2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Review: Introduction
There’s nothing wrong with a car company pushing into new areas of the market. The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250, however, shows us the dangers inherent in leveraging existing brand equity to push a product that simply can’t hold up to the scrutiny of expectations and standards set by strong past performance. The CLA250 is the German automaker’s great experiment, an effort to convince entry-level buyers that an affordable Benz is still a Benz at heart, all the while staving off competing entries from Teutonic rivals such as the Audi A3 and meeting compact premium car players Lexus (CT 200h) and Acura (ILX) head-on.
Unfortunately for Mercedes-Benz, the 2014 CLA250 simply doesn’t pass muster. Even worse – for luxury car shoppers – it’s not going to matter. Hordes of first-time premium buyers are going to flock to the CLA-Class based almost exclusively on the cachet associated with the Mercedes-Benz name, which will mean generously-filled coffers for its builder and almost no motivation for the vehicle to be improved to the point of being at least worthy of taking on its class-mates.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Review: Models and Prices
Excluding its hotted-up AMG counterpart – which is an entirely different animal – the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class comes in a single trim level, the CLA250. With a starting MSRP of $29,900, the slope-roofed sedan might at first seem reasonable, which is entirely the point: Mercedes-Benz plans to get potential customers in the door by hawking the car’s bargain-basement base price.
The strategy becomes more apparent when examining the level of standard equipment that comes with the entry-level edition of the car, which offers vinyl seat covers, power adjustments for the first two positions, a basic version of the COMAND entertainment and communications interface, Bluetooth connectivity, 17-inch rims, a folding rear seat, and cruise control. If you want to add any actual luxuries to the car – aside from an admittedly impressive amount of already-included safety gear - you have to pony up for a series of options and packages, which inflate the vehicle’s bottom line. My test vehicle was outfitted with the Premium 1 package (heated seats, dual automatic climate control, satellite radio), a blind spot warning and lane keeping system, HID headlights and LED tail lamps, and a panoramic sunroof. Despite this representing the tip of the iceberg in terms of available gear, the CLA250 that I drove for a week featured a window sticker of $36,050. It should be noted that this is still $2,000 cheaper than a base C-Class sedan, which is the next step in the Mercedes-Benz lineup.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Review: Design
- The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 is an all-new design.
Much has been made about the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250’s swept sheet metal, which has been compared by some to a 7/8ths version of the popular CLS-Class ‘four-door coupe.’ Indeed, Mercedes-Benz has sought to ape the sleek lines of the compact sedan’s bigger brother, but when translated to a shrunken wheelbase the end result is unfortunately more awkward. There are certain angles from which the CLA250 does exude a certain charm, but in person the vehicle’s stubby trunk, pug nose, and arched roof just don’t come together, like a bar band at 2 am on the downward slope of its rhythmic cohesiveness. Aspirational buyers will no doubt delight, however, in the fact that Mercedes-Benz has grafted an enormous Silver Star to the center of the car’s front grille, which will ensure that no one mistakes the CLA-Class for the similar looking Mazda Mazda6 or Hyundai Sonata. I did like the car’s wheels – 17-inch five-spoke units that provided a hint of aggression that might stave off some the inevitable playground bullying as the automobile moves through its awkward phase.
Passengers will encounter a few not-so-premium moments throughout the Mercedes-Benz CLA250’s interior as well. In particular is the use of a lower-than-expected grade of plastic on the center console, the dashboard buttons, and the seatbelt panels on either side of the sedan’s back seat. Although there have been many complaints made about the CLA-Class’ pedestal-mounted LCD screen found at the center of the dash, this affectation didn’t bother me all that much. It does look a bit out of place when compared to the dominant circular vents and rounded edges of the car’s panels, but it’s far from the ‘aftermarket catalog special’ that some have made it out to be.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Review: Comfort and Cargo
- The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 features very little rear seat room.
- Trunk space is also cramped at 13.1 cubic feet.
Any time one attempts to mimic ‘coupe’ styling – even if four doors are in the mix – rear room is going to be sacrificed. The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 doesn’t just prove this rule, but it compounds it by adding a barrier to entry to the reduced comforts of its back seat. Sloping the roof sharply adds the visual drama that German automakers have decided is so necessary in the luxury car space, but it also cuts down on the amount of space for human heads when sitting upright inside these banana-curved kettles. I stand well under six feet tall but the top of my noggin was brushing the ceiling when I perched behind the driver. Making matters worse is the fact that getting in and out of the CLA250’s rear quarters required contorting my neck so that it wouldn’t impact on the narrow opening associated with the car’s abbreviated window glass. There’s less room for riders at the rear in the CLA250 than there is inside a C-Class coupe, despite the fact that the new compact is actually slightly longer than a C-Class sedan.
Those rear seats also combine with the Mercedes-Benz CLA250’s arched roof to intrude in another important area: rear visibility. With three headrests crowding into the already-diminished exterior vantage point afforded by the car’s back window, reversing the CLA250 had me depending on the include back-up camera more than I would have liked.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Review: Features and Controls
- The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 does not introduce any new features unavailable on other Mercedes-Benz models.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250’s gear is lifted almost verbatim from the brand’s standard playbook. On the model I drove, this meant that the COMAND interface was accessible using the rotary knob mounted on the center console, that the driver information screen hewed to the input of the car’s steering wheel buttons, and that I had to dig through several onscreen menus simply to turn the traction control on or off. COMAND doesn’t look great – it’s awash in a sea of undistinguished grays and blacks in an area of the market where pleasing color palettes have largely become the order of the day – but it’s functional.
