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2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class vs. 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class: What's the Difference?

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Doug DeMuro July 2015

If you're interested in buying a new Mercedes sedan, you might be surprised to learn that the C-Class is no longer the brand's entry-level model. That slot is now taken up by the CLA-Class, which offers a front-wheel-drive chassis (compared to the C-Class's rear-wheel drive), smaller sizing and smaller engines. But what exactly differentiates the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class from the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA? And which one should you get? Our latest article is a close comparison of these two models that will answer those questions.

Exterior

From even a quick glance, it's easy to spot the differences between the CLA and the recently redesigned C-Class. While both cars share some touches -- such as the unique Mercedes grille and sculpted character lines down either side -- the C-Class clearly offers more of a "grown-up" look that makes it seem like a smaller version of Mercedes' flagship S-Class sedan. On the contrary, the CLA seems to take on more of an experimental shape, with a smaller design and bolder lines likely meant to inspire younger buyers who haven't considered the brand before. It's also worth noting that the C-Class is a little longer than the CLA, standing at 184.5 inches to the CLA's 182.3.

Interior

There are fewer differences inside the CLA and the C-Class than on the outside. Given how close the two models are in size, interior room isn't substantially different: The C-Class boasts a larger back seat and a bigger trunk, but not by much. The two models also use the same steering wheels, the same circular air vents and much of the same switchgear. Possibly the biggest change is on the center control stack, where the C-Class simply boasts nicer materials than its CLA baby brother.

Mechanicals

Probably the biggest differences between the CLA and the C-Class are under the hood, where the C-Class clearly asserts its higher market position than the smaller CLA.

Both cars offer the same base engine: a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. But in the CLA250, it makes just 208 horsepower, while it's tuned for a more muscular 241 hp in the C300. The C-Class, meanwhile, offers two more engine choices: a 329-hp turbocharged V6 in the C400 and a 503-hp turbocharged V8 in the high-performance C63 AMG. In the CLA, there's only one more engine offering: a CLA45 AMG, which touts an excellent 355-hp version of the same engine in the CLA250 and C300.

In addition to their mechanical differences, the C-Class and CLA have some drivetrain differences, too. The CLA boasts front-wheel drive with optional all-wheel drive, while the C-Class comes standard with rear-wheel drive and also offers all-wheel drive as an option. As a result, drivers looking for more power and performance will probably want a C-Class. Shoppers who would rather get something a little more frugal will prefer the CLA.

Features & Technology

Although the CLA came out only last year, the C-Class is already ahead of it in terms of features and equipment. Case in point: The C-Class offers semiautonomous steering, which is a feature that can steer the car automatically for a short period of time. The C-Class also offers a few other benefits over the CLA, such as LED headlights, a Burmester sound system and a power-closing trunk.

With that said, the CLA is hardly a technological relic. Despite the additional features offered by its more expensive stablemate, the CLA still touts a lot of equipment -- including adaptive cruise control, forward-collision alert with automatic braking and even an automated parallel parking system. We suspect that technophiles would be satisfied with either one of these cars, though we think they'll be just a little happier with the C-Class.

Driving Experience

On the road, an experienced driver will clearly be able to spot some differences between the C-Class and the CLA. Unsurprisingly, the biggest is handling: Thanks to its rear-wheel-drive layout, the C-Class feels like more of a sport sedan, while the CLA has more of an economy-car feel. The C-Class also offers better acceleration and improved ride comfort, compared to the CLA's harsher ride. Finally, the C-Class boasts slightly better interior room -- especially when it comes to headroom -- for both front and rear passengers. Both of these cars boast a pleasurable driving experience, but the C-Class seems to be a bit better in just about every area.

Safety

Neither the C-Class nor the CLA have been crash-tested by the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But we have high hopes for both models, given the brand's impressive safety record.

As for safety features, both cars offer roughly the same level of equipment: a lot of standard features and a wide range of safety options. Standard equipment includes side-curtain airbags, traction control and anti-lock brakes, while options range from forward-collision alert with automatic braking to a lane-keep assist system, front and rear parking sensors, and a driver-drowsiness detection system.

Conclusions

Although we like both the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, we think the C-Class is the better car. It offers more power, more performance, more room, a smoother ride and a little more equipment. But the C-Class is also more expensive. The C300 starts around $39,500, while the CLA250's base price is just $32,500. Does the C-Class justify its $7,000 added expense? It depends on your priorities. For most shoppers, the CLA is just fine, but if you want the true luxury-car experience, the C-Class is the one to get.

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2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class vs. 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class: What's the Difference? - Autotrader