Why you won’t find great value or driving fun with the Mercedes-Benz CLA250

Our experts weigh in on what makes this Benz boring

Published: May 06, 2014 12:30 PM

“Overpriced for what you get” is one comment in our CLA250 tester’s logbook that seems to sum up this entry-level Mercedes. “It’s a really nice Civic,” said another. “If this were my first M-B, I may not get another,” said one driver. Other staff pointed out that despite the car’s high style, there is little content here for the money.

So what went wrong?

When you have $36,000 to spend on a stylish and sporty car, you expect to get some decent metal for your moolah. The problem with the CLA is that you’re not likely to get one near the tempting $30,000 base price, since features such as heated seats, automatic climate control, and iPod control cost extra. And a backup camera—which this long-slung coupelike looker desperately needs—only comes with a $2,370 multimedia package.

Dynamically, the CLA falls on its face with an uncomfortable ride, uninspired drivetrain, and poor visibility. While the styling drew a fair amount of admiring glances and its 28 mpg overall fuel economy is commendable, the overall package fails to ignite any passion at our track.

This was a car that was supposed to be Mercedes' savior to bring less-affluent buyers into the fold. Our testers think those shoppers could do better elsewhere.

Consider this scenario: You have about $35,000 and want a car that’s good looking and fun—if not at least pleasant—to drive. How do our experts weigh in on the CLA and what would they buy? Take a look at what they’d park in their driveway.

Tom Mutchler: Sitting at the local neighborhood breakfast joint in St. Petersburg, Fla., while on vacation, I saw a retired gentleman pull up in his new CLA to meet his friends. Watching through the restaurant window, I cringed as the man struggled to unfold himself through the tiny door opening and avoid impaling himself on the frameless windows.

Sure, I get why he probably likes the car: It looks great and it gets you the three-pointed star for a low, low price. But he would have been so much happier with a C-Class—and I would be happier skipping the CLA and getting a Buick Regal for $3,000 less.

Gabe Shenhar: For $36,725, I'd take a rear-wheel-drive BMW 320i with the Cold Weather package and sunroof. Doing so, I’d get a genuine BMW instead of a fake Mercedes. While the CLA might showcase brilliant marketing on Mercedes’ part, we're not falling for it.

Mike Quincy: For $35,000, there are lots of cars I’d consider before the CLA. This is among the few Mercedes models that I find completely boring. What would I get instead? My life requires four doors to deal with kids, dog, house—you get the picture.  And I often travel with my bike during the warm-weather months, so I’d like some cargo flexibility. For just under $33,000, I can get an Acura TSX wagon (without the Technology Package) and have just about everything I need: family practicality, fold-down-backseat bike hauler, reasonable fuel economy, and good reliability. So it doesn’t have the Mercedes prestige—who cares?

Jon Linkov: I want a blend of style and substance. The CLA certainly gives me the former. It's a cool-looking car. But it doesn't deliver on the substance side. Materials are adequate at best, the infotainment screen looks tacked-on, the interior is quite narrow and tiny, and the rear seat is pretty much useless by anyone larger than most teenagers. It drives with a bit of excitement, but the rough ride takes enjoyment out of the experience. And don't give me the "well, M-B had to cut corners to make it affordable" argument. M-B didn't have to be in this segment. The rush to the bottom is resulting in cars that do damage to the brand. And the CLAs main ills—size and space—can't be overcome with more $$.

Gordon Hard: I had the same reservations about the CLA as everyone else: the tight quarters, terrible view out, crummy ride, and basically lame driving experience. But it does look nice. What would I get for about the same money? An Audi A4 2.0T Quattro Premium. You can find low-miles certified 2014 Premium Plus versions in the mid-$30s.

—Mike Quincy

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