The 2017 CLA250 is affordable for a Mercedes-Benz, but a host of drawbacks test how appropriate the Benz badge is.
Versus the competiton:
All entry-level luxury cars are fraught with compromises, and the CLA250, despite some much-needed improvements for 2017, does little to change that.
Front-wheel drive is standard on the CLA250, and Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive is optional. We cover the high-performance version of this car, the AMG CLA45, separately on Cars.com; compare the two cars here. Mercedes refreshed the CLA250 for 2017 with updated styling, an upgraded multimedia system and a few more important standard features. Stack the car up versus the 2016 CLA250 here. We tested an all-wheel-drive CLA250.
Exterior and Styling
Mercedes markets the CLA250 as a four-door coupe, but don’t be fooled. It’s a sedan, however swoopy. The styling remains a shrunken take on the larger CLS-Class, Mercedes-Benz’s other coupe-like sedan, but I still find the results too gumdrop-shaped. Decide for yourself.
Seventeen-inch alloy wheels are standard; 18s are optional. Mercedes-Benz restyled the CLA250’s bumpers for 2017, and you can alter them even more with sportier cosmetic packages. Outfitted as such, the bumpers have new, continuous framework that emulates the styling on Mercedes’ AMG models. It’s far better than last year’s CLA250, whose sport packages festooned the car’s nose with comically gaping portals.
How It Drives
Despite the turbocharged four-cylinder engine’s stout 208 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque, excessive drivetrain lag sullies the Mercedes-Benz CLA250. A sustained toe on the gas can induce gratifying low-end punch, where the little Benz surges ahead even at 2,000 rpm. The problem, however, is getting to all that.
The CLA 250 delays accelerator response to begin with, and the engine adds a degree of old-school turbo lag that others have largely banished. In its normal driving modes, the seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission resists kickdown with all the stubbornness of a toddler in a vegetable standoff, and it occasionally bogs down mid-shift, as well. Sportier driving modes mitigate this by holding lower gears, but they don’t address the accelerator or turbo lag. The Mercedes-Benz CLA250 is eventually quick, but calling up that power is an exercise in patience.
To drive the CLA is also an exercise in tolerance. Wind noise is low, but road noise is a constant, low din at highway speeds. And even with the optional adaptive suspension in our test vehicle set to its comfort-oriented modes, the CLA 250 encountered bumps with a degree of chop unbecoming of a luxury car at any price. One caveat: Our test car had 18-inch wheels with low-profile tires; the higher-profile tires on the standard 17-inch wheels might improve ride quality.
At any rate, the handling payoff is mixed. Understeer is as controlled as you can expect for any front-drive-based chassis, and overall body roll is limited. But steering feedback is vague on initial immediacy, with an overall ratio that’s too slow for nimble direction changes. Our test car lacked Mercedes-Benz’s optional Sport Package Plus, however, which adds a performance suspension, retuned steering and new logic for the transmission’s Sport mode — changes that affect ride, handling and acceleration, no doubt.
The Mercedes-Benz’s cabin is narrow, with a prominent center console that limits knee space. Headroom is tight with the optional panoramic moonroof, which sacrifices 1.2 inches of front headroom; taller shoppers need not apply. The front seats have long adjustment range, at least, but it’s moot if you have adults in back. With a low seating position and modest legroom at best, the backseat will have them begging you to move forward.
Visibility is another strike. The CLA’s low windshield, squat A-pillars and tiny rear window (significantly obstructed by the rear head restraints) limit the view in all directions.
Cabin quality is a step above the non-luxury fray, but inconsistency abounds. Materials are rich in certain places only to drop off a cliff elsewhere, from expanses of economy-car plastic to cheap-feeling door-lock stems and rickety climate vents. The same is characteristic of Mercedes-Benz’s competitors: Entry-luxury sedans like the Audi A3 and Acura ILX likewise sacrifice quality to meet price levels. But similar money to the Mercedes-Benz CLA250 can buy an entry-level sedan higher up the luxury ladder — think BMW 320i, Acura TLX or Volvo S60 — where interiors stand head and shoulders above the CLA and its ilk.
Ergonomics and Electronics
An 8-inch multimedia screen is standard for 2017 (it was optional before), with a center-console knob to control the action. Some editors dislike Mercedes’ menu structure, called Comand, but I find the three-tiered layout intuitive. The controller doubles as a tuning knob and a separate volume knob sits prominently among the center controls. Best of all, the CLA250 still has plenty of physical buttons, including stereo presets. Amid many automakers’ flight to capacitive touch-sensitive controls, or even just a lot fewer physical buttons, Mercedes-Benz remains a holdout. Stay the course, Stuttgart.
Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, HD radio and a USB port are standard. Options include a navigation system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Harman Kardon premium audio and subscription-based in-car 4G LTE Wi-Fi.
Cargo and Storage
The Mercedes-Benz CLA250’s trunk measures a reasonable 13.1 cubic feet; a 60/40-split folding backseat with a center pass-through is standard. A powered trunk lid with foot activation is optional.
The 2017 CLA250 has not been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Mercedes’ Attention Assist drowsy-driver detection system is standard, as are rain-sensing wipers and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. A backup camera is newly standard (finally) for 2017, too. Full-speed adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning are optional.
Value in Its Class
The front-drive CLA250 starts at just over $33,000 including destination charge. It comes reasonably equipped at that, with the 8-inch multimedia display, automatic emergency braking and power front seats with memory settings all standard. At the other end, an all-wheel-drive CLA250 tops out around $53,000 if you load it to the hilt with performance, luxury and cosmetic upgrades.
That’s a big spread, and the alternative choices depend upon where in that range your budget lands. But entry-level luxury sedans are a niche group on the whole and mainstream brands like BMW, Cadillac, Lexus and Volvo have avoided the class altogether, instead opting for stripped-down versions of their larger, mainstream sport sedans to compete for your $350-a-month lease payment. Bargain alternatives like the Acura ILX and Buick Verano, meanwhile, can save you thousands at the other end.
Such is the position of the CLA-Class, an entry-level Mercedes with significant improvements for 2017 but still too many drawbacks to justify its cost versus other vehicles that $35,000 can buy. The styling and brand cachet will win some fans, as will the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45’s raucous performance. But for many shoppers, better vehicle options exist.
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