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2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class Review

2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class Review
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The 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a gorgeous shape in an impressive package. Equally impressive? Its ability to get expensive, even despite being the most affordable sedan in Mercedes' stable.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class serves as the most affordable luxury model from the brand and also as a statement for what entry luxury cars can be nowadays.

Its looks punch above its starting price, but the Mercedes-Benz CLA250 doesn’t stay affordable for long—many of the features luxury buyers would want on the CLA don’t come standard.

It earns a 6.2 on our overall scale. Its performance is surprising—especially in CLA45 guise—but its inability to seat four adults keeps it from scoring higher. 

This year, the CLA changes little. Standard CLA250 models are now available in an “Ice Edition,” while the performance-minded CLA45 gets an optional Performance Studio Package that upgrades the interior and exterior.

Even without upgrades, the exterior remains the most attractive part of the CLA. It’s a scaled-down, shorter version of the four-door “coupe” design that Mercedes-Benz pioneered in the CLS-Class. It’s an audacious shape, and it’s one that makes others such as the Audi A3 and BMW 2-Series look conservative in comparison.

Under the hoods of all CLA models will be a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4. Most models will make 208 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque, which is shifted through a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. That combination is good enough for a 7-second run up to 60 mph and 30 mpg combined, although opting for all-wheel drive can alter those figures slightly.

Opt for the CLA45 and that output balloons to 375 hp and 350 lb-ft with a 4.1-second sprint to 60 mph. It’s savage and immediate, and it’s also one of the most power-dense propulsion systems we’ve seen outside of a bullet. The similarities aren’t coincidental.

The CLA-Class handles respectably in base versions, although its ride isn’t all that comfortable. Opt for adjustable suspension—or even the CLA45—and the ride gets much better.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is more daring than the competition, and looks every part of a luxury sedan.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a striking design and was a milestone for the automaker when it was introduced.

Its sleek silhouette, frameless door glass, and grille details have aged well, but others in the Mercedes portfolio have adapted their designs with better effect—namely the C-Class and E-Class.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA earns a 7 out of 10 on our overall scale for style, one each for its attractive interior and exterior.

The CLA borrows liberally from the outgoing CLS design that dramatically changed luxury sedans more than a decade ago, especially the daring roofline, yet the smaller CLA improves with some of its own details. The CLA drops the long nose, and last year added new front-end details to carve its own shape. Big rear taillights may seem counterintuitive for the small sedan, but it helps bring the CLA in line with the rest of Mercedes’ sedans.

The cost of that sensuous exterior shape is functional space for four adults. Inside, head room is compromised in the back seat, and leg room is a precious commodity.

Inside, the CLA is just as dramatic as the exterior, but at the cost of usable space. It’s a scaled-down version of a typical Mercedes cockpit, although it’s a little more lively than other bigger sedans.

We’ve found that the infotainment screen planted on top of the dash feels decidedly aftermarket—but many others in the class are guilty of the same crime.  

The standard CLA250 looks sporty, especially with some of the optional larger wheel choices, but the hot-rod CLA45 takes that further, toward a tough, street-fighter appearance. Front air intakes are larger yet, the ornate mesh grille is replaced by a pair of simple silver blades, and lower-rear ducts hint at the performance promised by a discreet pair of “Turbo” side badges. (The base car is a turbo too, for the record—but a lesser turbo.)

The Mercedes-Benz CLA250 is just smooth enough for mass appeal; the CLA45 has go-fast bona fides.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 is closely related to the GLA250, sharing a powertrain and similar suspension components.

The steering is sharp and responsive and its brakes are good, but a punishing ride and average powertrain reduce our rating to only slightly above average. 

The most popular version of the CLA class is the CLA250, which comes equipped with a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that makes 208 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. It’s a peaky power delivery that comes in fits and spurts, which can be fun when reaching for another corner to carve and also somewhat jarring on day-to-day drives.
The 7-speed dual-clutch automatic does what it can to calm the excitable engine, takeoff is relatively smooth and upshifts come fast. It’s possible to catch the 7-speed flat-footed; opting to shift your own gears with the transmission’s manual mode might be preferred for hotshoe drivers. Paddle shifters can make the journey a little more exciting, although we wish the posts were a little more substantial than the small handles on the steering wheel.

The CLA250 feels like most other Mercedes, which is to say that its steering builds effort into the wheel and feels planted and surefooted. The ride is somewhat softer now than it was initially, although it’s still raw without the optional adjustable suspension.

Mercedes makes standard a braking system that primes the brakes when drivers lift off the gas pedal, which makes halting the CLA250 immediate and, ultimately, safer.

All-wheel drive, which Mercedes-Benz calls “4Matic,” is an option on CLA250 models for $2,000 added to the bottom line. The system can shift up to 50 percent of the power to rear wheels, although front-drive is the nominal setup.

Opting for the hotter CLA45 brings with it a bigger boost and bigger power output. The same 2.0-liter turbo-4 makes 375 hp here, and rockets the sedan up to 60 mph in just a blink over four seconds.

