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The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class distills the posh trappings of a proper Benz into a competitive entry-level luxury sedan.
Luxury-car quality and status for a relatively low price; commendable power and handling; premium interior materials; fiery performance from AMG model.
Base engine gets noisy at higher rpm; cramped rear seat; dash-top navigation display looks down-market.
Available CLA-Class Models
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The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is an all-new entry-level luxury sedan. It slots in below the C-Class in the Mercedes lineup.
The all-new 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class exists for one simple reason: A great many consumers desire the elegance and prestige associated with the Mercedes brand, but simply can't afford the high price of admission. The C-Class sedan has long been the company's entry-level model in the United States, but these days, a nicely equipped one runs well past $40,000. The 2014 CLA-Class marks a departure for the German automaker: It's a front-wheel-drive sedan infused with the premium furnishings of a traditional Mercedes-Benz, but priced far lower than the rear-drive C-Class.
The CLA is actually longer and wider than the current C-Class sedan (which is due for a redesign). Its sleek, aerodynamic shape brings to mind the larger CLS four-door "coupe" and Mercedes says that the CLA is more aerodynamic than a Toyota Prius, which should benefit fuel economy. The CLA-Class sedan's curvy roof line does impede on passenger space, however. Anyone over 6 feet tall shouldn't bother trying to get comfortable in the backseat.
Of course, the big question surrounding the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class sedan is whether you'll see it as a genuine Mercedes-Benz or a half-hearted budget alternative. The CLA certainly feels like the real thing from the cockpit, as premium materials and a suite of safety and multimedia features check all the boxes for Benzness. With a strong turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a quick-shifting transmission and sure-footed handling, the CLA drives like a proper Mercedes, too, though the 2.0-liter engine can sound rough at times. If that's an issue for you, the rip-snorting CLA45 AMG should right most of the base CLA250's wrongs with its incredibly swift straight-line performance.
With the launch of the 2014 CLA-Class, Mercedes brings an early offense to a budding class of compact luxury sedans. The Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series are its closest German rivals, but for the moment neither is offered as a sedan (though both are slated to get a sedan body style in their 2015 redesigns). With a base price around $30,000, though, the CLA is an interesting alternative to a wide range of competitors. The BMW 3 Series and Cadillac ATS are of similar size but cost a great deal more. The 2014 Acura ILX and Buick Verano cost considerably less, but unless it's equipped with a manual gearbox, the Acura can't keep up with the CLA250 in any contest of speed, while the Buick lacks the Benz's overall interior refinement. The 355-horsepower CLA45, on the other hand, has few peers. The BMW 135is offers equivalent performance but only two doors, and if you want something with four doors, you'll have to look at disparate models like the Subaru WRX STI or Chrysler 300C SRT8.
Given the selection in this price range, you're wise to shop around before making a decision, but there's no doubt the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a compelling choice for a compact entry-level luxury sedan.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is available in CLA250 and CLA45 AMG trim levels. The all-wheel-drive CLA250 4Matic arrives later in the model year.
The CLA250 comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic wipers, cruise control, eight-way power front seats, driver memory settings, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat. Electronics features include a 5.8-inch central display, the COMAND interface, mbrace2 telematics/smartphone integration, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a sound system with a CD player. The CLA45 AMG is equipped similarly but features 4Matic all-wheel drive as standard along with 18-inch wheels, larger brakes and firmer suspension tuning.
Both models are eligible for the optional Premium 1 package, which provides auto-dimming mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats and a Harman Kardon audio system with satellite radio and an iPod interface. The Multimedia package adds a larger 7-inch central infotainment screen with Mercedes' COMAND interface, a rearview camera, a 10-gigabyte music server, a six-disc CD changer and a navigation system with voice commands. Additional safety aids including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, and blind spot warning are available via the Driver Assistance package.
