2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 First Test
If you’re young, stylish, cool, and connected, Mercedes-Benz is after you. You’ve likely seen the ubiquitous advertising featuring the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250, the company’s smallest seductive sedan.
The reasons for its creation aren’t revolutionary. In the simplest terms, it came down to diversification and rejuvenation. Mercedes-Benz executives noticed wrinkles emerging on their loyalists’ well-moneyed mugs. Fresh aficionados needed minting, because, as MBUSA CEO Steve Cannon explained, they’re “essential to brand survival.”
Mercedes-Benz saw that at the $30,000 price point, things get interesting. The number of possible converts to the Stuttgart sect skyrockets. People who would otherwise be buying a fully loaded Accord, Camry, or Fusion could get into a “nicely equipped” Mercedes-Benz. Ta-dah, the CLA is born.
My expectations of a “cheap” Mercedes needed neither twist of key nor click of buckle to erode. Simply opening our tester’s frameless door revealed a beautiful cockpit lined primarily with supple, black faux leather that Benz calls MB Tex. Piano-black trim pieces accent the synthetic material nicely, but the heavy hand in plastic usage did gain some complaints. Details such as the galvanized climate control vent surrounds look great and bring the flavor of higher models to an entry-level audience. The three-spoke steering wheel, with its thick diameter and multifunction buttons, feels brilliant in hand and looks spectacular.
Checking boxes next to two of what Mercedes expects will be the most popular option groups -- Premium ($2300) and Multimedia Package ($2370) -- provided satellite radio, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and a 7-inch high-resolution display with the latest version of COMAND and 3-D maps. Given that the target audience is tech savvy, product planners made Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and mbrace2 (the brand’s smartphone app suite) standard.
Value is paramount at this level, so you’ll also see things such as power seats, folding second-row seats with trunk access, Collision Prevention Assist, and Attention Assist on the equipment lineup. The lesson from all this: Pick -- err, special order -- a base, no-option CLA and you’ll be happy as a clam. If you find a dealer with such a miracle specification, consider it a unicorn.
My first taste of the CLA occurred in a Washington, D.C. mess. Spending any time in D.C.’s morning traffic is akin to having a hangover on a 14-hour international flight. It’s painful. In the stop-and-go world, the CLA’s start/stop-equipped 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder died and resurrected as quickly and smoothly as its bigger six- and eight-cylinder siblings. Eco Mode further enhances the sedan’s fuel-sipping behaviors by recalibrating the responsiveness of the engine, throttle, and silky smooth seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. There’s a bit of lag between driver command and car reaction, but it’s all in the name of maximizing mpg, which the EPA says is 26 mpg (38 on the highway). Need a little more gusto when the traffic gaps grow? Comfort mode will suffice.
The standard sport suspension absorbs plenty of nastiness, yet it also transmits the harshest imperfections. It’s taut, not stiff, and while out and about in Georgetown, our heads bobbed and our bellies jiggled more than we’d like in a luxury car. Thankfully, we found miles and miles of Virginia pavement that were devoid of people and potholes. Sport mode was the ticket, sharpening the systems that Eco mode dulled. The suspension loved it. The CLA stayed controllable, was “tossable,” and didn’t suffered from torque-steer when pegging the rev limiter from a corner exit. Sure, it’ll push like any front-drive ride when prodded intensely, and the electromechanical power steering is a low on feel (not weightiness), but CLA in its entirety feels every bit a Benz -- controllable, stable, solid, and, yes, nimble.
Torque from the little mill comes on strong: All 258 pound-feet come into play at just 1250 rpm. Shifts are nearly instantaneous from the CLA-specific dual-clutch. Flap the paddles at the 6250 rpm red zone to get every one of the 208 horses going. Our test crew needed 6.2 seconds to get the CLA to 60 mph from a standstill; the quarter-mile came in 14.7 seconds at 95.5 mph. The acceleration isn’t brutally fast, but it is highly entertaining. We recorded the most impressive stat on the skidpad: 0.92 g of average lateral acceleration that trumps more athletically inclined rides like Audi’s S8 (0.90).
While my copilot nabbed a Slim Jim during one of our rest stops, I contorted my way into the rear seat. No joke: If you’re taller than a koala, you’ll be hitting your head on the sweeping, declining roofline. The seats are flat and lack any lateral support, and headroom is tight. But there was enough legroom for all sorts.
The CLA’s styling drew much controversy among the staff. A few disliked this newest “four-door coupe” wholeheartedly, saying it looks like two designers penned it and didn’t talk to each other, or that it’s fine from the B-pillar forward and that’s about it. Descriptors including “saggy” and “messy” came up in notes when speaking about the back end. Yet there were those who loved it. It’s eye-catching, and that’s the point. The masses that Mercedes hopes to lure don’t care if bodylines or symmetry are perfect. It’s more like, “Does it have a star on its nose? It costs how much? Great. Where do I sign?”
A few auto journalists label the CLA a cheap rendition of a Benz for those who can’t afford a “real” Mercedes-Benz. To which I say, but of course it is! The characterization and value paradigms of the brand in America are shifting -- they need to, says Cannon. They’re starting to match those of Europe. Across the Atlantic, the C-Class is one of the most popular taxis. There’s an A-Class and a B-Class there too. And guess what? They’re still Mercedes-Benzes. Their drivers are happy. End of story.
The American repositioning of Mercedes begins with the CLA. Soon, the movement will include the GLA crossover. With the CLA250, engineers have put together a vehicle that melds technology, style, fuel frugalness, and sportiness seamlessly, and a build quality that new brand buyers -- both young and old -- will devour. Recalibration for Mercedes-Benz is definitely on the right track.
|2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$36,545|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.0L/208-hp/258-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto.|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3308 lb (61/39%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.3 x 70.0 x 56.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.7 sec @ 95.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||112 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.92 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.2 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||26/38 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||130/89 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.64 lb/mile|