2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review
Pros & Cons
- Luxury-car status for a relatively low price
- commendable power and handling
- premium interior materials
- fiery performance from AMG model.
- Cramped rear seat
- stiff ride quality on CLA 45 and CLA250 with optional sport suspension
- dual-clutch transmission is hesitant at slow speeds.
Edmunds' Expert Review
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class offers all the trimmings of a proper Benz for a relatively modest price. Although its driving character and compact cabin dimensions won't please everyone, shoppers interested in a small European entry-level luxury sedan will certainly want to take a look.
An entry-level luxury sedan promising the allure of Mercedes-Benz ownership at prices more attainable to the masses, the CLA-Class was introduced with great fanfare. A memorable Super Bowl commercial featured a man ready to sell his soul to the devil for a Mercedes until he realized the CLA250 was so inexpensive he wouldn't need to negotiate with Lucifer. Just a scant year later, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 gets a small price bump. It no longer sneaks in below $30,000, but it comes with some additional standard equipment to help offset that. More importantly, it's still significantly less expensive than the Mercedes C-Class, so even though it makes some compromises here and there, it's worth a look if you're shopping for an entry-level luxury car.
Although it's Mercedes-Benz's least expensive model, the Edmunds "B"-rated CLA-Class feels like an authentic luxury sedan. In our yearlong test of a CLA250 we found the front seats quite comfortable for road trips and daily commuting alike. Moreover, most of the interior surfaces you come in contact with are high-quality, and the build quality is outstanding. The COMAND electronics interface is easy to use, and functionally, it's one of our favorites on the market. Additional standard equipment for 2015 includes keyless ignition, dual-zone climate control and a 7-inch infotainment screen (a new 8-inch screen is optional). All these upgrades also apply to the CLA 45 AMG (which also earns an Edmunds "B" rating), which offers 355 horsepower, standard all-wheel drive and stunning straight-line performance.
While the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class may be a likable car, it's harder to argue that it's the most practical buy in the segment. Due to the car's compact size and dramatically sloping roof line, headroom and legroom are extremely tight in the rear seat. An overly stiff ride was another issue we had with last year's car. Mercedes has switched to a more comfortable setup on the 2015 CLA250 (the previous sport suspension is now optional), aiming for a smoother ride over less than perfect pavement. We haven't yet tested a 2015 Mercedes CLA250 with this revised suspension, and we'll update this review once we have. And although the CLA has an attractively low base MSRP, prices can quickly inflate with just a few basic options, and items you might expect to be standard (like a rearview camera and heated seats) are optional. Meanwhile, the CLA 45 AMG isn't exactly a bargain, with a starting price perilously close to $50,000.
Within the entry-level luxury sedan class, the CLA's toughest competition comes from the 2015 Audi A3, which won a comparison test thanks to its quieter, more refined ride and roomier cabin. The Audi may cost marginally more, but we think it's worth it. Another car to consider is the 2015 Acura ILX, which has a larger backseat and a lower starting price than the CLA. Rivals to the CLA 45 AMG include the Audi S3, which we find more practical and luxurious, and the BMW M235i, which is the best-handling car of the three but less useful since it only has two doors. Depending on your priorities, some or all of these rivals may be more appealing, but overall, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a stylish choice that will satisfy most drivers.
2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class models
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is available in three trim levels: CLA250, CLA250 4Matic and CLA 45 AMG.
The CLA250 comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, keyless ignition, eight-way power driver seats, driver memory settings, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, ambient interior lighting and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat. Electronics features include a 7-inch central display, the COMAND interface, mbrace2 telematics/smartphone integration, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, USB and auxiliary audio jacks, and a CD player.
The CLA250 4Matic has the same standard equipment but has all-wheel drive. The CLA 45 AMG is also equipped similarly. It has all-wheel drive as standard along with a more powerful engine, a sport exhaust, 18-inch wheels, larger brakes, firmer suspension tuning and some aluminum interior trim.
All CLAs are eligible for the optional Premium package, which provides keyless access (Keyless Go in Mercedes-Benz parlance), auto-dimming mirrors, heated front seats and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with satellite radio. The Multimedia package adds to the Premium package with a larger 8-inch central infotainment screen with Mercedes' COMAND interface, a rearview camera and a navigation system with voice commands. The Driver Assistance package adds adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring systems.
