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Mercedes searches down market for sales
by Mike Schlee

For years Mercedes-Benz has been selling smaller, cheaper vehicles like the A- and B-Class all over the world, but the cheapest Benz in America has always been the C-Class. And even then it was a mid-spec model when looking at the C-Class family lineup on a global scale. Now things are changing. Mercedes is bringing out a new entry-level four-door-coupe set to do battle against vehicles like the Audi A3 sedan and Acura ILX.

The CLA is based on the current A-Class and B-Class platform and for now, North American models will come exclusively with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making two very different power outputs. The CLA 250 will boast 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque while the frantic CLA 45 AMG will pump out an insane 355 hp.

EFFICIENT AND FAST?

Transmission choice is limited to a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels in CLA 250 and all the wheels in the AMG model. With the lower powered engine, Mercedes claims the 250 is good for an impressive 26 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. What’s even more impressive is the fact that this engine can achieve these levels of efficiency while also motivating the 3,262-lb car to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is quick to spool and delivers power instantly. The rpms stay in the power band for a long time and, like the turbocharged four-cylinder from Audi, this four-pot feels more robust than the numbers would have us believe.

APATHETIC TRANSMISSION

But it is not all good news with the drivetrain; the transmission lets the engine down. Like the Canadian-specific 2013 Mercedes-Benz B 250 hatchback we got to sample earlier this year, this dual clutch transmission is slow to react and jerky in its actions; odd considering how lightening quick Mercedes-Benz’s other seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission found in the SLS AMG is. Then again, it goes without saying the CLA is focused more on efficiency than performance.

With a transverse engine layout and front-wheel drive architecture, many have already written this vehicle off as a false Mercedes-Benz, never mind a luxury car. But that may be a bit unfair. Audi has always offered front-wheel drive vehicles to Americans, as has Acura. The CLA is surprisingly composed in corners and if not pushed beyond the front tires limits, is indistinguishable from an all-wheel drive car on dry surfaces. But the CLA 250 is not meant to be overly sporty; the 225/45R17 tires on the baby Benz are designed to offer a compromise between comfort, sport and efficiency.

Measuring in at 182.3 inches, the CLA is actually 1.5 inches longer than the heavier, rear-wheel drive based C-Class sedan. For those who think having two similar sedans will confuse customers, Mercedes has worked hard to distinguish them. Aside from the obvious differences in drivetrain configuration, the styling of the two cars has gone in opposite directions. While the C-Class looks the part of a traditional compact luxury sedan, the CLA has a more rakish profile that resembles a baby CLS-Class; the “CL” in the CLA name is not there by accident.
Read the complete Mercedes CLA250 review at AutoGuide.com
 
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