Restyled, refined, and rewarding
THE GOOD
  • Coupe style with sedan practicality
  • Rich interior experience
  • Lots of available tech
THE BAD
  • Desirable features are pricey options
  • Transmission can be jerky at low speeds
  • Thick roof pillars obstruct outward vision
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Review

Introduced to the North American marketplace in late 2013, the first-generation CLA 250 filled an entry-level role in Mercedes-Benz’s Canadian lineup, sitting just above the B-Class hatchback. For 2020 the CLA 250 has been completely redesigned, and with the A-Class now expanded to include the less expensive A 220 sedan and A 250 hatch, the CLA 250 has been freed to move a little upscale: It’s grown a little in size and gained a lot in stature, boasting clean new styling, a sharp new interior, and an outstanding new advanced infotainment system. The result is a vastly improved car that should prove extremely tempting for youthful-minded buyers who find themselves torn between the sporty appearance of a luxury two-door coupe and the practicality of a four-door sedan.

Styling: 8/10

The CLA has always had a nice profile, but the first generation’s downward-curving body lines and taillights gave it a bit of what seafarers might call a “hogged” appearance, drooping at the ends like one of Salvador Dali’s melting clocks. For the second-generation 2020 model, Mercedes-Benz has buffed up, simplified, and improved the styling both inside and out. Gone are the deep body lines in favour of clean, understated flanks, and gone too are the drooping taillights in favour of simple, linear-looking two-piece LED units. Overall the exterior changes are subtle but remarkably effective, allowing the car’s elegant fastback profile to shine through, and elevating the overall look from “near miss” to “clean hit”, especially in my tester’s Denim Blue Metallic paint.

Inside, the new CLA 250 is leaps and bounds ahead of the outgoing model, with better quality materials and a strikingly handsome modern style, capped with inspired “turbine” style air vents that glow gently at night.

Dimensionally the new car is a touch bigger than the previous generation, with the wheelbase up 30 mm, the length up 48 mm, and the width up 53 mm (the track is also wider, by 63 mm at the front and 55 at the rear). Inside it gains a smidgen of rear headroom space compared to the outgoing model, but loses a little bit of trunk space.

Features: 8/10

You’ll need to open up your wallet to truly appreciate the CLA 250’s interior, because many of the most desirable features are extra-cost options. That said, when fully optioned-out it has to be one of the most richly featured small cars available. From its advanced infotainment features, to its lounge-like 64-colour configurable ambient lighting, to its kinetic semi-massaging seats, fully digital dashboard, and “Linguatronic” voice control system; the CLA 250 creates an immersive, personalized, and thoroughly welcoming environment – it really is one of the best and most forward-looking interior experiences available.

The standard equipment list includes automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, heated power front sport seats, keyless start, cruise control, heated power side mirrors, and three years of “Mercedes me” connect services with over-the-air updates. It also includes Mercedes-Benz’s Linguatronic voice control system and the fully digital dash with configurable instrumentation, although the standard setup uses a pair of high-resolution 7-inch screens, leaving a certain amount of blank real estate behind the glass.

Optional equipment includes things like upgraded 10.25-inch instrument panel and multimedia screens, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, in-car Wi-Fi, upgraded Burmester sound system, navigation, Sirius satellite radio, 64-colour configurable ambient lighting, heated steering wheel, integrated garage door opener, head-up display, and foot-activated trunk release.

User Friendliness: 7/10

Mercedes-Benz has always danced to the beat of a different drummer when it comes to ergonomics, and the CLA is no exception. Anyone familiar with the brand will recognize the door-mounted power seat mimic controls, and the delicate column-mounted shifter stalk. I’m not a huge fan of the latter, but it’s all relatively straightforward and doesn’t take much getting used to.

The infotainment interface, however, takes a little more getting used to. I found the menu interface reasonably intuitive (and certainly good-looking), but it can be a little complex to work your way through all the menu options, especially when driving. And both my wife and I found the console-mounted touchpad controller to be somewhat touchy, frequently skipping straight past our intended selections.

