For Bill Clinton two decades ago, it was the economy. For Mercedes-Benz in 2014, it’s the fuel economy, stupid. And the sticker price, too.
That’s the quick summary of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250. The new compact sedan from Mercedes boasts better combined fuel economy (6.6 litres/100 km) than the 2.0-litre Cadillac ATS (8.3 litres/100 km), Lexus IS 250 (8.3 litres/100 km), BMW’s 320i (7.2 litres/100 km) and more. And at a starting price of $33,900, the CLA is the least-expensive sedan sold by Mercedes-Benz Canada.
Inexpensive, but hardly a stripper. The engine is a 208-horsepower, 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder that has an impressive 258 lb-ft of torque. Which means a 0-100 km/h trip in 6.7 seconds rowing through the standard seven-speed automatic transmission (with standard shift paddles), according to Mercedes. The compact CLA is quick enough, though what’s missing from this powertrain is a compelling, throaty exhaust note. Goose the throttle and you hear the song of a fuel-efficient little engine. Perhaps that’s music to the ears of environmentalists, but it’s not terribly exciting.
What might catch your eye – it certainly catches mine – is the look of this new entry-level Merc. At the front, you have a shapely hood with twin powerdomes, cat’s eye headlamps (bi-Xenon if you pay extra), fancy air inlets, the three-pointed star and a mesh grille. It grabs you.
At the side, the design is balanced and well-proportioned, with a sloping roofline, frameless windows and (if you pay extra) a “Panoramic” glass sliding sunroof. The rear? The trunk lid has an integrated lip spoiler, the LED taillights shimmer at night and the twin chrome exhaust pipes look bolder than the sound that comes from them. Oh, well.
The CLA is a tidy little package of luxury features wrapped in what may be the most appealing design we’ve seen in a Merc sedan in many years. The basic Mercedes design cues work beautifully here. That’s not entirely the case with some other Mercedes models, the E-Class most notably – a car design that seems busy and more a collection of interesting elements than an artistic whole.
Inside, the CLA is not particularly large and that should surprise no one. The CLA shares its underpinnings with the B-Class wagon, for one. These are compact cars, after all. The back seat will accommodate two adults as long as neither is overly large. The front buckets look handsome, can be power-adjusted 12 ways (and with memory), but they are thinly padded – to conserve space and reduce weight, no doubt.
But visually, this latest Merc is terrific and the instruments and controls are sensible, especially once you wrap your brain around how the controller knob works. Certainly, the 5.8-inch infotainment display screen is big and visually useful. Airbags? Yes, eight of them.
The seats are covered in “man-made leather,” which means cows did not die for them. But you can get real leather, optional. I like the circular air vents, the twin-tube instrument cluster with its silver gauges and red needles and split-folding rear seats. This is a handsome cabin.
If you want more than the base model, you can add a Sport package ($1,600), a Premium package ($2,800) and, if you really want to go fast, take the jump – the big jump – to the $49,800 CLA 45 AMG 4Matic with all-wheel-drive: 355 horsepower, 332 lb-ft of torque and 0-100 km/h in 4.6 seconds. It’s an AMG with all the proper AMG badging, wheels, rubber and design cues. And what, $16,000 more than the base CLA? Yes.
The new Merc is quicker than I expected and the handling is surprisingly tidy. Truthfully, the standard version is well equipped. You might want more, but do you need more? Yes, I’d like more robust seats and an exhaust note with more energy. But Mercedes is going to sell lots of these cars.
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