The CLA45 changes steering, suspension, braking, and ride height from the CLA250 to maximize its performance. The suspension has three links for each front wheel as well as stiffer bearings, since its torque and traction loads are much higher. At the rear, there are four links, coil springs, and a body-mounted subframe. Bigger 18-inch wheels (19-inch available) are standard, while thicker anti-roll bars are used front and back, and the stability system feeds commands to each brake individually to provide torque vectoring on corners.

The result is a communicative drive that’s unlike the CLA250—and entirely track-ready, according to us.

Comfort & Quality
The CLA may have four doors, but it’s realistically a two seater.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA250 fits alongside other compact sedans in overall footprint, yet it has significantly less room than others such as the Ford Focus and Honda Civic. That’s mostly due to the dramatic coupe-like lines that the CLA250 makes famous—beauty is pain, we hear.

As a result, we give it a 4 out of 10 for comfort due to its inability to seat four adults as advertised. It very nearly loses another point for a very bad back seat, but horsetrading with front passengers makes sitting in the back possible.

Getting into the back is a feat itself. The door openings made smaller by the roof and wheels mean that the CLA250 might not be the ideal vehicle for multiple retirees, anyone not regularly practicing yoga, or those wishing to stay dignified entering or exiting. Might we suggest something in a C-Class instead?

Up front, the seats are more comfortable and adjustable, with small interior storage bins for phones, wallets, or gum.

Optional Recaro buckets on the CLA45 are supportive and firm, just the way we’d expect them in the hot sedan.

The CLA’s budget roots only show through in a handful of places, notably the silver-painted trim pieces and soft-touch plastics on the dash. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t feel like a Mercedes in some places.

Frustratingly, the CLA remains one of the few cars that has escaped official crash testing.

After several years on sale, the Mercedes-Benz CLA still hasn’t been crash tested by official agencies.

Until it does, we’re withholding our rating, but it’s worth noting that it’s one of the few cars that sells in volume and should have been crashed by now—buyers deserve to know.

The CLA comes equipped with several useful safety features including a standard rearview camera, a driver-attention monitor, and forward collision warning.

Optional safety features for the CLA include automatic emergency braking, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and parking sensors.

Predictably, with such a dramatic roofline, seeing out of the back is a challenge. In fact, it’s poor.

Base versions of the CLA250 aren’t as luxurious as we’d expect, but Mercedes-Benz won’t be making many of those cars.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA starts in the low-$30,000s, but doesn’t stay there long. Popular options raise the price to more than $40,000—and it’s possible to go further.

We give it a 7 out of 10 for good optional features (Mercedes-Benz has some of the best), excellent, customization, and good infotainment with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. It loses a point for a lack for Mercedes’ own infotainment system, dubbed COMAND.

All CLA models are equipped with Bluetooth connectivity, vinyl upholstery, power adjustable driver’s seat, a rearview camera, 17-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, and an 8.0-inch infotainment screen.

For 2018, Mercedes-Benz adds an Ice Edition for CLA250 models and an AMG Studio Edition for CLA45 that adds some aggression to an already-hawkish sedan.

Major options for the CLA250 are an adaptive suspension (that we highly recommend), panoramic sunroof (that we don’t), Harmon Kardon audio, and parking sensors. Bigger 18-inch wheels are available and don’t spoil the ride, surprisingly.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay cost extra here ($350), but we say it’s worth it. It makes the infotainment system far more usable than the base Mercedes-Benz setup, and saves roughly $2,000 on the priciest version of COMAND. We’d prefer Mercedes doesn’t charge more for the smartphone feature (many other automakers don’t) but it’s better than nothing, we suppose.

All-wheel drive is available on CLA250 models for an extra $2,000 and help put its power down onto the pavement better.

The hotter CLA45 comes with its own set of options, including Recaro sports seats—highly recommended, as they're superbly comfortable and even more supportive—and a new AMG Studio package that blacks out big swaths of exterior trim with small yellow accents.

Fuel Economy
Regardless of configuration, the CLA manages to be fairly fuel efficient for a luxury car.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 comes close to the vaunted 30-mpg combined mark, albeit in just one trim.

Front-drive, CLA250 models are rated by the EPA at 24 mpg city, 37 highway, 29 combined. That’ll be the most popular version on dealer lots and it’s good enough for 7 on our efficiency scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Opt for the CLA250 4MATIC, which is equipped with all-wheel drive, and those ratings dip to 24/32/27 mpg, according to the EPA.

The least fuel-efficient version of the CLA, the CLA45, manages 23/30/26 mpg, although there’s a big caveat: nail the throttle everywhere like a performance car, and it drops far from that mark.

That’s in line with other compact offerings from luxury automakers. Only the Audi A3 e-tron does much better, although that’s a plug-in hybrid.

Stop-start is also standard on all CLAs, but it sends a slight shiver through the drivetrain when it shuts off. It will also restart at longer stoplights, making it more noticeable than you might expect.

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