque steer. Brakes are impressive with stops from 60 averaging only 123-feet with zero drama.
Government fuel economy ratings are dramatically good for a Mercedes at 26–city, 38-highway, and 30-combined. Our mileage loop on various roads netted a mildly disappointing 28.4 miles-per-gallon on premium gas.
On paper the energy impact score is very good with annual oil use of 11.0–barrels and yearly CO2 emissions of 4.9-tons.
CLA pricing starts at just $30,825; that’s about 6-grand less than a base c-class sedan. Our well-equipped car totaled $36,870. And considering you can spend that much on a Buick regal, it’s almost a no brainer.
Indeed, based on price and prestige alone, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA looks like a winner, even with some short comings that were very obvious to us. We don’t think first time converts to the brand will even notice. What they will notice, and be drawn to, is a very affordable and yes, competent way, to join the exclusive club of the three pointed star.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I-4
Torque: 258 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 6.6 seconds
1/4 mile: 15.2 seconds @ 99mph
EPA: 26 mpg city/ 38 mpg highway
Energy Impact: 11.0 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 4.9 tons