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2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4Matic Earns its Star

The new CLA is still a lower-level Benz, but its refinements make it feel like a proper Mercedes.


By Ezra Dyer, Car and Driver

When the Mercedes CLA-class debuted, in 2013, the debate was all about whether it would be accepted as a real Benz. Based on our experience with the second generation, that question has been answered. Unless you're traversing the type of gruesome locale where the citizenry is well drilled on model hierarchy at Mercedes-Benz, you'll find the general public is generally impressed with the CLA250. In fact, bystanders might guess that it's more expensive than it actually is, which can be downright dear for a transverse-engine four-banger car. When a vehicle with a star on its nose costs more than $50K, as our test car did, you shouldn't have to wonder whether it's a real Mercedes.


That sum is for a richly bedecked all-wheel-drive CLA250, which starts at $39,645. From the outside, it can be hard to distinguish the redesigned model from its predecessor. But inside, it's all the latest. The digital instrument cluster and touchscreen media display—both of which span 7.0 inches as standard but can be upgraded to 10.3-inchers, as on our test car—stretch across the dash, seeming to float above the steering column and the trio of turbine-looking climate-control vents. Those vents, along with the footwells and trim along the upper dash and doors, can be backlit with $310 of optional LED lighting that bathes the nighttime interior with a club-vibe glow in one of 64 hues of your choice. We prefer Purple Sky or the truly hallucinatory multicolor animation setting.


Trick lighting is just one of the many features proffered by the new CLA. The MBUX infotainment system is another. Feeling achy during a long drive? Activate the seat kinematics, which occasionally alters your seat adjustments so you're not sitting too long in one position. Or try the exercise coach, which talks you through exercises you can do while driving (e.g., roll that shoulder but keep your hands on the wheel). The CLA250 cares, more than most cars, about preventing deep vein thrombosis. 


Presence Over Performance

And if you use MBUX's virtual assistant, you might also convince yourself that it cares about you. Cloud-based and imbued with just a touch of AI, the assistant can understand natural speech and make inferences. For instance, if you were to say, "Hey, Mercedes, I'm cold," it'll turn up the heat. Say, "Hey, Mercedes, what's the weather?" and it'll turn into a local meteorologist, complete with a graphical presentation. Ask, "Hey, Mercedes, are you my best friend?" and it'll reply, "You bet, buddy." Yes, it's even condescending. It's a good thing that the voice control is so capable, because Benz's trusty console dial is gone, replaced by an overly sensitive touchpad.


While you can order the CLA250 with AMG-branded frippery (wheels, floor mats, etc.), there is no confusing the CLA250 with a proper AMG model. In the car's redesign, the standard turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four went from 208 horsepower at 5500 rpm to 221 horses at 5800 rpm, with torque remaining at 258 lb-ft. As that sub-6000-rpm power peak implies, this is a car that likes to loaf along on turbo torque rather than race to redline.

On paper, the standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission sounds like a lusty piece of hardware. In practice, it prefers to keep things serene, upshifting automatically even when you're in manual mode. The upshot is decent fuel efficiency, with the CLA250 4Matic matching its 33-mpg EPA estimate on our 75-mph highway test loop. Our overall average, 21 mpg, might be more reflective of our leaden throttle feet than the CLA's thirst. 


Our test car's 5.6-second 60-mph time is respectably fleet and 0.5 second quicker than the previous CLA250 4Matic, which was about 100 pounds lighter. But the new car is one that would really rather not hurry: Its 6.1-second run from 5 to 60 mph is more representative of how it feels under normal low-speed circumstances, where it takes the turbo and the transmission a beat to get rolling. But if you want a hot CLA, that's what the Mercedes-AMG CLA35 and CLA45 are for. This one is on a different mission; it seeks to broaden Benz's base without diminishing its brand prestige (otherwise known as "pulling a Jaguar X-type"). And at that, it succeeds better than the original, offering high design and plenty of tech to buyers who neither know nor care whether their engine is mounted north-south or east-west. C-class drivers may still look down on the CLA, but they're not looking very far.

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Automotive Magazine: 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4Matic Earns its Star
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4Matic Earns its Star
The new CLA is still a lower-level Benz, but its refinements make it feel like a proper Mercedes.
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