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Test Drive: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250

The starter Benz delivers on its promise of access to the brand in a car that's fun to drive

by Josh Rubin in Design on 18 March 2013

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Firmly rooted in the luxury, 40+ market, Mercedes-Benz has been working hard to evolve its brand image and become more appealing to younger customers. The all-new 2014 CLA sedan, which was first unveiled during the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, is a strong step in that direction offering style and performance with a taste of Benz luxury and engineering at a base price of US$29,000. We had a chance to drive one between Marseille and St. Tropez in Southern France last week as a guest of Mercedes-Benz and we were pleased with how much fun their new entry-level model was to drive.

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At first glance it's immediately obvious that the exterior styling of the CLA is related to the CL-class—the intensely aerodynamic form is a hallmark of the 4-door coupe. Improving on its older siblings, though, the new model cuts through the air with less drag than any other model Benz. In terms of size, that's where the A-class influence comes in. The CLA is just over a foot shorter than the CLS. In addition to keeping the car compact, building on the A-class frame helps keep the overall price down as it takes advantage of the economy of scale for that product range.

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To differentiate the styling from other models the CLA includes several treatments that are new for a production Mercedes-Benz and are derivative of the design vocabulary in last year's Concept Style Coupe showcar. With a touch of red-eye, the front headlights express an intensity that's on par with the form of the car, whereas the rear headlamps simply complement the sleek lines. The radiator grill offers a curious illusion of floating diamond segments that almost beg to be touched.

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The interior's spartan instrumentation and interface is jazzed up with a small, floating sat-nav display and five electroplated silver-chrome finished air vents. The driver's seat comes standard with power adjustments and memory settings, but the passenger's seat requires good-old levers and knobs to adjust its position (though we believe a powered passenger seat is available as an upgrade). A techno-bonus, however, is that all radar-based safety systems—adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, collision prevention assist and parking assist—are included as standard equipment. The car we drove was finished with sporty contrast stitching and neon racing stripes down the seat which surely will appeal to some, though we'd prefer to keep it more simple. Legroom in the rear seats is what you'd expect from a car this size—a bit tight, but not uncomfortable for zipping around the city.

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We drove the CLA 250—the only model that will be available worldwide, including the US—though there are several other engine types being manufactured, and an AMG version in development. The 250's 4-cylinder, 211 horsepower engine balances fuel efficiency with performance and therefore doesn't have the rocket-like attributes of other Mercedes we've driven, but it does boast an estimated 48 miles-per-gallon efficiency on the highway, 28mpg in the city. The 7-speed automatic, dual-clutch transmission might sound like overkill for this car, but it performs impressively, especially in Sport mode where the shift response times are faster and occur at higher RPMs. Further, you can put it in to manual mode and shift with paddles on the steering wheel, or even use those paddles to override the mode you're in. The 70-inch wide wheelbase holds the car firmly to the road and gave us a go-cart-like thrill on the twisting, narrow roads of the Provençal hills.

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Coming this Fall 2013, the Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 is an excellent entry-level 4-door sports coupe. It's the perfect first Mercedes for a 20 or 30 something looking to step up to the luxury market, and a chance to be part of the brand's revolution.

Images by Josh Rubin

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