The entry level luxury car. Kind of an oxymoron if you ask me. I can understand how luxury car makers want to entice people to step into the world of luxury little by little if they aren’t ready to jump in with both feet. You have to start somewhere. But in the game of luxury cars, is the Mercedes-Benz CLA where you want to start?
For me, it’s an easy no. So let’s start off with the base price of the CLA250. This car starts at $29,900, which isn’t a bad price for a Mercedes. With the options on this car the price is around $36,000, which includes some niceties, but not really anything that sets it apart from your non-luxury cars.
The first thing that I wasn’t a fan of is that this Mercedes is front-wheel drive. When you think of luxury brands like Mercedes and BMW you think rear wheel drive. The majority of the cars that have been made available to us here in the states have pretty much all been rear-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive optional. This is a first for Mercedes here in the U.S. They’ve offered other front-wheel drive models overseas, but never in the U.S. A lot of people never notice, or don’t realize it, but front-wheel drive cars with decent power usually suffer from torque steer. Thinking this is a Mercedes, perhaps this particular car from a company that is known for making cushy, well riding vehicles would have tackled torque steer in the backfield. This is not the case. While the amount of torque steer isn’t unbearable, it is still noticeable, and never a welcome visitor. Keep in mind that this car also had winter tires on, so perhaps with a nice set of summer tires I could see this being less of a problem with the added stickiness. Ride was fairly good, but a little noisy. The CLA was able to absorb the bumps for the most part, but perhaps a little more on the sporty side. I didn’t mind the sportiness, but I’m sure not all owners will be tackling the corners so a little more comfort would have been nice. There was also a lack of connection with the road. Don’t get me wrong, this car handled really well when having some fun and the steering had a nice weighted feel, but it was still numb to the road. This won’t be an issue for a majority of CLA buyers though.
Now, I’ve driven a number of cars that featured start-stop technology, some worked well and you could barely tell the car was restarting, but for some reason Mercedes seems to not have this as refined as you would expect. The first time I came to a stop light and the engine shut off, I was pleasantly surprised at how even though the engine was off, you could barely notice the difference when it was on, so kudos to Mercedes for that. However, as soon as I picked my foot up off the brake, it brought me back to my days when we had to push my roommates 1993 Ford Ranger down the street and pop the clutch to jump start it. Ok, perhaps it wasn’t as harsh as that, but instead of a nice seamless engine start, it felt like a quick clutch drop to get that engine going, something that I felt was a little unpolished for a Mercedes-Benz, even if it’s on an entry level car.
Looks-wise I find this car very appealing. It really is like a baby CLS, and shaped very similarly. The front fascia is aggressive looking, but not offensive, and the rear, while a little bulbous, still has nice swooping lines. If you are planning on buying one, I’d opt for the Sport Package, as it gives you the AMG-like aero kit as well as 18″ AMG wheels which look much better than the stock 17′s or the other optional 18′s. While the interior isn’t up to what I would expect from a Mercedes-Benz, the look and layout is very nice. Gauges are clear and easily read, and the aluminum accents compliment the black dash very nicely. As with the Mazda3, I wasn’t a fan of the slapped on infotainment unit and the controls for it were not my favorite as it would be confusing as times how to get to certain areas of the user interface, but the resolution of the screen was very nice and clear.
So I reiterate my previous assertion that I wouldn’t personally buy a CLA, just to say I drive a Mercedes, or to get started in the luxury car game. While it’s a fine car, and I’m sure owners will love it, I just feel that if you’re going to buy a Mercedes, why not save a little more money and jump into the C-class. Or if you want to spend that base price $30,000, save the $5,000-$10,000 and buy the Mazda3. Yeah, its not a Mercedes or has as much power, but the interior is just as nice and the ride is very comparable.