The all-new entry-level Mercedes CLA sedan could be regarded as the spiritual successor to the legendary 190E from 1983. And when it reaches showrooms later this year, it will be the first front-wheel drive Mercedes to ever be sold in the US.
Based on the European A-Class hatchback platform, the CLA will also arrive with a world record. Putting a trunk on the A-Class has dropped its drag coefficient from 0.26 to just 0.22, the lowest Cd ever recorded for a volume production car.
Admittedly, this is for the CLA180 Blue Efficiency – an economy model sold only in Europe – but the 0.23 Cd of the CLA250 Sport that will be sold here is still ground-breaking, beating the 0.25 Cd of the Toyota Prius.
Like all hatchbacks turned into sedans, the styling is awkward yet still successful. It has an angular front-end, with the aggressive grille seemingly at odds with the elegant rear-end.
In practical terms, the generous trunk volume of 12.4cuft is almost identical to the C-Class sedan, while the split rear seats give you plenty of versatility.
The front cabin is identical to the A-Class, with the adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel making it easy to find a comfortable position. Rear passenger space is again more generous than you’d expect, given its swooping roofline that hints at the CLS, yet a 6'1" frame fits easily.
Inevitably, the CLA is less capacious than the C-Class, even though it’s actually 1.5" longer and fractionally wider: the 2.4" shorter wheelbase and lower roofline playing with the proportions.
The CLA 250 is powered by the largest and strongest of the three turbocharged, four-cylinder direct injection motors in the Mercedes M270 engine family. Unlike European buyers, who will get a plethora or gasoline and diesel engines, US buyers only get the CLA250 Sport.
With the turbo boosting at 14.5psi, the motor makes 208bhp at 5500rpm, with a generous 258 lb-ft of torque at 1200-4000rpm. A brief over-boost facility provides an additional 13hp and 15 lb-ft when kick-down is summoned for overtaking.
The US version will only come with the 7G-Tronic dual-clutch seven-speed auto, with paddle shifters. It works well but had some software issues in Sport and Manual modes compared to the equivalent from Audi or BMW. The result is occasional hesitation when manual downshifts are requested on twisty roads.
Weighing 150 lb less than the equivalent powered Euro-spec C-Class, the CLA250 has sprightly performance. The 0-60mph sprint is 6.5sec and it tops out at 149mph, while sipping a miserly 33mpg (estimated) when you’re not in a hurry.
Assuming buyers will be young and dynamic, we were told MBUSA has biased its suspension towards sporty. Having driven both the comfort and sport models on 18" wheels, they might want to reconsider this, with the lower, stiffer suspension making the car restless on bumpy roads. Although we can probably assume it will be re-tuned for American tastes.
With a base sticker price expected to be $29900 (plus 925 D&D) for the FWD model, the CLA250 should offer good value for a car with this level of brand equity, versatility and dynamic ability. We can’t wait to see how it shakes up the compact car market when it arrives in September, with the 4Matic arriving in Spring 2014.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Sport
Layout Transversely mounted, FWD
Engine 1991cc, four-cylinder DOHC 16v, turbocharged, direct injection
Drivetrain 7G-DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission
Brakes 12.6" rotors f, 11.6" r
Suspension MacPherson strut, anti-roll bar f, independent, multi-link, anti-roll bar r, Sport spec
Wheels & tires 17x7.5", 225/45 R17
Maximum power 208hp at 5500rpm
Maximum torque 258 lb-ft at 1200-4000rpm
0-60mph 6.5sec (estimated)
Top Speed 149mph
Weight 3264 lb (est)
Fuel Consumption TBD
MSRP $30825 (inc D&D)