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2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader March 2016

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is the least-expensive way for North Americans to get into a brand-new car bearing the famed 3-pointed star -- it's the gateway drug, if you will. This compact sedan with 4-door coupe styling could tempt buyers who may be looking at high-end versions of nonpremium brands, such as a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, to stretch their budget and bring home something with more cachet. There's also the possibility that existing Mercedes-Benz owners will see the CLA250 as a good downsizing option.

The CLA is based on a front-drive car, the A-Class, that Mercedes-Benz doesn't import to the United States. But it does offer all-wheel drive, and true to Mercedes-Benz form, there's a hot AMG variant, too. Overall, it treads that fine line between being more affordable while not diluting brand values -- and it does so pretty well.

What's New for 2016?

The feature formerly known as AGILITY SELECT is now called DYNAMIC SELECT. It allows the driver to choose Comfort, Sport or ECO modes by selecting preprogrammed settings for the engine, transmission and suspension. New equipment includes a Night Styling package, an adaptive suspension and a "welcome light show" for cars with the optional ambient lighting. The front seats now get extra under-thigh support. The AMG model has been boosted by 20 horsepower and 18 lb-ft of torque, and its automatic transmission has been revised to provide even faster acceleration.

What We Like

Reasonable base price for a Mercedes-Benz; impressive fuel economy; enthusiastic acceleration and handling; AMG model's performance

What We Don't

So-so interior materials; tight back seat; visibility not ideal; pricey options

How Much?

$32,975-$50,425

Fuel Economy

The CLA250 features a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine rated at 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the front-drive CLA250 at an impressive 26 miles per gallon in the city, 38 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg combined. With 4MATIC all-wheel drive (a $2,000 option in this model), those figures are 24 mpg city/33 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined.

The CLA45 AMG also has a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder juiced up to 375 hp and 350 lb-ft. All-wheel drive is standard, and fuel economy remains respectable at 23 mpg city/31 mpg hwy/26 mpg combined.

All CLA models have a 7-speed automatic transmission.

Standard Features & Options

The CLA250 ($32,975) comes standard with luxuries such as 17-inch alloy wheels (a Sport package adds 18-in alloys and an aero body kit), push-button starting, power front seats with driver memory, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 7-in infotainment display with the COMAND interface, Bluetooth and leatherette upholstery (called MB-Tex -- sounds suspect but looks good).

The CLA45 AMG ($50,425) adds all-wheel drive, an AMG-tuned suspension, 18-in wheels, upgraded brakes, a stronger engine, a performance exhaust system and various AMG styling touches.

Options are plentiful and pricey. Highlights include xenon headlights, keyless entry, parking assistance, Harman Kardon audio, a navigation system with an 8-in display, voice controls, heated seats, a panoramic sunroof and leather upholstery. The CLA250 can be specced with a sport-tuned suspension, while the CLA45 AMG is also eligible for 19-in wheels, carbon-fiber accents, sport front seats and a Dynamic PLUS package that includes a limited-slip front differential, an AMG-tuned adaptive suspension, a Race mode and a top speed of 167 miles per hour.

Safety

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class comes standard with stability control, anti-lock disc brakes, nine airbags (front, front-side thorax, front-side pelvis, driver-knee and full-length side-curtain) and mbrace2, a telematics system that can connect to the Internet and contact emergency services if an airbag is deployed.

A driver-drowsiness monitor and a forward-collision mitigation system with automatic braking are also standard. Notable safety options include rear side airbags, a blind spot monitoring system, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control with enhanced automatic braking.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash-tested the CLA at this time. However, Mercedes-Benz conducts its own stringent tests, so there's no reason to think the CLA will ruin the company's fine reputation for safety.

Behind the Wheel

The CLA doesn't share quite the same quality of materials as its larger siblings. The lower half of the dashboard, for example, has a hard-plastic trim that doesn't do justice to the marque. But there's still a luxurious vibe overall, particularly in light of the appealing base price.

Rear-seat accommodations are a downside, since the sloping roof encroaches on headroom. And legroom is only bearable for shorter trips. For a compact car, though, the CLA packs a useful trunk: 13.1 cu ft., more than enough space for two sets of golf clubs. The rear seats also split and fold.

The CLA250 has a great engine, punchy enough to reach highway speeds in short order. The sprint from a standstill to 60 mph takes a brisk 6.9 seconds. Power comes on in a smooth, linear fashion as the throttle pedal heads toward the floor.

Gear changes from the 7-speed, dual-clutch transmission are similarly silky. The driver can put it in drive and forget about it, or use the steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles whenever the desire to be more engaged takes hold.

To save weight and space, the use of run-flat tires imparts a harsher ride than is usually associated with Mercedes-Benz. Riding on the optional 18-in wheels means a smaller and therefore less-pliant tire sidewall, which only adds to the firm feel. For everyday driving, 17-in wheels could be a better bet.

The CLA45 AMG only needs 4.1 seconds to sprint to 60 mph. The handling is of sports-car quality, and the standard all-wheel-drive system means tenacious traction in all conditions. It feels like the most complete version of the CLA range.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Acura ILX -- The Civic-derived ILX is an affordable alternative to the CLA. It lacks the Benz's turbocharged urgency but enjoys a reputation for dependability.

2016 Audi A3 -- Audi's smallest sedan is a bit short on power (unless you get the high-performance S3), but it's perky enough. Its interior is also nicer than the CLA's.

2016 BMW 2 Series -- If four doors aren't necessary, consider the sharp-handling and well-appointed 2 Series, one of the best performance bargains out there.

Used Mercedes-Benz C-Class -- If the CLA feels like it's missing a certain something, try the previous-generation C-Class sedan, which is widely available at Mercedes-Benz dealers with a certified pre-owned warranty.

Autotrader's Advice

If you can afford it, go for the CLA45 AMG. It really is a standout machine. If not, then get the CLA250 and be as thrifty as possible when selecting the options.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class: New Car Review - Autotrader