This year marks the start of the second generation of this premium subcompact sedan with a “4-door coupe” attitude. Although the first generation had plenty of positives, this new wave raises several bars in terms of cabin quality and space, engine power, model choice and technology.
This car might be considered an introduction to Mercedes-Benz ownership, or a stylish way to downsize from larger luxury vehicles without feeling shortchanged. It’s not the cheapest brand-new Mercedes-Benz (that would be the A-Class), but it does have a certain flair and a gutsier engine at the entry level.
A new variation arrives for this generation, the AMG CLA 35. It slots between the CLA 250 and the AMG CLA 45. That’s a smart move because the difference between the two first-generation variants was really too great. Chances are not many people looking at a regular CLA could stretch to the far more powerful and expensive range-topper, but now there’s a middle ground that could be more attainable.
In any new CLA-Class, the cabin is most definitely a product of Mercedes-Benz, from the air vents, dual screens and comfortable yet supportive front seats to the intelligent ergonomics. A new generation of infotainment system is also fitted to the CLA-Class. Called MBUX (short for Mercedes-Benz User Experience), it includes an onboard digital assistant (like Siri in an iPhone) that understands and responds to commands given in natural speech.
Augmented video is a good reason to have the optional navigation system instead of relying on smartphone apps, which more of us tend to do these days. It superimposes arrows and other pieces of useful information over a video image from a front-facing camera.
To have so many superb features available in a relatively affordable luxury car range is commendable.
What’s new for 2020?
Everything. The second generation of CLA-Class launches this year.
What we like
- Reasonable pricing for a Mercedes-Benz
- Generous standard equipment
- Reassuring safety features
- Impressive power in the CLA 45
What we don’t
- Styling hinders rear three-quarter vision
- Sparse rear headroom
$37,645-$TBA (CLA 45 pricing not available at the time of compiling this review)
Propelling the CLA 250 is a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. In standard form, this goes to the front wheels through a 7-speed dual-clutch automated transmission (operation is the same as a regular automatic). In the CLA 250 4Matic, drive is sent to all four wheels.
The EPA estimates fuel consumption at 25 miles per gallon in the city, 35 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg in combined driving (front-wheel drive) or 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway/27 mpg combined (all-wheel drive).
The Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 35 develops 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque with its turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. Its AMG-tuned 7-speed dual-clutch automated transmission directs that energy to a standard AWD system. Fuel consumption is 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway/25 mpg combined.
There’s yet another turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine in the CLA 45, but this one is hand-built in the traditional AMG way and enhanced by a twin-scroll turbocharger. Output is a remarkable 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, making it one of the most powerful production 4-cylinder engines available.
AWD is standard once again, and the transmission here is an 8-speed dual-clutch automated unit that has also been maximized by AMG, the high-performance division of Mercedes-Benz. The EPA had yet to declare fuel consumption estimates for this model when we were creating this review.
Premium gasoline is recommended for all three engines. They each have a stop/start feature to help save a little fuel.
Standard features and options
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class comes well-equipped even in the least expensive version.
The CLA 250 ($37,645) has 18-in alloy wheels, LED headlights/daytime running lights/taillights, a panoramic roof, a push-button start, remote start/locking/unlocking, heated side mirrors, selectable driving modes, forward-collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, automatic brake drying, rain-sensing wipers, power-adjustable front sport seats with memory simulated leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 7-in digital driver information display, an MBUX infotainment system with a 7-in touchscreen, natural language voice control, Bluetooth phone/audio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, five USB-C ports, HD radio and driver attention monitoring.
The 4Matic AWD system is an extra $2,000.
This model is eligible for larger wheels, a heated steering wheel, variable-ratio steering, uprated brakes, various AMG cosmetic additions, lowered suspension, adaptive suspension, self-dimming mirrors, larger displays, Wi-Fi, wireless charging, satellite radio and a 12-speaker/590-watt Burmester surround-sound system.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 35 ($47,895) swaps in the model-specific drivetrain, along with AMG-tuned driving modes, sport suspension, 3-stage stability control, variable-ratio steering, a sport exhaust system, upgraded brakes, brushed aluminum pedals, a 10.25-in driver information display, a 10.25-in infotainment touchscreen and multicolor ambient LED cabin lighting.
