Used 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Review

Edmunds expert review

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class' coupelike styling and relative affordability will appeal to buyers looking to move up to a luxury brand, but its ride, transmission and rear-seat space should give you pause.




What's new for 2016

For 2016, the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class receives a variety of updates. Mercedes has renamed the CLA's adjustable drive mode feature (now called "Dynamic Select"), introduced new optional suspension dampers (enhances performance driving without sacrificing ride comfort, Mercedes says) and added extendable front-seat thigh cushions. There's also a new black-themed exterior styling package. For the AMG CLA 45, hardware changes include more power and revised transmission gear ratios for improved acceleration. There's also a new AMG Dynamic Plus package with a limited-slip front differential, an adaptive suspension, and a higher top-speed limiter.

Vehicle overview

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class continues to make ownership of a stylish, new luxury sedan accessible to more buyers. Mercedes introduced the CLA two model-years ago, touting a starting MSRP below $30,000. Some price increases since then have made the 2016 CLA not quite as affordable as the 2014, but nevertheless, the CLA remains part of a small group of compact luxury cars that start well below the entry point of a Mercedes-Benz C-Class and its ilk.

Although it makes concessions in certain areas to achieve a lower base price, it still feels like an authentic luxury sedan. High points for the CLA250 model we tested over the course of a year included a quiet cabin, balanced performance dynamics, impressive fuel economy, and user-friendly ergonomics. There's also the Edmunds "B" rated AMG CLA 45, which now cranks out an eye-popping 375 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. With standard all-wheel drive and revised transmission gear ratios, the CLA 45 is able to produce blistering sprints to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz.

While some buyers will be drawn to the coupelike silhouette of the 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, its segment competitors may offer slightly more practical or functional appeal for the money. For example, that attractive sloping roofline dramatically affects rear passenger headroom, while the CLA's overall compact size puts limits on rear legroom as well.

Ride quality might also be a concern. Mercedes-Benz tried to address initial ride comfort complaints by switching to a more compliant suspension setup for the 2015 CLA250, and making the sport suspension optional. However, we found that the run-flat tires affixed to the comfort-tune suspension are more likely the cause of the harshness experienced when going over bumps. A CLA equipped with the sport suspension and regular tires offers both handling and ride advantages. (You also won't have to deal with pricey run-flat tire replacement.) Also available this year is the new, optional adaptive/adjustable suspension dampers for both the CLA250 and CLA 45.

Even though the CLA starts at an attractively low base price, as you begin to specify options that are typically expected in a luxury car — like keyless entry and ignition, a rearview camera or heated seats — costs begin to add up quickly. And if you've had your eye on that AMG model, steady yourself to spend more than $50,000. Checking out the CLA's competition, the well-sorted 2016 Audi A3 stands as our top recommendation. If you opt for the smaller 1.8-liter engine, the Audi costs marginally less than a base model CLA. With the comparable 2.0-liter engine, the Audi slides past the CLA but adds all-wheel drive as standard equipment.

If rear passenger space is an issue, you could always consider the surprisingly spacious and refined Volkswagen GTI or the upper trim levels of any number of non-luxury midsize sedans. On the other end of the spectrum, there are lesser-equipped versions of bigger luxury sedans like the Acura TLX or BMW 320i. For performance-vehicle buyers looking at the AMG CLA 45, other strong competitors to consider include the 2016 Audi S3 and the 2016 BMW M235i. The S3 offers the same advantages of the A3 with a more accommodating and luxuriously appointed cabin, while the two-door M235i's handling dynamics are best in class. Depending on your preferences, each one of these vehicles will suit a specific buyer best. But only the 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class provides the style and prestige that comes with owning a car with a tri-point star badge.




Trim levels & features

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a compact luxury four-door available in three trim levels: CLA250, CLA250 4Matic and AMG CLA 45.

The CLA250 comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic wipers, an eight-way power driver seat (with four-way power lumbar), driver memory functions, MB-Tex 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. Electronic features include a 7-inch central display, the COMAND interface, mbrace2 emergency communications (see Safety section), Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, HD radio, a USB port, a media player interface, an auxiliary audio jack, and a CD player.

The CLA250 4Matic has the same standard equipment but has all-wheel drive.

The AMG CLA 45 is also equipped similarly. It has all-wheel drive as standard along with a more powerful engine, special AMG wheels, upgraded brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, a sport exhaust, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights/taillights, unique exterior and interior styling elements, and special seat upholstery consisting of MB-Tex and microfiber cloth.

All CLAs are eligible for the optional Premium package, which provides keyless ignition and entry, auto-dimming mirrors (rearview and driver side), heated front seats, satellite radio, and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. The Multimedia package bundles a larger 8-inch central infotainment screen with a rearview camera, a navigation system and voice commands. The Driver Assistance package adds adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning, lane departure intervention and blind-spot monitoring systems.

