Across the world, the three-pointed star that is the Mercedes-Benz logo is recognized as a symbol of prestige.
It's become a sign that someone has "made it," and is on the path towards a successful and rewarding life. It's not just an icon on an automobile anymore, either. If you look around at jewelry boutiques you shouldn't be too surprised to see that it can be had as a diamond-encrusted charm for necklaces.
Of course, there is a price to pay for all of this brand recognition — literally.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
Although we've seen a systemic price increase across all automobiles, luxury automakers — like Audi, Lexus and Mercedes — have been dipping their toes into entry-level luxury waters. This neatly brings us to our subject, the CLA250. Starting at an aggressive base price of $29,900, it's the all-new entry-level three-pointed star.
But, you may not notice this at first. When you first take a good look at it, you'll see a lot of inspiration from other higher-end Mercedes-Benz products.
Starting on the outside you'll notice its design is not for the faint of heart. It's very evocative and, frankly, controversial. Sporting the prominent front grille that has made quite an impression in the marque's halo car, the SLS AMG, there's no question that this is a Mercedes when it's approaching. In pictures the headlights appear way out of proportion but in real life I wasn't disturbed by their appearance. I noticed the same exact thing when I saw the new SL-Class and then I drove one. If you're not sure for yourself, I urge you to see one one in person and decide for yourself.
Its side profile looks a bit familiar: you'll note that it looks more like the CLS-Class than a stuffy four-door sedan. Personally, I think this is a wise move to take as folks these days are looking to make a statement with their purchases. The days of trying to be subtle are long gone.
Around its hindquarters, the design goes for a more elegant appeal with rounded edges and curvaceous taillights. Some folks have complained its back end looks "droopy," but I actually like it. To me, it's a nice punctuation to the overall design. At the end of the day the big plus about the CLA-Class is that, overall, the car looks expensive. Even in its standard configuration it doesn't look like a vehicle with a sub $30,000 base price.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
Getting comfortable in the confines of its interior, this is where things get dicey depending on personal taste. On the whole I find it a pleasant place to be but this is a space that has taken a lot of heat from other critics. Personally, I appreciate the company's well-designed instrument cluster and roomy front seat space. During a six-hour road trip, I did not experience discomfort in the CLA's driver's seat. This is the first time that's EVER happened for me in a Mercedes — even in the brand's six-figure products. Job well done, Mercedes.
In the back it can be a bit tight when it comes to rear seat legroom and headroom, though I was able to stuff a six footer back there. Barely. If you're in-market to purchase or lease, make sure to spend time in the back seat and make the right decision for your needs.
If I had to give advice about this vehicle's back seat, I'd tell my friends that it's great if you're a young couple or have a young child, but if you expect carrying adults on long trips this isn't the vehicle for you.
Mercedes does deserve some praise for the way it executed some interior elements though. The steering wheel is a nicely trimmed bit that would find home in any of its other products. In addition, the MB-Tex — leatherette — is extremely high quality, which can't always be said of its competitors. I guarantee that most of your friends wouldn't be able to distinguish the difference between it and a properly trimmed leather interior.
Lastly, one of the most talked about elements is the screen that sits atop the center stack. Although some think it looks like an aftermarket add-on, I think it looks slick. Here's what people don't understand: There is not one easy way to integrate a screen into a dash. Either you have a set up like the CLA or you have a display set in the dash that creates an awful looking hump that is reminiscent of a Buick interior from the late 1980s or early 1990s. Or, BMW's original iDrive setup that looked completely awful, in this writer's humble opinion.
It’s not all good news though.
One interesting note about the interior space: I had not one, but two, individuals tell me they thought the interior looked cheap. Although they gestured towards the dash trim and HVAC vents when I asked "where" I didn't have the same feelings. Once again: make sure you really spend time in this vehicle's cabin before deciding to make a move.