To reduce the reliance on the menu interface, the CLA 250 includes the latest MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User eXperience) with hand gesture and voice control, the latter which you call to action by saying “Hey, Mercedes.” And while many reviews I’ve read have been critical of the system, I was downright impressed: Without any prior knowledge or instruction on the system, I was able to get it to do most everything I wanted – from changing radio stations, to turning on the heated steering wheel (I never did find a physical switch for this), to entering navigational waypoints – all on the first try, using natural language. It was both surprisingly effective, and a neat party-trick to show passengers. The only problems I had with the system were that it tended to wake up and chip in anytime my wife or I talked about Mercedes-Benz’s in general, and once activated I could find no way to verbally dismiss it, so if I decided I didn’t need it after all I’d have to press to Home icon on the touchscreen to put it back to sleep.

Comfort: 8/10

The CLA is aimed at a more youthful market than Mercedes-Benz’s traditional demographic, and the interior reflects this with its Alexa/Siri-like voice control system and its deeply bolstered sports seats. The front seats hold you in place reasonably snugly and proved to be a perfect fit for my 5'11", 165 lb frame. A full range of adjustability (including four-way power lumbar support) and tilt/telescoping steering wheel ensure you can find the right driving position, and a kinetic seat motion system can be set to subtly move your seating position around as you drive, keeping you limber on longer trips. Larger drivers might wish the side bolsters were adjustable for width, but both my wife and I found the seats to be superbly comfortable.

Back-seat headroom is somewhat limited, but I was comfortable enough there too, with my hair just brushing the roof liner and adequate legroom even with the front seat set for my driving preference. That said, if you’re carrying four passengers and anyone is over about 5'11", you’ll likely need to find a compromise on the front seat position.

Practicality: 7/10

Mercedes-Benz markets the CLA as a subcompact “lifestyle coupe”, and viewed through this lens it’s an immensely practical coupe because, well, it has four doors and five seats. But if you don’t believe a swoopy roofline is enough to qualify it as a coupe, then as a four-door the CLA is somewhat impractical, as the back seats have limited headroom and take a bit of contortion to get into (if it’s real four-door practicality you seek, you should be checking out the new A 220 sedan or the A 250 hatch, which shares the CLA’s underpinnings and interior style).

Clearly a lifestyle coupe like the CLA will come up a little short in cargo capacity when compared to similarly sized crossovers, but the CLA’s 460 L trunk has plenty of capacity for the day-to-day needs of most couples, and it has folding rear seatbacks for when you need to carry long, awkward, or bulky items. The CLA is also less thirsty than most similar-sized crossovers and if, like me, you have friends who’ve been victimized recently by smash-and-grab thefts through the rear windows of their crossovers, you’ll certainly appreciate the hidden practicality of being able to lock things securely out of sight in a trunk.

Power: 8/10

Power for the 2020 CLA Coupe comes from a 2.0L turbocharged inline-four-cylinder delivering 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, connected to a seven-speed dual-clutch automated transmission. Its on-the-road performance reminded me of Volkswagen’s Golf GTI, which I’ve always considered to have one of the best balances between performance and practicality of any car on the road. When you look at the numbers, the comparison is no surprise: The Golf GTI’s turbo 4-cylinder makes just a hair more power at 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, and propels only a bit less weight at 1,417 kg versus the CLA 250’s 1,505 kg. Mercedes claims a 0–100 km/h acceleration time of 6.3 seconds for the CLA, which is just a tick slower than the GTI’s 6.0-second time. In winter conditions, mind you, there wouldn’t be any contest – Canadian-market CLAs come standard with Mercedes-Benz’s well-regarded 4Matic all-wheel drive system, which will make mincemeat of any FWD hot hatch on slippery roads.

The CLA’s transmission, for the most part, performs its work unobtrusively in the background, although it can sometimes be a little jerky when changing gears at slow speeds. Like most modern dual-clutch automatics, it tends to short-shift for best economy, so it can sometimes leave the car a little flat-footed when quick bursts of acceleration are called for. There’s an available Sport mode that livens things up a little with sharper throttle response, later upshifts, and earlier rev-matched downshifts (all accompanied by a throaty synthetic engine soundtrack), and there are standard-equipment paddle shifters for when you want to take full command of the shifts yourself.

