Quick Spin: 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

I had the pleasure of driving the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA recently and I must say it surprised me with its nimble handling and solid road feel. CLA is the smallest car in the Mercedes line-up – the “entry level” as it’s referred to in the trade – but the car has substance and is fun to drive.

Actually, the CLA is not as small as you might think. It’s definitely shorter than the C-Class, but it’s about the same width and height. From a styling perspective, that droopy looking trunk seems to further truncate the body, but it’s really more of an optical illusion. That trunk has a generous capacity of 470 litres.

CLA is the smallest car in the Mercedes line-up – the “entry level” as it’s referred to in the trade – but the car has substance and is fun to drive.

Sharing its platform and drivetrain with the B-Class “Sports Tourer” and starting at $34,600 (plus $1,995 freight/pdi), the front-wheel drive CLA is a four-door “coupe” powered by a 2.0L, four-cylinder engine making 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. An extra $2,000 gets you the new “fully variable” 4MATIC all-wheel drive system specially developed by Mercedes-Benz for this class of vehicle (it’s available for the B-Class as well).

There’s also a $50,600 355 hp CLA 45 AMG 4MATIC for those seeking more excitement. This model wasn’t available at our preview in Montreal, but I was behind the wheel of the equivalent GLA model at AJAC’s Canadian Car of the Year testing in 2014, and it was one of the most fun cars I’ve ever driven. The engine is described by Mercedes-Benz as the most powerful inline-four cylinder currently found in a production vehicle. It sure gets up and goes.

Along with the availability of the new 4MATIC system, the 2015 CLA gets several updates. Like the B-Class, Collision Prevention Assist Plus becomes standard. This radar-based system is “designed to lessen the danger of rear-end collisions and mitigate the consequences of accidents,” according to Mercedes-Benz. Likewise, the New Telematics Generation 5 (NTG5) driver interface features a 7.0-inch full colour display and the optional COMAND Online Navigation uses a similar 8.0-inch display.

CLA gets a choice of 12-colour ambient lighting with five dimming levels. You get door panel illumination, footwell lighting front and rear, door handle illumination, centre console illumination through lighting elements beneath the inside rear-view mirror. In conjunction with Sport Seats, you even get illumination between the front and rear head restraints. Such are the things you can do with little LED lights….

2015 CLAs get the new generation three-spoke Nappa leather multifunction steering wheel, standard heated front seats, a new head unit for the centre console and a new AMG sport performance package is available for the CLA 250 and CLA 4MATIC. Burl Walnut wood becomes one of the seven interior trim options, and an array of interior upholstery options further personalize the car.

Packaging is simplified for 2015, offering buyers a choice of Premium, Premium Plus, Sport, Exclusive and AMG Sport Performance combinations for the CLA 250 and CLA 250 4MATIC. Most buyers will select the $3,800 Premium Package (MPP) with rear-view camera, passive blind spot assist, panoramic sunroof, COMAND Navigation and automatic climate control. Other popular options like Keyless entry and start, satellite radio and the Harman/Kardon audio system are available as stand-alone options.

We only drove the CLA 250 4MATIC version at Montreal’s frozen Olympic Basin and subsequently on multilane highways and minor country roads to and from Bromont, Quebec. The first thing that impressed me when driving the car is its nimble handling and responsive throttle. It has a very sporty feel, a firm but compliant suspension and supportive seats that enable you to settle right in.

The new steering wheel, fat rimmed and small, adds to the sporty nature of the car.

Unlike the B250, which is dialed more towards comfort, the CLA feels like it wants to go. It’s not urgent or twitchy, just ready and willing. On the snow packed and icy surfaces of our test area adjacent to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the 4MATIC system didn’t miss a beat and the CLA felt surprising stable throughout the exercises managed by the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy. Fuel economy is very good, despite the sporty inclinations. 9.9/7.4/8.8 L/100 km are projected, city/highway/combined. Premium fuel, though.

Driving to and from Bromont (about 240 km total), the CLA 4MATIC encountered the full range of winter road surfaces from slush to snow to ice patches. I can’t recall any incident where control was threatened such was the balance of the vehicle, responsiveness to steering and braking input, the effective all-wheel drive and traction control system and, of course, the Pirelli winter tires. This is an awesome suite of technologies in severe winter weather.

What I did notice, however, was a persistent buzz emanating from somewhere under the dashboard and some wind noise at the right front pillar. That buzz could be tricky to remedy, I thought. And legroom for the rear seat passengers is limited, especially if taller front seat occupants need to adjust their seat position comfortably. We could barely fit a small travel bag on the floor back there.

At its price point the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA and CLA 4MATIC have several sporty competitors from Subaru, Volkswagen and Mini. The Audi A3 will also compete directly in the luxury sector, along with the Cadillac ATS and the Audi A3. However, the CLA pricing should be very appealing to buyers who formerly may not have considered a venerable and established luxury brand like Mercedes-Benz.

I had the pleasure of driving the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA recently and I must say it surprised me with its nimble handling and solid road fee 3/6/2015 11:28:47 AM