2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4MATIC Review

The right car for well-to-do millennials with short friends


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: One of the most attractive small sedans on the planet, handles like it's on rails, slick interior belies its price, moves with alacrity
Negatives: Jarring ride unsettles your fillings, rear windows as tall as mail slots, stalk shifter on the steering column sucks, rear headroom is non-existent
Bottom Line: As the cheapest Mercedes-Benz that isn't exactly cheap, especially when you tick the options boxes to get it the way you want, the CLA 250 4MATIC does some things quite well and others quite horribly. We chalk this one up as an image car for the most part.
 View Our 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA Overview
The CLA-Class emerged a few years ago to serious fanfare. It wasn't the awful C230 Kompressor hatchback from the early 2000s that came across as 3/4ths of a proper Mercedes. The CLA emerged looking even better than some of the more expensive cars in the Mercedes lineup, as well. Its high-class aesthetics and new class name redefined what an entry level Mercedes-Benz was. But with "affordability" surely comes serious compromise, and that's what the CLA is, a compromise of style over practicality and comfort. It's not a car that does everything well, and it's definitely one that suffers in the areas most folks actually care about.

No one who has a family will buy this car, and no one over 6 feet tall will feel at home in it. But the car is surely a head-turner, and those young folks who love spirited drives and don't care about ride quality are sure to flock to it. We drove a fully-loaded version for a week and came away with distinct impressions. Distinct but quite mixed.
 

Driving Experience

8

 

The biggest demerit of the CLA 250 is its coal mine cart ride quality. With the sport suspension, it's harsh all the time, and the vibrations can be felt throughout the cabin. It's not totally unsettling to the point where it's unbearable, but on a long commute over bad pavement, it's noticeable and contributes to some fatigue.

Ride Quality: The ride is, shall we say, harsh. You feel every bump, undulation, and gap, and unless you enjoy that sort of thing day in and day out, it's unsettling. The sport suspension and run flat tires don't help matters.

Acceleration: The car feels pretty quick, and we enjoyed the good throttle response. The 258 lb-ft of torque moves the car to 60 in around 6-seconds, but it actually feels faster than that. Gear shifting is quick with the dual clutch tranny.

Braking: The CLAs vented front brakes help bring it to a stop very well, and the pedal is progressive with no dead spots.

Steering: The steering was light but accurate, and definitely on center, making it easy to drive and not jerky and oversensitive.

Handling: The car handles with imperceptible body roll, and it manages the 3,400 pounds incredibly well. Minimal understeer and very capable in the turns.

Technology

7

 

The COMAND system has always been decent but not fantastic to use. We're not huge fans of the system, and it lands somewhere in the middle of the premium brands. Newer Volvo, BMW and Audi systems are better in terms of appearance, controls and intuitiveness, while Lexus and Infiniti lag behind. More expensive Mercedes models have better looking and better tactile controls, but for the post part all of the Merc COMAND systems operate in the same manner.

Infotainment System: The 8.0-inch infotainment is better than the older, thick-framed screen, but it still looks tacked on the dashboard. At least it's easy to view and read.

Controls: There are still way to many buttons on the center stack to be easy to use. The phone keypad is obsolete, and no one we know uses them anymore. The infotainment button in the center shuts off the whole system instead of having a separate audio power button. Also, the three center AC vents prevent the whole center stack from moving up, and the climate controls are set too low and become a driving distraction. Also, why do I have to insert a key into the ignition on a $50K Mercedes??

Bluetooth Pairing: Easy pairing on our iPhone 6 Plus with no issues upon re-entry into the vehicle. Music streaming via Apple CarPlay or Bluetooth were excellent.

Voice Call Quality: Clear as a bell with no transmission issues. Volume was ample.

Styling

8.2

 

Make no mistake, folks. The CLA was built not just as an "affordable" Merc but as a sexy sled for those who want to be seen but don't have enough coin for a legit C or E-Class. Every angle of the CLA is beautiful, and it actually looks way more expensive than its base price (and you can sail into the price stratosphere with options, so don't worry). Frameless door glass and that curvaceous profile aren’t seen on other entry-level cars. New trapezoidal exhaust outlets now fit flush to the rear bumper, and the wheels and the sophisticated Lunar Blue Metallic paint on our tester also are new for 2017.

Front: One of the best fascias in this league. It's bold, sophisticated and dramatic. The stippled grille is the best feature. Too bad the cabin looks small by comparison from the front view.

