The CLA effectively serves up a taste of the big-dollar motoring experience that pricier Mercedes models are known for, but on a relative budget.
Luxury subcompact four-door coupe
The Mercedes-Benz CLA-class launched in Canada in late 2013 for model year 2014, positioned as a “highly attainable”, entry-level four-door coupe that amounted to a smaller, front-drive version of the big-dollar Mercedes CLS-class. Mercedes positioned the CLA as a new entry point to the brand for Canadian shoppers, packing the four-door coupe with a stylish cabin, good driving dynamics, punchy performance, and feature content fitting of a world-class luxury ride.
Feature content included remote start, keyless ignition, advanced safety systems, automatic wipers, automatic multi-zone climate control, premium audio provisions, navigation, xenon lighting, a sunroof, partially powered seats, a driver computer, authentic aluminum trim, paddle shifters, and plenty more.
The CLA spawned a high-performing CLA45 AMG variant, but we’ll cover that in a separate story. For the remainder of this feature, we’ll focus on the more popular and mainstream CLA 250 variant of this machine.
Power came from a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, good for about 210 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Standard front-drive or 4Matic all-wheel drive (AWD) variations were available, and all Canadian units ran a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with smooth, lightning-fast gearshifts.
What Owners Like
The Mercedes CLA impressed owners with a striking cabin that authentically conveys a sense of premium luxury, as well as decent feature-content bang for the buck. The punchy performance from the high-torque engine is highly rated, as is fuel mileage. Powerful brakes and relatively low noise levels at higher speeds helped round out the package. By and large, owners say that the CLA effectively serves up a taste of the big-dollar motoring experience that pricier Mercedes models are known for, but on a relative budget.
What Owners Dislike
Common complaints include a too-rough ride on some surfaces, particularly in models with larger wheels and thinner tires, and tight rear-seat headroom for adult passengers. Some seat adjustment controls, further, are positioned too tightly between the seat and door panel, making them difficult to operate.
Here are some owner reviews.
Confirm comfort levels of the CLA model you’re considering by visiting the roughest road possible on your test drive and assessing ride quality. Some owners have reported that rougher roads can rapidly degrade the CLA’s ride quality, particularly on models with larger wheels and thinner, lower-profile tires. As such, shoppers set on a CLA are advised to consider a model with smaller wheels and thicker tires if they find the ride quality to be unsatisfactory. Thicker tires help add an extra layer of cushioning between the road and the vehicle’s suspension and can often improve ride quality.
Here’s Your Test Drive To-Do List
Zero in on the operation of the CLA’s transmission on your test drive, driving the vehicle at light, moderate and full throttle while watching for signs of trouble that include jerky shifting, slamming, or failure to respond with a downshift to throttle inputs. Ensure that the gear you select engages instantly, with no hesitation or flashing on the on-screen gear selector display. If detected, any transmission-related issues are typically the result of corrupted programming of the transmission’s computer brain, which can be fixed by having a software reflash performed at the dealer. Note, though, that problems like those listed above can also indicate bigger problems with the transmission – so shoppers are advised to have any transmission-related funny business investigated by a Mercedes technician before they buy.
During ownership, do not attempt to reset the transmission computer by unplugging and reconnecting the vehicle’s battery. Also, check the service schedule in the CLA’s owner’s manual, determining where the model sits, mileage-wise, in relation to transmission fluid changes and other transmission servicing. Seek service records to prove that no transmission-related maintenance intervals have been stretched (or skipped) for minimized likelihood of problems.
According to this discussion, numerous owners have reported unwanted vibrations or shuddering through the vehicle as it decelerates to a stop. In some cases, owners have had the problem fixed with the installation of new brake rotors, suggesting that the problem may stem from brake system wear, particularly from warped brake rotors which need to be replaced. Some amount of vibration may also be experienced in this situation because of the operation of the dual-clutch transmission as it gears down during deceleration to a stop. In any case, be on the lookout for unwanted shuddering or vibration as the vehicle pulls down from speed and approaches 0 km/h and have any issues you detect investigated by a technician. Note that transmission software updates or re-flashing, as mentioned above, may help mitigate this issue if detected.