The Sport package for the CLA250 adds 18-inch wheels, a more aggressive-looking front fascia and grille, and upgraded brakes. Stand-alone options for both models include summer performance tires, bi-xenon headlamps, a rear spoiler, a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, heated seats, wood interior trim, a lower-cost navigation system for cars with the standard 5.8-inch display, and parking sensors combined with an automated parking system. Exclusive options for the CLA45 include 19-inch wheels, interior and exterior carbon fiber trim, sport seats, an AMG steering wheel and red-painted brake calipers.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 208 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed automated manual transmission (with shift paddles) routes power to the front wheels, but all-wheel drive is available on the CLA250 4Matic. A front-drive CLA250 takes 6.7 seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 mph, according to Mercedes.
The CLA45 AMG has an upgraded version of this 2.0-liter engine that features a twin-scroll turbocharger and fortified internal components. The result is an amazing 355 hp and 332 lb-ft. A quicker-shifting version of the seven-speed transmission drives all four wheels through the 4Matic AWD system. Launch control is also included. The CLA45 AMG will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in a claimed 4.5 seconds.
Both the CLA250 and CLA45 AMG feature an automatic stop-start function that turns off the engine when the car stops to save fuel.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock brakes, a driver knee airbag, front seat side thorax airbags, front seat side pelvic airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. The CLA45 AMG has a three-mode stability control system that allows drivers to tailor the level of intervention.
Mercedes-Benz mbrace2 emergency telematics is standard, as are Collision Prevention Assist, which uses radar to identify potential collision situations and intervenes with braking as necessary, and Attention Assist, which monitors the driver for signs of drowsiness and inattention. Rear seat side airbags are optional. Other safety-oriented options include a rearview camera, parking sensors bundled with an automated parking system and the Lane Tracking package, which adds a blind-spot warning system and a lane-departure warning system.
Even though this is the bargain Benz, the CLA-Class sedan's interior largely escapes the cost-cutting knife. Quite simply, the cabin looks and feels like a traditional Mercedes. Big analog gauges, a clean center stack design, and tight fit and finish impart the same classic, premium feel shared across the Mercedes lineup.
One of the few exceptions is the optional navigation system's display, which looks like an aftermarket addition as it's perched high on the dash. On the upside, the screen is easy to read. It also takes some time to get used to selecting gears with a column-mounted stalk rather than a traditional console shifter. Various trim options, including walnut, ash, aluminum and carbon fiber (CLA45 only) allow you to create a cabin aesthetic that's either cool and modern, or classic and refined.
Unfortunately, the CLA's rear quarters aren't nearly as luxurious. Although the rear seats are well-shaped and supportive, the sloping roof line that gives the CLA its distinctive character also translates to tight headroom for 6-footers, and the knee room situation isn't much better. Small rear doors make it tough to get little ones in and out of their car seats, too.
Mercedes hasn't released the CLA's cargo space specifications yet. But as the CLA is longer and wider than the current C-Class, expect about 11 cubic feet of trunk capacity.
Most consumers will find the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 quite agreeable to drive on their daily commutes. Even if you've owned rear-wheel-drive Mercedes sedans in the past, you'll be hard-pressed to tell that the CLA250 is front-wheel drive, as it accelerates and steers with the precision of more elite Benz models. Ride quality is on the firm side, but it's not uncomfortable. Part of the CLA's athletic character comes from the quick-shifting automated manual transmission, which offers three driver-adjustable shift patterns and a manual shift mode via its steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
At highway speeds, the CLA's aerodynamic shape helps neutralize wind noise, but it can't muffle the four-cylinder engine's occasional diesel-like clatter or the exhaust system's wheezy rasp when you're accelerating hard. These are among the few unfortunate reminders that you're driving an entry-level Mercedes-Benz.
Meanwhile, the 355-hp CLA45 AMG is far from a base Benz. In addition to its sizzling acceleration, the CLA45 has plenty of personality. Select Sport mode and you'll hear crackles and pops from the exhaust during downshifts. At a steady cruise, the AWD system maximizes efficiency by sending all the engine power to the front wheels, but it's capable of routing 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels, depending on conditions and which stability control setting you've selected.
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