4. June 2014
Although Mercedes-Benz has been building cars for a long, long time, it wasn’t around in 1773, when Von deutscher Art und Kunst. Einige fliegende Blätter was published. But it almost seems as though when it comes to the Mercedes CLA, an additional chapter could be added to the collection of essays about the Strum und Drang movement. The degree of excitation caused by the car among automotive pundits is nothing but extreme.
And the reason is simple. The MSRP for the 2014 CLA250 is $29,900. A Mercedes for less than $30,000. This is perceived and conceived to be some sort of outrage. The underlying notion is that Mercedes vehicles must be expensive. A Mercedes that is not expensive is not a Mercedes.
Which is sort of amusing given that many of the people who are critical of the price point are generally, ah, thrifty. . . .
One of the criticisms is that is raised is that it is inconceivable (to them) that Mercedes have both the S-Class and the CLA. Let’s see. The S-Class, admittedly a premium car by all measures, has an MSRP of $92,900. So you could pick up three CLAs for the price on one S-Class.
But Mercedes is in the business of selling cars (and trucks) to make money. Imagine. And the way it makes money is by selling vehicles. According to Autodata, last year Mercedes delivered 13,303 S-Classes in the U.S.
To put that into context, know that Autodata reports that in 2013 Mercedes delivered 78,747 C-Class vehicles, heretofore the most economical car in the lineup. So let’s look at the prices of the core C-Class vehicles: C250 Sport Sedan: $35,800; C250 Luxury Sedan: $36,250; C350 Sedan: $42,100. Or an average of $38,050.
Let’s do some rough calculating about these numbers. If we multiply the number of S-Class cars sold by the MSRP, the result is $1,235,848,700. If we multiply the number of C-Classes sold by the average of the MSRPs (and note that there are other C-Class models, which have a significantly higher MSRP, up to $72,500 for a C63 AMG Edition 507 Coupe), the result is $2,996,323,350.
Assuming the goal is to make money, then it seems that selling larger quantities of lower-cost vehicles is the way that can be best achieved.
So, let the strum und drang cease.
The CLA250 that I drove has a total retail price of $36,545. That includes $925 for delivery, $500 for 18-inch alloy wheels with high-performance tires, $550 for blind spot assistance, $2,300 for a premium package (including such things as auto-dimming mirrors, automatic dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, harman/kardon audio, etc.) and $2,370 for a multimedia package (including navigation, rearview camera, SD card slot, etc.). Pretty much a car configured with what one might expect of a sedan nowadays.
So what do I think about it?
1. The styling is great. The front end looks every bit as Mercedes as any Mercedes.
2. The size is big enough for congested freeway driving (i.e., you want to have a sufficient amount of sheet metal around you if for no other reason than psychological safety).
3. The back seat is too small for putting people in the back seat for anything but the shortest of commutes (or putting in the shortest of people, like kids).
4. The chassis seems solid. This is one thing to take into account when considering the CLA in the context of other cars from U.S. or Asian builders. One thing that Germans undoubtedly expect of German cars (OK: the CLA is assembled in Keckemet, Hungary) is that they can drive with good manners on the autobahn. When you are driving at speeds that are measured in triple digits, you don’t want the car shaking and dancing. And while I didn’t drive the CLA on the autobahn, I did get the sense of solidity from the car when driving at less than triple digits. Don’t underestimate this aspect of the car.
5. The CLA I drove was painted Jupiter Red. A sensational color. (But see point 7.)
6. The interior is attractively styled with trim that looks metallic. However, the seating material, MB-tex, is a synthetic leather. Which is somewhat disappointing, as vehicles that are in a class below (from other OEMs) have leather in a cars that have stats and price stickers equal to (stats) and less than (price) that of the CLA.
7. While sitting in the driver’s seat, looking to the right to the passenger’s door, I noticed that I was able to see the wonderful Jupiter Red in a place that I shouldn’t: there is a gap between the door trim and the B-pillar. A gap wide enough that I could even see spot welds. (And sitting in the passenger’s seat looking over to the left, the same gap exists, so this is evidentially how it is designed.) Most carmakers opt for about an inch more door trim material to cover this.
8. Let’s say this is a car that is targeted at tech-savvy young people. If that is the case, then why is there just one 12-volt power outlet, located in what is undoubtedly an ashtray in other parts of the world? This is an Achilles heel.
9. And while on the subject of tech, why is it that the rear backup camera (part of the multimedia package) doesn’t work unless the radio is on?
10. The car defaults to the “Eco” mode, which means that there is start-stop. I found it remarkably discernable, which is not a good thing.
So, is the CLA a “real Mercedes”? Absolutely. But it seems that cars in this category in the U.S. are much more competitive than the people back in Stuttgart might recognize, so the badge might not make a sufficient difference for those who are shopping for a compact.
Engine: 2.0 liter, turbocharged, SOHC
Horsepower: 208 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,250-4,000 rpm
Materials: Aluminum block and head
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Steering: Rack and pinion, electric power assist
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 182.3 in.
Width: 70.0 in.
Height: 56.6 in.
Curb weight: 3,264 lb.
EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 26/38/30 mpg