Driving Feel: 8/10

Mercedes-Benz gets points for a well-sorted suspension in the CLA 250. Whereas the outgoing car had sharp reflexes but a ride quality that was sometimes criticized as brittle, the four-wheel independent suspension in the second-generation CLA delivers on the premium four-seater promise with a ride that’s both well-controlled and reasonably supple, while still maintaining crisp, confident handling. It’s not an all-out sports car by any stretch, but it’s nicely balanced and rewarding enough to drive along twisting backroads. The brakes are confidence inspiring, although initial bite is a little aggressive for my taste, especially at low speeds.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

At the time of writing, Natural Resources Canada hadn’t released official fuel economy figures for 2020 CLA 250 4Matic, but in the US it’s rated at the equivalent of 10.2 / 7.1 /8.7 L/100 km city/highway/combined, so we can expect its Canadian numbers to be fairly close to this.

During my first few days with the test car, driving in a fairly relaxed and efficient manner, I managed about 7.7 L/100 km in mixed driving. During the second half of the week, which included some spirited driving and a bunch of low-speed shuffling around to take photos, I used 12.6 L/100 km. Overall, I averaged about 9.3 L/100 km.

Safety: 7/10

It’s too soon yet for the 2020 CLA 250 to have been crash-tested by the NHSTA or IIHS, but based on its performance in the Euro NCAP tests (where it achieved five stars) one can expect it to get excellent passive safety ratings (although one unfortunate side effect of the car’s stout construction is that the roof pillars restrict outward visibility a little more than average).

All CLAs get active safety gear including electronic stability control, active brake assist, adaptive braking technology, rear-view camera, and tire-pressure monitoring system, but advanced active safety equipment beyond that is extra cost. This includes the blind spot assist, cross-traffic monitoring with active brake assist, lane-keeping assist, DISTRONIC active cruise control, emergency stop assist, evasive steering assist, automatic high-beams, traffic sign assist, and other available tech, all of which are bundled in various optional packages. If more of this advanced equipment was included standard, the CLA 250 would merit a higher safety score.

Value: 7/10

With a base price starting at $43,000 the Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 undercuts BMW’s upcoming 2 Series Gran Coupe by $2,400, offering what at first glance appears to be a solid value proposition. The value proposition is weakened considerably, however, given just how much of the car’s most appealing equipment is only available as part of the various pricey options packages. As equipped, my tester priced out at $55,440 before destination fees, and while I could live without the active parking assist ($900) and Night Package appearance items ($600), most of the other packages are pretty much indispensable if you want the car to retain its luxury character and high levels of active safety. That means adding on over $12,000 worth of options, nearly 30 percent over the base price.

The Verdict

Freed from its duties as an entry-level vehicle, the CLA has established its position as a well-appointed, sporty city-sized luxury coupe. Currently its only direct competition is BMW’s 2 Series Gran Coupe, but with prices topping out in the mid-$50K range for a well-equipped CLA, it’s setting a high bar for “attainable” luxury. For buyers who are willing to forgo the CLA’s coupe styling, traditional sedan offerings such as the less expensive Audi A3 (starting at $34,500) or the slightly larger and still less expensive Lexus IS 300 AWD ($48,650 with the Luxury package) will prove to be tempting competition.

That said, there are currently few vehicles on the road that can offer quite as rich a user experience for the money as the CLA Coupe can. If you expect your personal luxury coupe to offer sedan-like practicality while providing the very best and latest in technology and user experience, a well-equipped CLA 250 is a stand-out choice.

Restyled, refined, and rewarding 3/6/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4MATIC Coupe
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $43,000
Peak Horsepower 221 hp @ 5,500 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 258 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm   Destination Fee Not Available
Fuel Economy 10.2 / 7.1 /8.7 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb (EPA)   Price as Tested $55,440 before destination fees
Cargo Space 460 L  
Optional Equipment
$12,340 – Premium Package, $3,000; Technology Package, $1,600; Night Package, $600; Intelligent Drive Package, $1,900; Navigation Package, $1,000; Integrated Garage Door Opener, $300; Active Parking Assist, $900; 360 Camera, $650; Multifunction Sports Steering Wheel, $250; Black Open Pore Wood trim, $250; 19-inch AMG Matte Cross-Spoke wheels, $1,000; Denim Blue paint, $890