Mercedes-Benz targeted first-time luxury buyers with the original CLA-Class, introduced for 2014 as a cool new coupe-styled entry point to the brand. The 2020 model represents a second-gen CLA, having ceded its title of most affordable Mercedes to the A-Class and elevating its base price in the process. For the 2021 model year, the lineup includes a CLA 250, a new CLA 35 model, and the all-out CLA 45. The CLA competes with other subcompact sedans including the Cadillac CT4, Audi A3, and BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe four-door.
The modern CLA is an impressive little Benz. Whereas the first-gen car was styled like a melting bar of soap, made obvious by its entry-level price point and failing to deliver the refinement we expect of a Mercedes-Benz, the current car addresses all of those issues.
Inside, the CLA gives off a tiny S-Class vibe, even if the MBUX infotainment system is too complex for its own good. The interior permits more outside noise than we'd like, too, and headroom is limited. Tech is a strong point, though, with impressive available semi-autonomous driving features and cool—if not all that useful—augmented reality navigation.
Exterior styling is improved, too. The new design is sleek and modern in a way that disguises the CLA's subcompact dimensions, unlike the awkwardly styled BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe. Once you're behind the wheel, the CLA provides a stiff ride, confident handling, and a dual-clutch auto that occasionally exhibits the clunkiness we complained about in this car's predecessor. Plus, as you'd expect, the AMG variants are properly quick, brutish little things, and satisfying enough to win our sport compact comparison test. Not too shabby for a FWD-based luxury sedan.
The CLA is powered by one of three turbocharged four-cylinder engine options. CLA 250 models are fitted with a 2.0-liter turbo-four developing 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, all of which is directed for front- or all-wheel drive via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. The entry-level CLA is EPA-rated at 24-25/33-35 mpg city/highway, and Mercedes-Benz claims it'll reach 60 mph in 6.3 seconds.
The little four-door coupe is also offered with two versions of an AMG-modified 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pots. In the CLA 35, it cranks out 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque working with a seven-speed dual-clutch; the CLA 45's powerplant develops a stonking 382 hp and 354 lb-ft to drive all four wheels with help from an eight-speed dual-clutch. AMG models are rated at 20-22/29 mpg. Mercedes says the CLA 35 will hit 60 in 4.8 seconds and the top-dog CLA 45 will accomplish the same sprint in just 4.0 seconds.
The CLA-Class has not been evaluated by the IIHS or the NHTSA, but it did earn a five-star overall safety rating from Euro NCAP. Additionally, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, driver attention assist, and blind-spot monitoring are all standard. Opting for the Driver Assistance package adds lane keep assist with lane centering, cross-traffic braking, and adaptive cruise control. Fully optioned examples can even execute lane changes on your behalf.
Like its less coupe-like sibling—the A-Class—the CLA offers seating for five with 41.8 inches of legroom up front and 33.9 inches in the back seat. That being said, the CLA's swept-back roofline sacrifices some headroom. Whereas the A-Class offers 40.3/37.2 inches of headroom front/rear, CLA models are limited to a rather tight 38.5/35.7 inches.
Your hairdo might be brushing against the headliner, but at least the CLA-Class offers more cargo volume than the A-Class. The CLA is rated for 11.6 cubic feet compared to just 8.6 cubes in the A-Class.
The CLA offers Mercedes' now-ubiquitous dual-screen interior, with high-resolution displays mounted behind the steering wheel and in the center of the dashboard. Entry-level CLA 250 models include 7.0-inch displays, but you can upgrade to the 10.3-inch units that are standard on the AMG-modified CLA 35 and CLA 45.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support are included on all models, but there are plenty of optional features, too. Integrated navigation with augmented reality directions, a head-up display, a wireless charging pad, and a 12-speaker Bumester premium audio system are all available if you have the extra cash.