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Review: 2014 Mercedes-Benz
CLA 250 is a sleek new threat

SAINT TROPEZ, FRANCE ?? When I first saw the new Mercedes-Benz CLA 250, I thought “Don?t they build a car like that already?” As it turns out the answer is yes?? sort of.

For the CLA 250 (which stands for Coupe Light A-Class), Mercedes drew upon inspiration from the much larger CLS, which also cuts a sleek, coupe-like appearance yet retains four doors.

Essentially, Mercedes has taken the CLS and compacted it, and the result is a car that will compete in a broader and more intensely competitive segment when it lands in Canada in September: entry-level luxury.

With the CLS providing a guiding principle for the design, Mercedes is enlisting the front-wheel drive B-Class platform to underpin the CLA 250. It will share chassis, engines and transmissions with the five-door mini-Mercedes that has been sold in Canada since 2005. It will be built in the same plant in Kecskem?t, Hungary, as the B-Class.

While they might have a lot in common under the skin, the CLA 250 and B-Class part company in the looks and go-fast departments. While the B-Class is a competent, affordable vehicle that provides very good utility and value for its $30,000-ish price tag, few are buying it for its performance and style credentials.

The same cannot be said for the CLA 250. This sleek, handsome car makes no bones about its sporty pretensions, which is as Mercedes intended. This car IS designed to quicken the pulse.

When it comes to positioning, the folks from Stuttgart are certainly aiming high. While waiting to get behind the wheel of a CLA 250 at Mercedes? welcome centre, I noticed this quote stencilled on the wall in the reception area:

?We aim to reach new target class groups with the CLA-Class ? including those who never intended driving a Mercedes.?

That was Dr. Joachim Schmidt, vice-president of sales and marketing, throwing down the gauntlet. And if he and his fellow execs intend to reach new “target class groups” with the CLA 250, that sounds to me like they?ll need to capture the 35-and-under crowd.

Can they do that with this car? I think so, and here?s why.

Even though the CLA 250 is being positioned as an entry-level Mercedes, it?s still very much a Mercedes. Secondly, it?s a sharp, stylish car loaded with the latest technology (blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, back-up camera, slick infotainment system, etc.), it’s fun to drive and, at $33,900, it?s priced right for younger buyers.

During my time zooming along on twisty, hilly (and exceedingly narrow) roads along the south coast of France, it became clear to me that Mercedes has built a car that touches all of those parameters.

Although it?s a front-driver (all-wheel drive 4Matic versions will arrive next year) and the 250s destined for Canada are available with a 7-speed DCT automatic transmission only, the CLA 250 is indeed a willing machine for those looking for spirited, performance driving.

While I would have appreciated the opportunity to sample copies equipped with a manual transmission, the testers I drove equipped with DCT worked quite well, primarily because Mercedes has wisely chosen to equip the CLA 250 with a drive mode selector button located on the centre stack and steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters. The Eco, Manual and Sport modes enable the driver to tailor the car to his or her driving style. Conserving fuel is important these days, but the driving experience was much more engaging when the car was in Manual or Sport mode. Being able to wind up the RPMs and delay upshifts really brought the CLA 250 to life.

The 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder pumps out 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque which, given the car?s light 1,480 kilogram curb weight, provides more than enough propulsion to hustle the car well past posted speed limits in a hurry. Mercedes is claiming a 0-100 km/h time of 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 240 km/h. An AMG version (the CLA 45), which will be officially unveiled at the upcoming New York Auto Show and will land in Canada in November, will likely shave at least a second and a half off that time.

From a handling perspective, the CLA 250 will come with both sport and comfort suspension settings. I drove one of each and, as the names would suggest, the sport model has the stiffer settings and a slightly lower ride height. The sport model car felt more secure during cornering and hard braking manoeuvres, but the differences were not significant.

On the inside, the CLA 250 is loaded with lots of the latest gadgetry, all wrapped in tidy Mercedes-Benz styling. The leather-wrapped seating surfaces were comfortable, and the small, thick steering wheel suits the car?s sporty personality. The large 5.8 inch nav screen provided mostly accurate directions (with a few slip-ups) during my time behind the wheel and its positioning at the top of the centre stack means minimal distraction.

Bottom line, the car?s controls work well, although I find the steering-column mounted gear selector to be a needlessly fussy and complicated solution. I know it?s a space-saver, but I prefer a good old-fashioned console shifter. One other note about the interior, because of the CLA 250?s sloping roofline, those in the six-foot range should mind their heads getting in and out of the rear seat. Overall rear seat room is likely going to be tight for most adults.

In sum, the CLA 250 has a lot going for it, and while some (like me) might quibble about the lack of a manual transmission option, the car has a lot going for it, from styling to performance to price. I?m not sure if younger buyers will flock to it as Mercedes hopes, but they?d certainly do well to add it to their shopping lists.

2014 MERCEDES-BENZ CLA 250

PRICE: $33,900

ENGINE: 2.0 L turbocharged 4-cyl.

POWER/TORQUE: 208 / 258

FUEL CONSUMPTION, L/100 km: 6.1 (combined, est.)*

COMPETITION: Buick Verano, Audi A3, Acura ILX

WHAT?S BEST: Good driving dynamics, well packaged and priced.

WHAT?S WORST: No manual transmission option for the Canadian market.

WHAT?S INTERESTING: AMG version lands in November.

*based on European testing. Natural Resources Canada numbers will be available closer to launch.

  • Review: 2014 Mercedes-Benz <br>CLA 250 is a sleek new threat
  • Review: 2014 Mercedes-Benz <br>CLA 250 is a sleek new threat
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