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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is new for 2014, and it offers the brand a new entry-level model, for the first time with front-wheel drive. Mercedes calls the CLA a "four-door coupe," much like the larger CLS-class. Here, it'll be sold in two flavors: first as the CLA 250, and later on as the considerably more powerful CLA 45 AMG.

If you go strictly by size, the CLA competes with vehicles like the Acura ILX, Buick Verano, and perhaps the Lexus CT 200h hatchback. But its base price, which sneaks in at $29,900 but will likely bring stickers to $35K or more by the time you're done, makes the 2014 CLA a great deal more expensive than those cars--and the Mercedes-Benz name carries more prestige by far than any of them.

In looks, Mercedes-Benz has scaled down the stunning looks of the larger CLS sport sedan in hopes of luring a new generation of younger customers interested in a sporty, entry-level compact. The CLA may be similar in length to a Verano or even a Honda Civic, but visually it's a dead ringer for the CLS. Frameless windows and a distinctive profile that claims one of the most aerodynamically efficient bodies in the auto world set it apart from any other compact. The cockpit is patterned after those in Mercedes' sporty cars, with round vents punctuating the dash, and a low cowl interrupted only by an LCD screen plunked in its midst.

Compact dimensions mean the CLA in a vast class of cars that ranges from the Ford Focus to the Honda Civic, or to more upscale machinery like the BMW 1-Series, Acura ILX, and Buick Verano. It's 182.3 inches long, with a wheelbase of 106.3 inches. As with most of those cars, back-seat room is tight, with minimal headroom for medium-sized adults and somewhat difficult entry and exit in through the rear doors. Trunk space is good, with a flat load floor, and the CLA has a few useful storage bins in the cabin for small items.

As for performance, the CLA slots neatly into the current Mercedes lineup, with a new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder kicking out 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, enough to push the front-wheel-drive CLA to 60 mph in about 6.7 seconds, and to a top speed of 149 mph. The sole transmission is a paddle-shifted, seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic--there's no shift lever on the CLA 250 at all. There is an option for all-wheel drive with variable torque split, which can send up to 50 percent of available power to the rear wheels when traction needs arise.

In the name of efficiency, the CLA adopts electric power steering and stop/start, but the EPA hasn't released any gas-mileage figures to date, though a 35-mpg highway number seems within reach. A diesel engine is on tap for other countries, but hasn't been announced for America.

The sporty feel of the CLA comes in the U.S. via a standard sport-suspension setup, lower than the comfort setup offered around the world. Front struts and a four-link independent rear suspension (isolated by a subcradle) are paired with 17-inch run-flat tires in base versions. Most U.S. vehicles will come with 18-inch AMG-style alloy wheels and sport tires, as well as perforated front-disc brakes. Handling is responsive, and ride quality is very firm, far more so than either the Verano or ILX.
Among its standard safety features, the 2014 CLA carries a new Collision Prevention Assist function; using radar, the CLA can alert the driver of upcoming obstacles when it's traveling at more than 4 mph, and can calculate the amount of brake force needed to avoid an impact. Also standard are Attention Assist and its coffee-cup reminder to pull over and avoid drowsy driving, and a driver knee airbag. Safety options include adaptive cruise control; blind-spot monitors; lane-keeping assistance; and parking sensors with parking assist.
On the infotainment side, the 2014 CLA comes with standard Bluetooth, cruise control, a power driver seat, and MB-Tex upholstery. It also sports the latest smartphone connectivity functions via Mercedes-Benz's mbrace2, all displayed on a 5.8-inch screen, with basic navigation functions offered through that interface free of charge. An intermediate Becker navigation system will be offered, while the most elaborate, and optional, infotainment system offers a 7.0-inch screen and COMAND, which controls the Multimedia package's navigation system, DVD changer, 10GB music drive, or SD card (as well as phone services) with voice commands. The Multimedia package also includes a rearview camera and real-time traffic.

A Premium package bundles an iPod interface with satellite radio, surround sound, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and a garage door opener. A panoramic sunroof is a stand-alone option, as are leather seats, summer tires, parking assist, blind-spot monitors, and heated front seats.

The 2014 CLA 250 goes on sale in September, with base prices starting at $29,900 before a $925 destination charge. Later in the model year, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 will bow, with about 355 hp and standard AWD, as well as a 0-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds. It's to be priced at less than $50,000 when it arrives in November. The AWD version of the CLA will be on sale by the first quarter of 2014.

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