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2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan vs. 2019 Mercedes CLA-Class: What's the Difference?

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by James Riswick October 2018

• The A-Class is on next-generation Mercedes small-car platform, while the CLA is on the last.

• The A-Class is more practical and more luxurious, and it has the latest tech and is better to drive.

• The CLA is considered a "coupe" because of its sloped roofline, but it still has four doors.

Mercedes now offers two entry-level, compact luxury sedans: The all-new 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan and the carry-over 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class. They're similar enough in size, appearance and price to make you wonder why they're both for sale, and at the very least, how they are different. Well, let's take a look at this pair of baby Benzes to answer those questions and help you decide which might be better for you.

Exterior

Mercedes may call the CLA a "coupe," but by most definitions, if a vehicle has four doors and a traditional trunk, it's a sedan. The CLA's sloped roofline and frameless windows don't change that, but they certainly provide points of differentiation.

It's important to note that these two cars represent different generations of product (think Version 1.0 versus Version 2.0). The CLA-Class is related to the previous-generation A-Class hatchback that was sold in Europe. The A-Class we're talking about here is the sedan version of that car's completely redesigned successor. Eventually, a next-generation CLA will debut based on the same architecture.

For 2019, though, we're basically looking at old (CLA) versus new (A). So what's different outside? The CLA-Class is actually longer than the A-Class, which is most notable in its longer tail and bigger trunk. The A-Class has a longer wheelbase, however, which is a big reason it has more rear-seat legroom. Its less-aggressively-raked roofline (note the notch in its back window versus the CLA's unbroken arch) means back seat passengers have more headroom.

In terms of styling, the two offer very similar proportions, but it's quite obvious that the A-Class is the newer product. Note the thinner LED headlight units and the sharklike snout in keeping with other new Mercedes products like the redesigned CLS-Class.

Interior

Apart from the CLA's larger trunk, the A-Class has a considerable interior space advantage. The back seat in particular provides two extra inches of headroom, which means even tall occupants can fit. Their legs may still be a little pinched (especially with similarly tall folks up front), but they'll be more comfortable than in the CLA. They'll also have a rear center armrest, which the CLA curiously lacks.

What will be most obvious, however, is the differences in interior design and quality. It's really night and day. The A-Class' quality has been elevated considerably, and even if some of its plastics don't match that of pricier Benzes, its design definitely does. This is a ritzy, stylish environment made even cooler with its available 64-color ambient lighting and two-tone color schemes. The CLA, by contrast, is perfectly fine, but it's dated, and its materials quality pales in comparison. They're acceptable compared to mainstream brands, but we expect better from a luxury marque.

Mechanicals

The A-Class belongs to Mercedes' next-generation small car platform, so its underpinnings are basically the new-and-improved versions of what you'd find in the CLA. The tuning of the transmission and throttle in particular are greatly improved, but we'll go into more depth about that below.

The A-Class is only available as the A 220 model, and like the CLA, it is available with either front-wheel drive or 4Matic all-wheel drive. The A 220's engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 188 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. Both the A and the CLA get a 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission (DCT), but their tuning and behavior differ greatly. Fuel economy wasn't released at the time of this writing, but given the A 220's lower output and slipperier aerodynamics, we would expect it to achieve better fuel economy -- say, 30 miles per gallon combined versus 29.

The CLA is offered as the CLA 250 and the AMG CLA 45. As there's no comparable A-Class available, we'll set aside the 375-hp AMG model and just say if you're looking for that type of performance in this type of vehicle size, you'll probably be quite happy with it. The CLA 250, though, also comes with a 2.0-liter turbo four, but it produces 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. This greater power should definitely result in quicker acceleration.

Features & Technology

The new A-Class is not only the next-generation Mercedes small car, it's also the first Mercedes, period, to receive the next-generation MBUX tech interface that'll eventually find its way through the lineup.

It replaces the system known as COMAND, which in the CLA is actually a generation behind what you'll find in higher Mercedes classes. Although what you see on its dash-top screen is basically the same, its means of interface is restricted to a center console knob, a variety of buttons on the center stack and a small number of wheel controls. It's old, sure, but it actually works pretty well. In some ways, it's actually less confusing than newer versions of COMAND in those higher Mercedes classes.

In our opinion, however, MBUX represents an improvement over both. It's an all-new system with a refined menu structure and graphics highlighted by a pair of side-by-side display screens (a standard 7 inches or upgrade 10.25 inches). The layout and appearance of these screens can be customized. The means by which they're controlled has also been enhanced. COMAND's knob is completely gone, replaced entirely by a touchpad on the center console with a pleasant, leatherlike tactile feel. MBUX goes much further than that, though, with added touchscreen functionality with pinching and swiping motions, small touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel and natural speech recognition voice commands (think Amazon Alexa). All of this is standard, and although it may sound complicated, this redundancy allows you to control various functions the way you prefer.

Driving Experience

The A-Class is better to drive, period. This entirely has to do with the CLA's major driveability foibles that the A-Class corrects. The CLA 250's throttle-pedal feel is mushy and responsive. The A 220's is perfectly normal. The CLA 250's 7-speed DCT transmission provides jerky motions at slow speeds and is slow to react to the already-delayed responses from the throttle. It can be an annoying car to drive, especially in traffic. All of that is corrected in the A-Class, which is an altogether more refined car.

Basically, the CLA feels more like a competitor for a sporty compact car like the Volkswagen GTI, whereas the A-Class feels like a proper Mercedes shrunken down to a compact size. Sure, the A 220 has less power than the CLA 250, but its turbocharged 4-cylinder still offers an energetic, torque-rich power delivery that's smoother and easier to access.

We're less sure about ride quality differences between the two, and we would urge you to try them with their standard run-flat tires and the regular, non-run-flat tires that come with certain bigger wheels. Run-flat tires on the CLA create tiresome impact harshness, and although the A 220 we tested possessed a supple ride with its optional 19-in wheels and regular tires, we have our doubts that would be the case with the standard run flats.

Safety

The CLA comes with an impressive array of safety equipment, including eight airbags, a backup camera, a driver inattention monitor, forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking. You can upgrade it with blind spot warning and lane-keeping assist.

The A-Class is equally equipped, albeit with improved next-generation versions of those technologies, and goes much further with the full gamut of the latest, most advanced safety tech brought down from the S-Class flagship. Its optional Driver Assistance package also features blind spot and lane-keeping assist, but its warning functionality is enhanced and the blind spot system can now activate steering intervention. The optional Distronic adaptive cruise control system now adds steering assistance (keeps you in your lane when on the highway, just keep a finger or two on the wheel) and receives input from the car's GPS system so it knows to slow down for upcoming turns. The forward-collision warning system also now detects pedestrians. This is an impressive kit unmatched by any competitor.

Conclusions

As we discovered during our 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan first drive, the newer baby Benz is more luxurious, more practical, better to drive and substantially more technology advanced. The CLA may supposedly be the more stylish "coupe" model, but to our eyes at least, the new A 220 has the sharper, fresher look. The interior is no contest in terms of design and quality. Only the bonkers CLA 45 possesses a clear advantage, as there's no A-Class equivalent.

Although there will be a next-generation CLA coming, likely for 2020, that will share the A-Class' various improvements, for now we think the choice is pretty clear.

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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.
2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan vs. 2019 Mercedes CLA-Class: What's the Difference? - Autotrader