Possible Oil Leak / Seepage
If you’re mechanically inclined, pull the engine cover from the CLA you’re considering by grabbing it firmly on both sides and pulling straight up with a little wiggle. The cover is held on by several rubber grommets that lock onto plastic pins bolted to the top of the engine. With the cover off, look for signs of oil leaks or seepage on the pipe that’s identified in this thread. If detected, the likely culprit is a bad turbocharger intake seal, which isn’t a massive job to replace, but will need attention to prevent further leaking and problems. This issue should be covered by the vehicle’s powertrain warranty, if detected. With the engine cover removed, inspect the area beneath for signs of other fluid leakage, asking a mechanic or technician for help if you’re not comfortable peeking around under the hood.
The CLA may illuminate a Check Engine light (CEL) for hundreds of possible reasons. If you see one on your test drive, be sure to have a technician perform a diagnostic scan to determine the cause. Sometimes, a CEL appears because of a more serious or pricey issue, like a bad sensor, fuel injector, or ignition coil pack. Conversely, a CEL may appear if the vehicle has a weak battery, which is easy and much less expensive to fix. Finally, note that some issues do not cause a CEL to illuminate. Translation? A CEL is an invitation to have the vehicle scanned by a professional to reveal the underlying problem, though this scan should be performed whether or not the warning is present, for maximum peace of mind.
Hissing Panoramic Roof
While test driving the CLA, be sure to travel at highway speeds and listen closely for unwanted hissing or roaring sounds from the panoramic sunroof overhead. Rattles are also possible. If detected, noises from the glass roof may be caused by a bad rubber seal or poorly adjusted roof hardware. Note that the unwanted sounds may come and go in different conditions, possibly depending on temperature or speed. In any case, some adjustment of the roof panels, or even the software that controls the open and closing positions of the roof, may be required to fix it. A dealer technician is the best person for the job. Note that proper maintenance and lubrication of the roof mechanism, as outlined in the owner’s manual, can play a role here, too.
Confirm Battery Health
Some owners have reported that the CLA’s (pricey to replace) battery may experience a shorter-than-expected lifespan, with some owners reporting battery failure in as little as two years. A dead or dying battery can cause numerous issues with other on-board electronics. For reduced headaches, have the battery and charging system in the CLA you’re considering inspected for proper health, and replace the battery if it doesn’t pass a battery test with flying colours. Trickle charging your CLA when you won’t be driving it for more than a few days is a great idea, too.
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Other Useful Checks
Squeaks and Rattles
Spend some portion of your test drive on a rougher road, listening for on-board squeaks and rattles from the CLA you’re considering, as you drive with the climate control fan and stereo off. One of the most commonly reported issues with the CLA is unwanted noise from interior panels and trim as the vehicle ages, which some drivers have had success in having dealers remedy. As the CLA ages, squeaks and rattles seem fairly likely from the dash, doors, sunroof, speakers, and even seating provisions. Be on the lookout, noting that while some such noises can be fairly easily remedied, others can be frustrating and hard to track down. Some owners have spent an afternoon with double-sided padded tape to help fend off unwanted sounds, with varying degrees of success. Here’s some more reading.
Here’s a lengthy discussion about potential false alarms or (conversely) non-functionality of the CLA’s collision avoidance system, which some owners report may issue false alarms, and thereby temporarily cut acceleration, for no apparent reason. Though many vehicles with such systems can experience false alarms, shoppers are advised to have a Mercedes dealer assess the system if false alarms seem frequent, or seem to be increasing in frequency. Also, note that parking-assist sensors can experience similar non-functionality, or false-alarm tendency, possibly as a result of corrosion that affects the resistance of the affected wiring over time.
Check this list of recalls for any outstanding work.
The CLA is enjoyed mostly for its styling, technology, and driving experience, though it’s free of owner-reported issues as it ages. Shoppers are best advised to budget for a full mechanical and electronic assessment by a factory-trained technician before their purchase for maximum peace of mind. The CLA is also a good candidate for extended warranty coverage, especially if said coverage covers the vehicle’s advanced electronic systems. Buying a CLA privately without a full inspection is not advised.
Crash Test Ratings
IIHS: Results here