The Sport package for the CLA250 adds 18-inch wheels, more aggressive-looking body add-ons (front fascia, side sills, rear valance and grille), and drilled front brake rotors with painted calipers. The new Night package is similar but with black-colored trim details. For actual performance upgrades, go with the Sport Package Plus which adds (in addition to the regular Sport package) a sport-tuned suspension, wider high-performance tires, a sport exhaust, a more direct steering ratio, a sportier transmission shift mode, red brake calipers, a flat-bottom sport steering wheel, and upgraded seat upholstery. The Interior package adds leather upholstery, MB-Tex trim on the dash and doors, and ambient lighting.

Among the stand-alone options for the CLA250 only, you'll find bi-xenon headlights, LED taillights, a sport-tuned suspension, premium suspension dampers (the Selective Damping System), and an eight-way power passenger seat (also with four-way power lumbar).

The AMG Dynamic package is exclusive to the CLA 45 and includes a limited-slip front differential, an adaptive suspension (available separately), selectable "Race" mode and a higher top-speed limiter. Standalone options for the CLA 45 include 19-inch wheels, an upgraded performance exhaust, interior and exterior carbon-fiber trim, sport front seats, an AMG steering wheel and red-painted brake calipers.

Stand-alone options for both models include a rear spoiler, a panoramic sunroof, a blind-spot warning system, a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, an automated parking system, keyless ignition and entry, heated front seats, various wood interior trim choices, a Garmin navigation system and the Harman Kardon sound system.



Performance & mpg

The 2016 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 city/33 highway). In Edmunds testing, a CLA250 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, which is about average for an entry-level luxury sedan.

The AMG CLA 45 gets a more powerful version of this 2.0-liter engine that features fortified internal components. The result is 375 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, which is pretty much unheard of for a turbocharged four-cylinder. A quicker-shifting version of the seven-speed transmission is standard, as is all-wheel drive and launch control. EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 26 mpg combined (23 mpg city/31 mpg highway). We've yet to test this year's AMG with its increased power, but at the Edmunds test track, a 2015 CLA 45 AMG accelerated from zero to 60 mph in a scant 4.7 seconds. Certainly, it's one of the quickest compact sedans available.

Both the CLA250 and AMG CLA 45 feature an automatic stop-start function that, if engaged, turns off the engine when the car stops to save fuel.

Safety

Standard safety equipment on the 2016 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 AMG CLA 45 has a three-mode stability control system that allows drivers to tailor the level of intervention.

Technology-based safety systems are also available. The standard Mercedes-Benz mbrace2 emergency communications system includes services such as automatic collision notification, SOS call and assist, remote door unlock and stolen vehicle recovery. Also standard are 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. The Driver Assistance package includes a blind-spot warning system, a lane keeping assist system and Distronic Plus, which besides providing adaptive cruise control, enhances the existing frontal collision warning system by allowing it to operate at higher speeds. A rearview camera is available as a stand-alone option or within the Multimedia package.

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.

Driving

Most will find the 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 pleasant 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 generally like its athletic character and responsive steering that evokes "hot hatches" like the Volkswagen GTI — albeit a more luxurious one.

There are other aspects to the CLA, however, that serve as unfortunate reminders that you're driving an entry-level Mercedes-Benz. The dual-clutch automated manual transmission is slow to engage when accelerating slowly or in traffic, shifts can be jerky and the throttle is mushy and unresponsive. Then there's the ride quality. There are a lot of variables this year, including the standard, sport-tuned and adaptive suspensions, as well as the availability of run-flat tires. We've found the latter causes a harsh ride over bumps, and although we urge you to pay close attention to the ride during a test-drive, searching for a car with regular tires could be a good idea.

Meanwhile, with even more power this year, the 375-hp AMG CLA 45 promises to keep your heart racing. 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. Lastly, with newly revised gear ratios for the seven-speed transmission, we're hoping Mercedes also took time to improve the over aggressive shift quality experienced in the 2015 model.

Interior

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. Overall interior quality is respectable for an entry-level luxury sedan, but it doesn't really strike us as being truly premium the way other Mercedes vehicles do.

One of the interior's weak spots is the central display screen, which looks like an aftermarket addition that's been bolted to the dash. It's part of the COMAND electronics interface, which has been updated with the latest software introduced in newer models like the C- and S-Class, but it lacks the new touchpad that goes along with those cars. Frankly, we haven't found the touchpad especially useful. The remaining buttons and knob get the job done, but this latest system update does seem to be a bit more confusing than its predecessor. It also takes some time to get used to selecting gears with a column-mounted stalk rather than a traditional console shifter.

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 those of even average height, 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.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.