Several months ago, I posted a video and column where I criticized the Mercedes-Benz CLA for its low-rent interior and laughable equipment for the price point. The CLA was at the end of its life cycle, so it’s no surprise competitors passed it by, but now there’s a brand-new CLA. I recently spent the day with it to find out what’s new.
And there is a lot. The CLA looks much like the old model, but it’s been completely redesigned, with fresh styling, a vastly improved interior and dramatically better technology. The latest CLA now includes Mercedes-Benz‘s "MBUX" system, which is an excellent infotainment interface that I truly believe is the best in the business — above even that of Tesla, who likely held that title previously.
The new 2020 CLA is currently only offered as the CLA250, with AMG models sure to follow. It starts around $37,500 with shipping, which is a big price increase over the old model. This was done to make room for the new A-Class, which now takes its spot at the entry level of the Mercedes-Benz lineup. The CLA is intended to be a sporty, coupe-resembling version of the A-Class for people who want a little more excitement.
There are a few ways it distinguishes itself. The swoopy styling is one. I’ve never minded the look of the CLA, but the new one is a bit of an improvement over the old one, with modern Mercedes-Benz design details coming from the larger, more desirable CLS. The main benefit the CLS retains over the A-Class is more power: The A-Class makes do with 188 horsepower, compared to 208 hp in the CLA.
On the road, I found the hp difference surprisingly noticeable, though that may come down more to sportier transmission tuning than actual additional horses. The CLA feels more spry and responsive than the A-Class, and it feels slightly more adept at taking corners — though it’s worth noting that the CLA isn’t exactly a sports car, despite Mercedes’ efforts to brand it as a coupe. It’s more fun than the A-Class, sure, but it’s still no BMW 2 Series when it comes to driving experience.
The biggest new feature (and by far the most impressive piece about the CLA) is the interior. The quality and materials have been improved dramatically over the old model, and cheap plastic has pretty much been dismissed from the interior. It’s a gorgeous place to spend time, and that’s a massive upgrade — and a necessary one in light of the increased starting price.
But it’s not just interior quality that makes the CLA so desirable on the inside, it’s also the technology. The new CLA touts MBUX, Mercedes’ new infotainment interface, and it’s truly a great system. It’s intuitive, responsive and perfectly sized, with many different points of control for your own personal tastes. Want a touchscreen? It has that. Prefer to adjust your screen with a set of controls in the center console? You can do that too. It’s quite an impressive system, and it’s both powerful and capable. As I stated above, it’s probably my absolute favorite infotainment system in the business.
As for comfort, the CLA is great in front, and the ride quality is relatively supple. I see little difference over the A-Class. The drawback is in the back, where the sloping roof harms rear seat room. If you want a bigger interior or you frequently carry rear-seat passengers, you may want a C-Class instead.
Generally speaking, though, the CLA is great — with one exception: I’m not entirely sure I’d get it over the A-Class. The A-Class is around $4,000 cheaper, and it loses just 20 horsepower and the swoopy styling to the CLA. The CLA is excellent, to be sure, but the A-Class now pulls off the trick of "lots of Mercedes for not a lot of money" better than the CLA does, and unless you really want that stying, I suspect most shoppers would be just as happy with an A-Class and a little extra money in their pockets. Find a Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class for sale