The 2014 CLA250, introduced by Mercedes-Benz last month, is not only the least-expensive model carrying the three-pointed star – selling between $30,000 and $45,000 – but also the first front-wheel drive model Mercedes has produced.
A stylish four-door automobile with space for four or five passengers, it displays styling cues shared with the much more expensive CLS four-door coupe. The company’s stated goal in introducing the new model is to reach a more youthful buyer, targeting a professional just starting his or her first serious job out of college or graduate school.
There’s a fairly wide price range. For just under $34,000 (the price of the Toyota Camry we tested for this issue), the frugal buyer can get the same quality and all of the safety, comfort and convenience equipment of a Mercedes-Benz in addition to pride of ownership of a heretofore exclusive marque. And for just under $45,000, one can purchase a CLA250 with everything shown on the option list below.
What we liked: The car looks and drives just like its more expensive older siblings. It offers solid but responsive steering and handling, and quick acceleration from the powerful and fuel-efficient new four-cylinder engine, modulated by the fast-shifting dual-clutch seven-speed transmission. Quality in fit and finish meets the exacting standards of the Mercedes-Benz marque.
What we didn’t like: Rear-seat headroom is sacrificed to styling, and an adult sitting in the back is going to feel claustrophobic due to the small rear window and slope and shape of the rear pillars, which also restrict rear visibility. We felt that the ride was a bit hard on rough roads, which may be due to the low-profile run-flat tires that were standard equipment on our sport-model test vehicle. However, both of these negatives may be considered by younger buyers to be a reasonable trade-off for the stylish look of the CLA.
Bottom line: We think this game-changing CLA is a credit to its heritage and is going to be hugely successful, while bringing the satisfaction of owning a Mercedes-Benz to a new generation. Many dealers have already sold out of their initial stock and wait lists are now six months long.
Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.