The Sport package for the CLA250 adds 18-inch wheels, a more aggressive-looking front fascia and grille, and drilled front brake rotors with painted calipers. The Sport Package Plus gets sport-tuned suspension, aerodynamic bodywork, wider high-performance tires, a sport exhaust, aluminum pedals and upgraded seat upholstery. Among the stand-alone options for both models you'll find bi-xenon headlamps, LED taillights, a rear spoiler, a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, heated seats, wood interior trim, the rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors and an automated parking system. Exclusive options for the CLA 45 include 19-inch wheels, interior and exterior carbon-fiber trim, sport seats, an AMG steering wheel and red-painted brake calipers.
Performance & mpg
The 2015 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 on the standard CLA250, while the CLA250 4Matic model is all-wheel drive. The EPA's estimated fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive CLA250 is 30 mpg combined (26 city/38 highway), while the all-wheel-drive 4Matic checks in at 27 mpg combined (24/32). In Edmunds testing, a CLA250 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in a brisk 6.4 seconds.
The CLA 45 AMG gets a more powerful 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 of torque. A quicker-shifting version of the seven-speed transmission is standard, as is all-wheel drive. Launch control is also included. EPA estimated fuel economy stands at 26 mpg combined (23/31). At the Edmunds test track, the CLA 45 AMG accelerated from zero to 60 mph in a scant 4.7 seconds, making it one of the quickest compact sedans available.
Both the CLA250 and CLA 45 AMG feature an automatic stop-start function that, if engaged, turns off the engine when the car stops to save fuel.
Standard safety equipment on the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class includes 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. Rear seat side airbags are optional. The CLA 45 AMG has a three-mode stability control system that allows drivers to tailor the level of intervention.
During Edmunds track testing, the CLA250 came to a stop from 60 mph in 121 feet, while the CLA 45 needed just 111 feet, both about average for their respective segments.
Mercedes-Benz mbrace2 emergency telematics is standard, as are systems like Collision Prevention Assist Plus, which uses radar to identify potential frontal collision situations and intervenes with braking as necessary, and Attention Assist, which monitors the driver for signs of drowsiness and inattention. On cars with optional adaptive cruise control, Collision Prevention Assist Plus gives way to Distronic Plus, which is able to intervene with the brakes at higher speeds to help avoid frontal collisions. Other safety options include a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, a blind-spot warning system and a lane keeping assist system.
Most consumers will find the 2015 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. We like its athletic character, quick-shifting automated manual transmission, driver-adjustable shift patterns and the manual shift mode accessed by its steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
There are other aspects to the CLA, however, that serve as unfortunate reminders that you're driving an entry-level Mercedes-Benz. Some drivers might be put off by the workaday sounds of the base CLA's four-cylinder engine and the slow responses of the transmission when shifting in and out of Drive and Reverse. The optional Sport Package Plus adds a sport-tuned suspension that improves handling, but it also results in an overly stiff ride quality. Mercedes has made a softer-tuned, comfort-oriented suspension standard this year on the CLA250. It's likely to improve ride quality a bit, but we've yet to test the CLA with this new setup. We'll update this review once we have.
Meanwhile, the 355-hp CLA 45 AMG promises plenty of entertainment. In addition to its sizzling acceleration, the CLA 45 has plenty of personality. Select Sport mode and you'll hear crackles and pops from the exhaust during both up- and downshifts. Around turns, the CLA 45 offers tenacious grip and guided-missile determination. But the cost of this handling prowess is an even firmer ride quality that might be too much even for drivers who want an authentic sport-sedan experience. Also, the CLA 45's performance-oriented brakes are very sensitive and grab with the slightest touch of the pedal, while the transmission's shift quality can be overly aggressive for daily driving.
Although this is the bargain Benz, for the most part the CLA's interior looks and feels like a traditional Mercedes. Big analog gauges, a clean center stack design and tight fit and finish impart the classic, premium ambience shared across the Mercedes-Benz lineup.
One of the interior's weak spots is the display screen for the COMAND electronics interface, which looks like an aftermarket addition as it's perched high on the dash. On the upside, the standard screen is larger this year (it's now 7 inches versus 5.8 in 2014) and 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 (CLA 45 only) allow you to create a cabin aesthetic that's either cool and modern, or classic and refined.
While the front seats are quite comfortable on longer drives, the CLA's rear quarters aren't nearly as accommodating. The seats themselves are well-shaped and supportive, but the sloping roof line that gives the CLA its distinctive profile also translates to tight headroom for 6-footers, and the legroom situation isn't much better. The CLA is also ill-equipped for small children. The rear seat's non-removable headrests can make forward-facing car seat fitment tricky, and those small rear doors make it tough to get little ones in and out. Surprisingly, though, the CLA has a significant amount of trunk space for the class with 13.1 cubic feet, while the Audi A3 checks in at 12.3 cubic feet.