Buyers may augment their new CLA 35 with 19-in alloy wheels, keyless entry/ignition and powered trunk lid operation.
The AMG CLA 45 ($TBA) receives its own engine/transmission configuration, including a more sophisticated AWD system that can send torque to the front and/or rear axles and even between the two rear wheels. Other changes include 19-in alloy wheels, self-dimming mirrors, simulated leather/simulated suede upholstery, keyless entry/ignition and powered trunk lid operation.
The CLA 45 can also be ordered with a Race driving mode featuring a drift setting, even stronger brakes and a raised top speed of 168 mph.
Offered in both AMG models are an AMG-tuned adaptive suspension, track data recorder, sportier AMG front seats, a steering wheel wrapped in Nappa leather and simulated suede and a more extreme aerodynamic treatment.
All versions of the 2020 CLA-Class are eligible for adaptive headlights with automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring with exit warning, navigation with augmented video, a head-up display, a 360-degree camera system, a self-parking feature for parallel and perpendicular spaces, heated/ventilated front seats and leather upholstery.
A Driver Assistance package includes adaptive cruise control with stop/go, lane-keeping assist, evasive steering assistance, active blind spot monitoring, cross-traffic emergency braking, active lane-changing assist and a few other features.
The all-new 2020 CLA-Class has not yet been put through any crash test programs by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). But a European agency, Euro NCAP, has given the car its maximum score of five stars out of five.
Also see: The 10 best new car models of 2020
There are plenty of standard safety features, including eight airbags and Crosswind Assist. The optional package of driver aids completes the picture quite thoroughly, offering things that are usually found in the company’s more expensive vehicles. Like Pre-Safe Sound, for example, that emits a burst of high-frequency sound to cause a reflex action in the ear that would lessen the damage to hearing caused by the sound of an impact.
Behind the wheel
Rushing from standstill to 60 mph in the 2020 CLA 250 only takes 6.3 seconds. The CLA 35 is faster by 1.2 seconds, while the CLA 45 does it in four seconds. The range runs from a perfectly pleasant runabout to a serious driver’s machine that can still provide many luxury touches. The Track Pace data recorder for AMG CLA models has the ability to “learn” tracks and work out the ideal racing lines, showing the information on the screen.
The standard suspension performs the difficult trick of absorbing bumps yet retaining composure, while the optional lowered comfort suspension or adaptive sport setup improve things by degrees. The CLA 45 has a variable-torque AWD system to optimize grip to traction, but even the base model has a brake-based simulation of torque vectoring.
It will subtly slow whatever wheel is necessary to get around a corner with as much efficiency and stability as possible. Details like these contribute to the overall impressiveness of Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
Also see: 8 new luxury SUVs for under $50,000
Despite being a slightly bigger car than the previous generation, rear legroom is still somewhat cramped at 33.9 inches; at 35.7 inches, rear headroom is almost 3 inches shorter than front headroom. On the plus side, the trunk space of 13.1 cu ft. accommodates two golf bags. The rear seats also split and fold in 40/20/40 fashion.
Other cars to consider
2020 Acura ILX -— The Civic-derived ILX is a more affordable alternative to the CLA. It lacks the Mercedes-Benz’s turbocharged punch, but enjoys a fine reputation for dependability.
2020 Audi A3 — Due for replacement next year, the Audi A3 is short on power compared with the CLA 250. The S3 runs second to the CLA 35 as well. But the RS 3 enjoys a substantial 394 hp.
2020 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe— An all-new variant for 2020. Wonderfully agile and balanced, with engines that can rival the CLA 250 and CLA 35.
Used Mercedes-Benz C-Class — Offering greater space, the C-Class sedan brings big-car refinement into a compact-car format. Check out the Mercedes-Benz certified pre-owned (CPO) program for a model with a good warranty.
Mercedes-Benz doesn’t even bother giving specifications of its standard audio system, so the optional Burmester setup is probably a good call. When stuck in traffic, the joy of a decent stereo shouldn’t be underestimated. Naturally, the Driver Assistance package is highly recommended.
This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.