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Devil May Care: Mercedes CLA-Class Is A Designer Drug, But Don't Sell Your Soul PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Maynard / Creative Syndicate   
Wednesday, 09 April 2014 20:19

Photo Credit Creative Syndicate

The five-seat, front-drive CLA, is sold in two models, both with turbocharged four-cylinder engines and seven-speed automatic transmissions.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA compact sedan is the gateway drug to headier pleasures in the brand.

Seductive styling teases to the prestige of entering the luxury hall of fame. Wrap this fashion model in pouty Jupiter red paint and knees go weak. But resist the urge to sell your soul.

This new five-seat, fourdoor, is sold in front- and allwheel- drive models, both with turbocharged four-cylinder engines and seven-speed automatic transmissions. The starting price of $29,900 has been well-advertised, but add $925 for the freight charge from Hungary and the front-drive CLA250 starts at $30,825. The 355-horsepower, all-wheeldrive CLA45 AMG starts at $48,375.

But the cars seen in the advertising -- and all that I've seen on the road -- have the Sport package, a $2,200 option. It adds the dramatic lower body panels, chrome diamond grille, 18-inch tires and wheels and vented front disc brakes with painted calipers. Without the cladding, the car looks plain.

The CLA250 tester was $42,525 with options and the CLA45 AMG was $57,165.

Standard equipment includes M-B Tex (leatherlike) upholstery, 14-way power front sport seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, 5.8-inch color display, electronic parking brake, split folding rear seats, idle stop-start and 10 air bags.

As a compact sedan, the CLA didn't seem overly small, except for the back seat area. The trunk is generous and the folding seat adds some utility. The interior is appropriately sporty and contemporary, but some of the plastic surfaces look cheap.

Ride quality is comfortable (soft springs), but the sport suspension is stiff (hard shock absorbers). Hitting uneven pavement or even a modest pothole with the highperformance tires sends a jarring wakeup to pay attention to the road. Lumbar is appreciated with the sport seats, but the seat bottoms soon feel flat and hard.

The rakish roofline trims headroom to 37 inches with the sunroof. Front legroom of 40.7 inches will be a little short for some, too.

I like the electronic gear-shift lever on the steering column (it's no bigger than a wiper stalk) and the electric parking brake, both of which free up center console space. But this console is disorganized. An ashtray takes up valuable space. And there are three cup holders, which years ago would have been a revolution in German car design.

A sliding center armrest has a little storage space, where there is one USB and auxiliary audio input. There should be an e-bin with multiple 12-volt and USB 3.0 ports to charge devices, maybe even a phone charging mat and phone storage (not a cup holder).

The powertrain package is advanced, featuring a sevenspeed, dual-clutch (automated manual) transmission and turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. But with either engine, there is noticeable acceleration lag off the line as the clutch engages and the turbo catches a breath. Once the car is moving, the throttle response is quick and made more enjoyable by the Sport mode.

The base model, with 208-horsepower, has EPA fuel economy ratings of 26 mpg city and 28 highway. I was averaging 30 to 31 mpg, which is what the EPA cites for combined mileage.

AMG is a revered brand in performance tuning. And while the CLA45 lays current claim to being "world's most powerful four-cylinder engine built in series production," this model doesn't showcase the raw performance for which AMG is known.

Between turbo spooling, the clutch engaging and traction being sent to all wheels through a myriad of electronic aids, the big impact of record horsepower is blunted. But when the turbo is pressurized, the transmission rips through shifts as only an AMG Speedshift can do. And the suspension keeps the car so strapped down that it will lift a rear wheel when turning into a steep driveway. Not so with the CLA250.

The extras add up. Among the upgrades was the Multimedia package, $2,370, includes much-enhanced music capability and a voice controlled navigation system with larger color screen for map views and a very helpful rearview camera. The Premium package, $2,300 includes a harman/ kardon Logic7 audio system, satellite radio and heated seats. A panorama sunroof is $1,480. The Driver Assistance package, $2,500, adds blind spot assist, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.

The price of entering the Mercedes-Benz family through the CLA will be a learning experience for many. But there's no sympathy from the devil when he has what you want.

Mark Maynard is online at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 April 2014 20:45