That functionality was limited, of course, by the near-base edition of the CLA250 that I drove, but you wouldn’t have known it judging from the controls I was presented. My steering wheel featured a voice command button that did…well, it did nothing, because the tester in question didn’t have that feature installed. Nor did the NAVI button on the dash call up a map on the COMAND screen – instead, I was scolded with a ‘Navigation not installed’ message. I should have known better, I know, than to try to access clearly-labeled features. Why Mercedes-Benz doesn’t blank out these toggles is anyone’s guess, although it may be part of a larger scheme to shame buyers into making the proper selections on the options sheet when it’s time to trade-up. Call it a ‘luxury training’ system.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Review: Safety and Ratings
- The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 provides new standard safety gear for the compact segment such as Attention Assist and collision mitigation.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 is generous when it comes to the level of active safety equipment included with the base model. Drivers who frequently find themselves testing the limits of their own endurance are watched over by the car’s standard Attention Assist feature, which monitors pilots to ensure that their focus remains on the road ahead. A radar system (Collision Prevention Assist) maintains its own surveillance on the stretch of asphalt immediately ahead of the CLA250 and can automatically brake the car if it detects that an impact is imminent (in addition to sounding an alarm). Also included with the CLA-Class are four side impact airbags up front, dual forward airbags, a driver’s knee airbag, side curtain airbags that deploy along the entire length of the passenger compartment, electronic stability control, and traction control.
Optional is a lane keeping system that includes a blind spot monitor to go with the cameras that track whether the CLA250 is inside the white and yellow lines or not. The feature, which was installed on my car, worked quite well in all weather, pulsing the steering wheel three times whenever I strayed from the straight and narrow. I was less happy with the fact that, like every Mercedes-Benz blind spot monitor, the yellow warning lights in the side mirrors remained illuminated when driving at slow speeds regardless of whether any other vehicles are present. This desensitizes drivers to the system and makes it much easier to ignore when you actually need it.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Crash Test Ratings: Neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA have crash tested the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 features a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
- The CLA-Class is the first front-wheel drive Mercedes-Benz to be offered in the U.S.
- The CLA250 debuts a dual-clutch automated manual transmission.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 delivers a number of drivetrain surprises to the brand’s faithful followers. The first is the fact that the CLA250’s small displacement engine spins the sedan’s front wheels instead of the rear, which is nothing new in Europe or Canada but a revolution in Mercedes-Benz’s approach to the American market. All-wheel drive will eventually also be available with the entry-level CLA-Class.
Next up is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine yoked to a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. The motor is good for 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which is in keeping with the output of the similarly-sized unit found under the hood of the Audi A3 sedan. Fuel mileage for the CLA250 is listed at 26-mpg around town and 38-mpg on the highway, for a combined total of 30-mpg. This is at odds with the 21-mpg combined I observed during my time with the car – albeit with an engine that had yet to be properly broken in.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Review: Driving Impressions
At no point during my week with the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 did I walk towards the car, key in hand, with anything other than reluctance in my heart. Numerous aspects of the car’s driving experience – compounded by the practicality and ‘premium feel’ issues mentioned earlier – contributed to an unpleasant time behind the wheel of this entry-level compact luxury sedan.
The biggest culprit is the car’s transmission, which seemed lost in any situation other than steady-state cruising. With the car set to E (or Economy) mode, I was repeatedly victimized by the dual-clutch unit’s unwillingness to move forward from a halt, particularly if the automatic engine start/stop feature (itself far rougher than is acceptable in a luxury car) had been engaged. This lead to situations where I would be sitting at a green light with the revs climbing but no positive momentum being generated until the transmission jerked itself to attention and the car lurched ahead. Keep in mind that I was not flooring the gas at each intersection – this balkiness presented itself even at modest engine speeds, making the problem all the more puzzling.
Things didn’t improve when selecting Sport mode, either, as the car’s coarse engine character simply didn’t lend itself well to being flogged. The CLA250’s highway acceleration was quite good, but around town, or from a dig, the sedan’s transmission staggered up, down, and then up again as it struggled to find the correct cog. This was particularly evident during straight-line 0-60-mph testing, in addition to an irritating throttle cut-out mid-corner that I attributed more to the vehicle’s stability control system.
Luxury cars – particularly those without expressly sporting pretensions – need to be smooth in daily use, and this is doubly true for smaller front-wheel drive platforms looking to stand tall alongside their traditionally buttery rear-wheel drive siblings. The Mercedes-Benz CLA250 was at no time pleasurable to drive and featured far too many rough edges when compared to better-executed vehicles like the Audi A3 or even the considerably less expensive Buick Verano. The CLA-Class does not feel like a Mercedes-Benz from behind the wheel.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Review: Final Thoughts
The hunt for volume at the expense of quality has sunk mightier companies with bigger war chests than Mercedes-Benz, but there’s little for the bean counters to fear from the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 as the absence of quality will be completely decoupled from the compact sedan’s sales figures for at least the first few years of its production run. This car is going to catch fire with the moneyed masses all too eager to embrace the badge of material success represented by Mercedes-Benz – and in this case, at a discount. Anyone who cares about motoring, day-to-day practicality, or who has driven other Mercedes-Benz models and is hopeful that this small sedan captures the same lightning in a more modest bottle, however, would do best to look elsewhere for their compact luxury fix.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Review: Pros and Cons
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Review: Pros and Cons
- Affordable base price
- Reasonably fuel efficient
- Availability of all-wheel drive
- Impressive standard safety equipment
- Rough and unpleasant to drive
- Rear seat not suitable for adults
- Luxury options inflate base price
- Does not exude Mercedes-Benz quality
- Balky transmission
Mercedes-BenzCanada supplied the vehicle for this review
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