At first glance, the Mercedes CLA-Class looks frivolous. Too small to chauffeur and too expensive to truly be considered “entry level,” the CLA has primarily been viewed as the Mercedes-Benz for drivers who value style over substance—and who can’t afford to pony up for the larger and more expensive CLS-Class.
Yet after a week driving a CLA 250 4Matic around the traffic hellscape that is Boston, Massachusetts, I was anything but eager to send the car back to the fleet. The CLA may fill a small niche for Mercedes shoppers, but it does so beautifully, combining style, poise, and technology in a gorgeous package.
Looking Good in the Neighborhood
The CLA’s sloping rear deck may not be the most practical design—just ask the passengers in the back—but damn, does it look good. Few cars on the road look as sharp as Mercedes’ little 4-door coupe. With the diamond-block grille and Mercedes-Benz’s new headlamp treatment, the CLA showcases a sharp and sophisticated look from both the front and the rear.
Painted a brilliant Polar White, the CLA wasn’t the easiest car to keep clean during a New England winter, but it shone like my own personal beacon of Florida’s South Beach every time the sun went down and the streetlights came on. This car oozes style.
A Technological Masterpiece
The Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX, serves as the CLA’s infotainment hub and the centerpiece of its impressive interior. While not quite as a large as the dual 12.3-inch screens we tested in the 2019 G-Class, the dual 10.3-inch displays that make up the CLA’s MBUX system are no less dramatic. Exceptionally customizable, MBUX takes a moment to fully understand, but once I found my bearings, navigating through the many menus and features was nearly effortless.
And it’s more than just information and entertainment. MBUX allows the driver to truly personalize the car’s interior environment. With the adjustable ambient lighting set to hues of pink and shades of blue, my test car didn’t just look like it would be at home in South Beach; inside, it practically felt like I was in one of Florida’s famous nightclubs.
Performance Made for the Urban Commute
As George Kennedy noted when he reviewed the 2020 CLA, the
2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder’s 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque
feel great in a car this size, and the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic rarely
stutters around town.
Moreover, the CLA is fitted with a near-perfect suspension
for city drivers, managing to be both stable and composed through turns without
getting knocked off its bearings when the inevitable pothole appears. Further,
the CLA’s steering rack feels quick and direct. Like a good city car,
maneuvering the CLA is a simple task of point and shoot.
Unfortunately, when you have the keys to a car this spritely, fuel economy often becomes a casualty. During this particular week, I drove the CLA exclusively in city-driving conditions—and quickly, at that. Despite the EPA’s estimate of 23 miles per gallon in those conditions (or George’s observed fuel economy of roughly 25 mpg in combined driving), I managed just shy of 14 mpg. Gulp.
The Weekday Warrior
At the end of the day, the CLA has its own specific time and place. It’s not built for long weekend road trips. Despite the available 4Matic all-wheel drive, you’re not going to take it on a ski trip, and if you need to carry more than one other person, the passengers relegated to the backseat won’t be happy. If these tasks are prerequisites for your next car, you’d do better looking further up the Mercedes lineup, starting with the marginally larger C-Class.
But if you’re in the market for a sharp-looking, luxurious, and tech-forward commuter car, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is without equal. The CLA looks and feels high-class, few competitors can hold a candle to the MBUX system in regards to functionality or style, and its driving dynamics will have you arriving at the office smiling—and can you really put a price on that?
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Photos by Elliot Haney.