Test Drive: 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4Matic

The moment Mercedes-Benz announced its newest entry-level sedan, the German marque saw a surge in interest. Suddenly, every aspirational buyer in the country, especially those of the self-described entrepreneurial type had a signature ride.

 “Hey! I can afford a Mercedes!” 

There was concern of course, that the base-MSRP $35,300 CLA-Class would detract from the brand’s luxury cachet, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. Instead, Mercedes-Benz has sold thousands of the pretty little CLA, and perhaps cemented market share with the next crop of C- and E-Class buyers.

And, visually at least, it is very “Mercedes”.

On the inside, it is obvious the 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 is the entry-level Merc, but that doesn’t accurately reflect the whole story. Fact is, the CLA is a fundamentally great compact that just happens to have a luxury brand’s badge slapped on the grill. And when I say “slapped” I don’t mean a gentle, friendly pat – the Mercedes logo is so big on the front of the CLA it’s almost comical. Again, that’s something that the CLA’s buyers will appreciate.

That $35,300 MSRP was the calling card that made a lot of people sit up and think, “Hey! I can afford a Mercedes!” but few will sell for that. Largely because that is the FWD base price and almost everyone will get the $37,500 4Matic. Our tester, by the time it was loaded up with options and had freight and PDI applied to it, came in at $47,505 – more on that later.

A turbocharged 2.0L inline-four produces 208 hp at 5,500 rpm and a robust 258 lb-ft of torque. Those are big enough numbers to diminish the 1,480 kg curb weight as far as backside-feeling goes. Curiously, the turbo 2.0L doesn’t have the same effect at the pumps, where it’s rated at 10.0 L/100 km in the city. A much better 7.2 L highway number makes for a passable 8.8 L combined rating, but I saw a long-term rating of 9.2. That tuning perhaps hints that this is a car more for the suburban executive than an urban professional.

Or perhaps we automotive journalists just enjoy the energetic throttle response too much.

At highway speeds, there’s enough grunt to pass quickly, but you’ll be using a couple of gears less than the seven available in the dual-clutch transmission (DCT) to get it done. The change is as smooth and rapid as the three-pointed star would suggest at speed, and as clunky as DCTs always are at low speed.

What I didn’t like was the wind noise on the highway. The CLA 250 seemed to let more than its fair share in, likewise suspension noise. In fairness, if Mercedes-Benz had to trade off between noise and actual comfort, I’m pleased they chose to focus on the latter, and the actual ride quality in the CLA 250 is as you’d expect a German car to be.

The CLA 250 gave me a pleasant surprise in my underground carpark, where its 5.5 m turning circle meant I could do the pull out and turn around manoeuvre from my parking space in one fluid movement – it’s usually a three-point affair. That little turning circle also makes the CLA pleasantly agile out on the road. It’s not a sports car, but it’s got enough of a scampish personality to make city driving fun.

I frequently find I expect sportier handling from my Mercedes testers than what I get – but in this case I got the opposite. The CLA is a snappy little dancer when led with a firm hand and clearly tuned to make young folk like me happy.

If you like driving, and like cars, you’ll enjoy the CLA 250.

Part of that enjoyability comes from the $1,480 optional panoramic sunroof, which opens up the cabin substantially and floods it with light. The $1,600 Sport Package helps too, with its 18-inch AMG alloys, side skirts and AMG-styled grill, sport brakes, and “enhanced engine sound” (aka fake engine noise in the speakers).

For the wheels and exterior trim, I think the $1,600 is a worthy upgrade. Less worthy are the Premium ($1,600) and Premium Plus ($2,100) packages. Not because the features within aren’t desirable – they really are – but because it seems like they shouldn’t cost $3,700 to get hold of.

Those features? Automatic climate control, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity, blind-spot assistance, LED headlights, and the eight-inch centre screen.

You have to choose all of those in the Premium Package, and then also select Premium Plus to get a power passenger seat with memory, foot-activated trunk release, garage door opener, power-folding mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors, and keyless go.

Of those, only keyless go is the worthwhile one and I wouldn’t fork out $2,100 to get it.

The $250 dark ash wood trim is gorgeous though, and I’d pay for that in a heartbeat – especially as it sets off the interior nicely, and glows beautifully under the interior mood lighting.

I might leave the $900 parking pilot alone.

Inside, you get the rounded Mercedes-Benz air vents that I think are a stroke of styling genius, dark Artico leather upholstery that feels substantial and comfortable, and a beautiful stitched-leather steering wheel. I am a fan of Mercedes-Benz’s large and vivid twin gauges, as well as the slick-looking TFT screen in the instrument panel.

Even the dash-top media screen looks the part. Below the sightline though, the console is a cheaper plastic than you might expect and the chrome plastic trim around the centre console controls are not as convincing. And I don’t know how many times it’s been said, but Mercedes-Benz’s flimsy column-mounted shift lever is the single worst gear selection device in the market. I’d prefer Lincoln’s push-buttons over this – and that says a lot. At least with those I don’t put the car in neutral when I go to use the windscreen wipers.

Space is decent for a vehicle of this size, but the door openings are quite cramped – the rear doors especially so courtesy of the swooped roofline. Once squeezed in, the back seat is usable, but a spirited “shotgun” battle will break out at the first rest stop.

Young professionals who buy this car will find to their great surprise, as I did, that there is no coat hanger in the rear, meaning nowhere to hang your suit jacket between meetings. Given the demographic that seem most drawn to this car – that’s a bit of an oversight.

Like the rest of the interior 371 L trunk is a decent size but marred by a tight opening – some finagling allows it to swallow large objects but you might want some butter for the edges. There is a ski pass-through, and the seats also fold down 60/40 and the gap between the trunk and the cabin is a reasonable size.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 is a great compact sedan, and a very good luxury compact. It has enough Mercedes-Benz DNA to keep the majority of people happy, but there will be those who find it lacking. The best way I can explain it is this: If you’re a first-time Merc buyer picking up a CLA 250 you’ll be thoroughly impressed.

If you’re an older person and long-time Mercedes loyalist perhaps buying Jr or Juniorette [This is perhaps a British car from the ’60s but most definitely not a word in English. – Ed.] their first Benz, you might find the gap from this to your own personal conveyance larger than you’d like.

Jr or Juniorette ought not complain though. And if they do, I’d welcome you handing their keys to me. Just let us know in the comments where I can pick mine up.

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4Matic
Engine Displacement: 2.0L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 208 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Peak Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,200 rpm
Fuel Economy: 10.0/7.2/8.8 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 371 LGorgeous styling
2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4Matic
Base Price $37,500
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,075
Price as Tested $47,605
Optional Equipment $7,930 – Premium Package $1,600; Premium Plus Package $2,100; Sport Package $1,600; Dark Ash Wood Trim $250; Panoramic Sunroof $1,480; Parking Assist $900
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.5
9 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
7 Drivability
6 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
8 Features
6 Value