I haven't experienced such diverging opinions, previously.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
And, another disconcerting happening popped up during my time with this Mercedes. There were not one, but two rattles that made themselves known. A squeak here or there I can deal with, not a consistent problem child that awakens on every imperfection in the road. I hate rattles in any automobile, but if I were to treat myself to a Mercedes, I'd be especially disappointed. Aside from that, no complaints inside.
Of course by now you must be wondering how well it drives. My tester was the front-wheel drive CLA — you can option it with all-wheel drive for an additional $2,000 — and I have to say, overall, I was impressed. There's good reason as I put it to the ultimate test in a drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
Right off the bat this front-wheel drive vehicle doesn't feel as such. I highly doubt most buyers will know straight away that this vehicle sends power to the front. Even when you over indulge in the throttle, there is no readily apparent torque steer, which is a common problem in other FWD rides.
Equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine, the baby Benz produces 208 horsepower and a hefty 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Though it doesn't sound like much in a day and age where 300 horsepower is the average, I assure you this is more than adequate for this product. Getting up to 60 mph happens in just under seven seconds and at freeway speed there's more than enough pep to make irrational lane changes.
Paired up with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the CLA does OK in the fuel efficiency department but it won't break any records mpg records in the near future. Around town I chalked up 22 mpg and on the highway I saw as high as 35 mpg. What I particularly liked about the transmission is that it doesn't hunt for gears as some other less sophisticated gearboxes do. When I let the vehicle do all the work it knew what gear was appropriate at all times. That can't be said for all automatics.
More critically, the CLA's ride is something to take note of. Around town and at speed, I found the suspension tuned just right. Motoring around town I didn't find it to have that Mercedes "float," and it inspires confidence at high rates of speed. I will note, however, that even though my vehicle was equipped with a base wheel and tire package it doesn't take bumps too well. It's not as bad as your run-of-the mill Toyota or Honda, but it's more harsh than I expected being an entry-level luxury product.
Where I think interested buyers will be pleasantly surprised is when you put the CLA through some switchbacks. Although front-wheel drive vehicles are not known for being good handlers, this itty bitty Mercedes will challenge conventional thinking. That's because it's fun! By no means is it a sports car — you'll need to look elsewhere for that — but I guarantee if you get lost on your way home from the office on some back roads you'll come home with a smile on your face.
If you find yourself looking for an entry-level luxury vehicle and you want to stand out, to me this is a no brainer. While Audi has brought to market the A3 sedan, and priced it at the same competitive rate as the CLA, it lacks panache with its Volkswagen Jetta-like appearance. The CLA, on the other hand, makes an impression when you’re pulling up to the Joneses. After I get behind the wheel of the all-new A3, which will be in the coming weeks, I can revisit this sentiment.
While the CLA is not perfect, it definitely accomplishes two things: it looks much more expensive than it really is, and it provides a fun driving experience. Though I wish it rode more comfortably, I have to say two out of three ain't bad.
The Good:- This vehicle's design evokes attitude and has flavor — you will make an impression where ever you go
- It features the most comfortable seats I've ever experienced in a Mercedes product
- Surprisingly fun to drive, even on a six-hour road trip traveling on California's spine
- Though it has a competitive base price, it gets VERY expensive when you start optioning it up
- "Squeak, squeak," says the interior
- Its back seat is tight on legroom and headroom — limiting if you want to travel with four adults
- I have to admit, I wasn't expecting BIG things when I was booking the CLA250. I thought it'd be a ho-hum product looking to nab sales from eager badgewhores. After spending time with it though, I believe it is a solid Mercedes-Benz product that actually has more in common with its siblings than one would have originally thought. I am definitely disappointed with the interior's squeaks and rattles, but something tells me it could be a first model year thing. I'd advise folks looking for a stylish accessory to check it out, but if you're in-market for something with more utility, this may not be the best pick. When it's optioned up, for the money you can likely get into a base BMW 3-Series, Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50 or possibly even snap up a last-gen C-Class as I am sure there's a few on dealer lots before the all-new C hits dealers.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class