2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 is the brand's new entry-level
model, with a starting price just below $30,000.
listened to the radio, watched television, read a magazine, seen
a billboard, driven a freeway or, for that matter, even breathed
in recent months could tell you: The big deal about the new 2014
Mercedes-Benz CLA250 is its distinctly un-Mercedes-like price.
It starts at $29,900 — almost $6,000 less than the automaker’s
previously least-expensive C-Class.
impressive feat of pricing for a manufacturer so desired by
beer-budget drivers and affordable only to consumers of Piper-Heidsieck.
But now, with its new entry-level model, the same
status-conscious crowd who purchase imitation Louis Vuitton
handbags can buy in to the real German brand with a car that
drives exactly as expected for its price point: well enough.
indication that the CLA250 is a bargain Benz is the exterior of
this "four-door coupe," specifically the grille, which
lacks the understated elegance of other Mercedes and instead
looks as if a 6-year-old was let loose with a Bedazzler loaded
with hexagonal pellets. Throwing open its doors to slide inside
is only slightly better. Instead of a leather-y olfactory
greeting, the smell is as generic as the black decor.
CLA250 won’t magically allow access to red carpet premieres
with bodacious Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. It won’t
enable heel-and-toe skirmishes with race car drivers. Turning
over the ignition, it hesitates to respond to even the slightest
press of its accelerator pedal.
the direct-injection and turbocharging of its 2.0-liter, inline
four-cylinder engine, the CLA’s default mode is limp. It
automatically starts in an Eco drive setting that won’t seem
underwhelming for CLA buyers stepping up from a 5-year-old
Toyota Camry but will feel decidedly lacking for anyone moving
over from a higher-priced BMW of any stripe. For a more engaged
driving experience, drivers need to manually switch to the
significantly more sprightly sport mode, which shortens the
shift times and holds the gears. Paddle shifters can operate in
each drive mode and are, wisely, outfitted with an override
feature that will automatically up- or down-shift to avoid
redlining or a stall.
front-wheel-drive layout already says the CLA isn’t a true
driver’s car, but its 208 horsepower and acceleration
underscores that fact. A 4matic, Mercedes’ all-wheel-drive,
version of the CLA will be available in the spring, as will a
355-horsepower, $47,450 AMG version next month.
mode, the CLA’s dual-clutch automatic transmission shifts
quickly and smoothly through all of its seven gears at speeds as
low as 40-ish mph, contributing to impressive fuel economy for a
midsize sedan: 30 mpg combined. The start-stop function is also
seamless and unobtrusive as it turns the engine off at full
stops to conserve fuel.
mechanism that shifts between gears is on a stalk off the
steering wheel, similar to a windshield wiper. And the LCD
screen for audio, phone and navigation isn’t embedded in the
dash but likewise stuck on with a stem, as if it was an
luxury details also lack finesse, such as the not-quite-opaque,
black cloth cover for the panoramic sun roof and the remote
unlock feature for the trunk. Pressing the button opens the
trunk so quickly, I feared it would detach and fly across the
grocery store parking lot.
however, certain areas where Mercedes does a good job of
disguising the low price of its four-door five-seater. To its
credit, the CLA retains the quiet in-cabin character of its
higher-priced models, with a ride quality that is smooth and
comfortable if not exceptionally so. The rack-and-pinion
steering firms up with speed and is fairly precise. And the
curved edges on its dash, aviation-style circular vents and
offset stitching on the door panels are all nicely done, though
the silver on the audio controls’ knurled knobs isn’t metal.
It’s plastic that’s been clad with a thin layer of real
metal so the surface feels cool to the touch.
main competitors are the $3,000-less Acura ILX, the Audi A3
(which will be priced exactly equal to the CLA250 for the 2015
model year), and the $1,300-more BMW 1 Series.
obvious competitor might be the $35,100 Kia Cadenza, which is
operating in the same under-exploited gray area somewhere
between the mainstream and luxury markets, only with a different
psychology. The Cadenza confers no status whatsoever but
delivers a premium experience with standard amenities that, on
the CLA250, cost extra, including navigation, a backup camera
and heated leather seats. All this makes the Cadenza, if not a
better car than the CLA, one that’s at least comparable —
sacrilegious and improbable as that seems.
stock features are minimal and include a 5.8-inch display
screen, powered sport seats and collision prevention assist. The
price can easily exceed the C-Class as customers add the
appointments that make the CLA more of a true luxury experience.
seats and an amazing Harman/Kardon stereo? You’ll need to fork
over an extra $2,300 for the premium package. Leather seats and
top-stitching cost another $1,500, high-end navigation with a
larger screen and a rear view camera are part of a multimedia
package that costs another $2,370, and safety systems, such as
radar-based cruise control, and blind-spot and lane-keeping
assist, add $2,500.
CLA, Mercedes has succeeded in making a cheap imitation of
itself that will appeal to Mercedes newbies more than its core
buyership. Doing so, it is likely to prove the same tenet as
Toyota with its sudden-acceleration debacle. It’s more
difficult to destroy an excellent reputation than to recover
from a bad one.
Turbocharged, direct-injected, 2.0-liter, inline-four-cylinder,
four valves per cylinder, overhead cam
208 at 5,500 rpm
258 at 1,250 to 4,000 rpm
speed: 149 mph
—0 to 60
mph acceleration time: 6.9 seconds
weight (estimated): 3,264 pounds
fuel economy: 26 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, 30 mpg combined
price, excluding destination charge: $29,900
as tested: $38,770