2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Pros and Cons Review: Properly Appealing

2020-mercedes-benz-cla-class-pros-and-cons-review:-properly-appealing

Pro

  • Impressive base model
  • Fun, quality interior
  • AMG engine

Con

  • Melty exterior design
  • Some cheap bits
  • Rough ride

The democratization of luxury has proven difficult for many premium brands, none more so than Mercedes-Benz. Pilloried for its cynical first attempt at the entry-luxury CLA-Class subcompact sedan, the folks from Stuttgart could have packed it in. Instead, they doubled down, first with the A-Class (a 2020 COTY finalist) but then with the second-gen 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA, which is nothing short of impressive. So impressive, in fact, that it is also a Car of the Year finalist.

View Other 2021 Car Of The Year Contenders And Finalists Here

“The previous version always felt built to a price and like it had been finished by Mercedes’ van division,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said. “The new one is a properly appealing luxury subcompact.”

Because MotorTrend Car of the Year is meant to evaluate the entire vehicle line, we tested both a well-equipped “base” CLA 250 and the angry-as-a-swarm-of-murder-hornets AMG CLA 45. Normally, the base model underwhelms after folks are wowed by the top trim. But in this case the standard CLA 250 was the one that surprised us the most.

“The CLA really gives you a warm welcome into the Mercedes family,” MotorTrend en Español’s Miguel Cortina said. “It treats you like a Mercedes, drives like a Mercedes, and feels like a Mercedes. This is the way entry-level luxury cars should be. The interior is plush and warm, and it has that Mercedes look that is outstanding.”

Intriguingly, the CLA shares underpinnings with the A-Class, as well as the GLA-Class and GLB-Class crossovers. Yet our judges were universal in pronouncing the CLA clearly superior to the rest of the quartet. Give the CLA engineers a raise, Herr Källenius.

Granted there are some faults: The CLA 250’s dual-clutch transmission suffered jerky moments, especially when cold at startup, and not all dual-clutches do that. So some refinement is needed there.

Subcompacts will always be challenged in delivering a refined ride due to their shorter wheelbases, but the CLA 250 (and obviously the stiffer-sprung CLA 45) induced clashing opinions as to whether it was more or less harsh than its BMW M235i Gran Coupe direct competition. Operative word: Harsh.



































Inside, Mercedes did its best to deliver luxury touches and premium materials for a budget-minded price point. The buttons, dials, and stalks all feel appropriate and convincing to the three-pointed star. The seats are sufficiently comfortable, the full-digital display is impressive, and you get Ibiza-like ambient lighting across the full spectrum of colors. Pantone would be jealous.

“Despite cheap materials here and there, I know exactly what to expect when I get into a Mercedes, with these gorgeous air vents and the toggle switches that I can’t possibly operate unless I look down to see what each one does,” Buyer’s Guide director Zach Gale said.

The value equation is tricky: Our CLA 250 test model came across at a breathy $47,935. For that sort of cash, you can get a next-size-up Genesis G70 3.3 twin-turbo with far more power, a better ride, proper leather seats, more intuitive infotainment, and a far larger back seat. But it’s not a Mercedes.

Then we climbed into the CLA 45 and its outrageous nearly 200-hp-per-liter engine. We’ll just let Seabaugh riff here: “I apologize to the rush-hour crowd—this car encourages me to drive like an ass. It just does so much so well. It’s well balanced and composed. Its steering is weighty but pure and accurate. Its engine is a nuclear bomb in a grenade form factor. Its transmission is quick-shifting, never caught out of sorts, and completely livable in stop-and-go traffic.”

Yes, the AMG we tested came in well past $70K, but you can quickly scrape a slew of unnecessary options from its plate, like the $4,300 AMG Dynamic Plus package. Otherwise, bonkers.

If there were a “most improved player” award, the CLA-Class would definitely be in contention.

POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4Matic, -AMG CLA 45 4Matic
DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD
ENGINE TYPE Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head
VALVETRAIN DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
DISPLACEMENT 121.5 cu in/1,991 cc
COMPRESSION RATIO 10.5:1, 9.0:1
POWER (SAE NET) 221 hp @ 5,800 rpm, 382 hp @ 6,500 rpm
TORQUE (SAE NET) 258 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm, 354 lb-ft @ 4,750 rpm
REDLINE 6,300, 7,000  rpm
WEIGHT TO POWER 15.8, 9.7 lb/hp
TRANSMISSION 7-speed twin-clutch auto, 8-speed twin-clutch auto
AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO 4.13:1 (gears 1, 2, 4, 5, R), 2.39:1 (gears 3, 6, 7)/1.74:1; 3.93:1 (gears 1, 2, 5, 6, R), 2.68:1 (gears 3, 4, 7, 8)/1.81:1
SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
STEERING RATIO 14.4:1, 14.5:1
TURNS LOCK-TO-LOCK 2.5; 2.4
BRAKES, F; R 13.0-in vented disc; 12.6-in disc, 13.8-in vented, drilled disc; 13.0-in vented, drilled disc,  ABS
WHEELS, F;R 7.0 x 18-in, 9.0 x 19-in; cast aluminum
TIRES, F;R 225/45R18 91H M S Michelin Primacy MXM4 ZP, 255/35ZR19 96Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4S
DIMENSIONS
WHEELBASE 107.4 in
TRACK, F/R 63.5/63.1, 63.6/62.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 184.6 x 72.0 x 56.7, 184.8 x 75.6 x 55.4 in
TURNING CIRCLE 36.1, 38.1 ft
CURB WEIGHT 3,498, 3,724 lb
WEIGHT DIST, F/R 60/40%
SEATING CAPACITY 5
HEADROOM, F/R 38.5/35.7 in
LEGROOM, F/R 41.8/33.9 in
SHOULDER ROOM, F/R 55.1/54.0 in
CARGO VOLUME 11.6 cu ft
TEST DATA
ACCELERATION TO MPH
0-30 2.1, 1.4  sec
0-40 3.1, 2.0
0-50 4.4, 2.7
0-60 6.0, 3.6
0-70 7.8, 4.7
0-80 10.1, 6.0
0-90 12.7, 7.5
0-100 —, 9.2
PASSING, 45-65 MPH 3.1, 1.8
QUARTER MILE 14.5 sec @ 95.8 mph, 12.1 sec @ 113.6 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 125, 109 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.86, 0.99 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.5 sec @ 0.67 g (avg), 24.1 sec @ 0.80 g (avg)
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH 1,550, 1,450  rpm
CONSUMER INFO
BASE PRICE $39,645, $55,795
PRICE AS TESTED $47,935, $73,850
STABILITY/TRACTION CONTROL Yes/Yes
AIRBAGS 10: Dual front, fr/rr side, f/r curtain, front knee
BASIC WARRANTY 4 yrs/50,000 miles
POWERTRAIN WARRANTY 4 yrs/50,000 miles
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE 4 yrs/50,000 miles
FUEL/BATTERY CAPACITY 13.2, 13.5 gal
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON 23/33/27, 20/29/23 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 147/102, 169/116 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.73, 0.83 lb/mile
RECOMMENDED FUEL Unleaded premium

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