Rear: A gorgeous back view, as well. The winged LED taillights look fantastic, as do the new exhaust ports that are more angular and fit better into the rear fascia.

Profile: Perfectly sized front and rear overhangs give it great proportions, and you really do notice the sloping roofline that sacrifices rear headroom for styling panache.

Cabin: Though most of the interior looks good (new steering wheel, new gauges, better seat upholstery), there are obvious cheap matte plastics especially in the center stack and center console. It also looks a bit crammed with the big round vents that originated in the much larger S-Class.

Comfort

5.5

 

Though the front row occupants are comfortable enough, no one was blown away by this $50K car's space and seats. It really is a car you feel enclosed in, largely because of the steeply sloping roofline, the short windows and the overall lack of room. But if you understand that you're sacrificing comfort for high-style, the equation makes sense, but that doesn't make you love sitting in it, unfortunately.

Front Seats: Good bolstering and decent cushioning. But the attempt to cram S-Class style in to CLA-Class room has its compromises with too many elements and not enough space.

Rear Seats: Too cramped in the legs and head area to be comfortable for even an averaged-sized adult. The seatbacks are also far too vertical to be used on long trips.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Vibration, road noise and some jagged transmission shifts don't look or feel good on a Mercedes.

Visibility: The hood is a bit high, and the rear and rear 3/4 sightlines are compromised by the thick pillars and tall parcel shelf.

Climate: Good climate and seat heaters for a Chicago winter. The car warmed up well and the system had no issues. We only lament the low placement of the climate controls.

Safety

7.5

 

The CLA 250 hasn't been crash tested yet, and the car is in its fourth model year. It's not considered a popular car, which explains why it hasn't been run through by the IIHS or the NHTSA. Our rating based Mercedes' reputation for building safe cars, as well as the robust set of standard and optional equipment. strong performance in crash safety and the standard safety equipment, which includes a knee airbag for the driver.

IIHS Rating: The CLA 250 has not been tested by the IIHS yet and likely won't now that the car is a few years old already.

Standard Tech: Standard safety tech now includes Attention Assist, which senses when the driver is getting sleepy or isn't paying attention, along with a radar-based Collision Prevention Assist system, which warns the driver with visual and audible alerts of upcoming obstacles (above 4 mph).

Optional Tech: Blind-spot monitor, lane-keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control, and parking sensors with parking assist. We would love to see a 360-degree camera due to the limited sightlines of the car.

Storage/Cargo

6.5

 

If you expect to transport a lot, this is not the car for you. But that's not what people buy the CLA for, anyway. That being said, it's not tiny in the trunk, and there are cubbies throughout the car for smaller items. Our take would be to forget about transporting anyone in comfort in the rear and just lower the split-folding seats to accommodate even more of your precious gear.

Storage Space: The small front ashtry can ony accommodate coins and such, while the three front cupholders seems like overkill. We would've liked a deeper and larger tray for phone, keys, etc.

Cargo Room: The 13.1 cubic foot trunk is a decent size, and the load floor is thankfully flat, but the entry is very narrow at the bottom end to accommodate for the swoopy taillights.

Fuel Economy

5.5

 

The CLA 250 4MATIC's all-wheel drive system loses 3 mpg compared to the front-wheel drive version. Though we wouldn't call it an efficient car, it's not terrible. We were just inclined to drive the sporty sedan pretty hard most times to make up for the jarring ride that only makes sense when you exploit the car's performance and handling capabilities.

Observed: 19.6 mpg in combined city and highway driving over the course of a week.

Driving Factors: We kept the car in sport mode pretty much the entire time. The engine really enjoys being thrashed, and the throttle response is up to the task. More conservative drivers will surely experience better efficiency but nowhere approaching other more eco-conscious small sedans.

Audio

7

 

The upgraded Harmon Kardon LOGIC7 sound was respectable but not up to our expectations for a high-end system. Clarity and bass were adequate but fullness seemed lacking. Some of the compromise is likely connected to the small cabin and the lack of proper sound deadending. We're not sure the premium system is worth the $2,350 price hike, but we haven't listened to the base system.



Final Thoughts

For $50K, this is a hard car to justify, especially since the original marketing promoted entry-level luxury and high-level style. Since the car's inception, the base sub-$30K base price has climbed a couple thousand dollars, but no one orders the stripper version. Get it the way you want, and the price climbs fast. Merc also calls this the 4-door coupe, like a shrunken CLS-Class, and that's what you get, minus the headroom and premium feel. Aside from its fantastic styling and taut handling, there's not much more to be thrilled about.
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