Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Buyer's Guide

01
of 09
The new entry-level.

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250.

We all remember the Super Bowl ad in which the devil tries to get a man to sell his soul, but he sees that the beautiful new CLA-Class is less than $30,000 (it's not anymore) and walks from the deal. He got to keep his soul and presumably sell something a little less valuable, like a kidney, prize-winning Iberico pig, or the most likely option: a somewhat older car. Huzzah for this man in his victory!

While the car certainly did get a lot of people behind a three-pointed-star for less money, and gave the C-Class a bit more room to be the elegant sedan it deserves to be, the CLA had to cut one very significant corner: it's front wheel drive. Yeah, the power is going to the wrong wheels in this car, and even if you get the all-wheel-drive upgrade, it's still as front-biased as can be. The 4MATICs don't even spin the rear wheels until the traction control says it's absolutely necessary. It's a bloody shame. 

Regardless, the equipment and styling is on point, and most consumers don't care at all about a car being wrong-wheel-drive, so it's an overall win for Mercedes-Benz. The company has sold tons of them.

02
of 09
Model Years

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250.

 The first CLA-Class was the model year 2014, and it has received a few noteworthy updates since then. If you're looking for a used CLA, keep this in mind.

In 2015 the CLA's stock sport suspension was removed in favor of a softer-riding comfort suspension. The caveat is that the handling isn't what it used to be and the old sport suspension became a pricey upgrade. On the plus side, dual-zone climate control and keyless ignition were added as standard features and fully keyless entry became an option. The frontal collision warning system also brakes to avoid and accident earlier than it did a year prior, and the screen on the center console grew a bit.

For 2016 the CLA got optional suspension dampers that improve performance with no effect on ride comfort, an optional "night styling package" that makes a lot of chrome things black, and extendable thigh support for the front seats.

The 2017 model year will also get a lot of updates. The diamond grille is now black as standard and the car has been fitted with revised bumpers. An optional lighting package equips the CLA with automatic intensity control LED headlights that reduce the blinding effect for oncoming motorists. On the inside the CLA benefits from entirely re-designed upholstery and chrome switchgear as well as optional Android and iOS integration, because mobile tech companies do mobile tech better than car companies. That said, the Mercedes-Benz Technology Center in silicone valley is cooking up some amazing things, including this smartphone integration that I sampled back in 2013.

Also for 2017 is the addition of the HANDS-FREE ACCESS to the KEYLESS-GO package, which is wonderful for CAPSLOCK enthusiasts who like being able to open and close the trunk with a quick foot swipes. 

03
of 09
Which drive-train?

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250.

If you're buying a new CLA, the days of the starting price being under $30,000 are sadly gone. Today's base price is $32,050 for a CLA 250 and $34,050 for a CLA 250 4MATIC. 

Both variants are rocking the same turbocharged 2.0L I4 that makes a solid 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. In the front driven version that's good for a brisk, if not fast 6.2 second sprint to 60 mph. In this configuration it's EPA rated for a very solid 26 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. Sadly, the extreme front-bias of the all wheel drive system combined with the added weight actually means that the CLA 250 4MATIC is actually slower, clocking in at 6.5 seconds to 60 mph. Fuel economy also suffers from the added weight and greater rotating mass as it's rated for a still respectable 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. 

If you really need more traction in the snow, get winter tires and skip the 4MATIC. I'm not convinced it's worth it on this car. That front-bias means it really doesn't add anything to the driver's experience, and a nice set of Blizzaks or Hakkapeliittas will do the trick just fine for snow.

RECOMMENDATION: CLA 250 ($32,050)

 

04
of 09
COLORS!

Mercedes-Benz A-Class Violet
Mercedes-Benz A-Class Violet.

The color palette for the CLA is a bit limited, as most of the colors are the usual Mercedes greyscale, but there is "Jupiter Red," which is okay, and "Cocoa Brown," which just feels dull on a car of this size. There's an extra expensive ($2,500) matte finish designo silver that, like all matte paint, can be very difficult to care for. Seriously, matte paint is easier to scratch, and can't be taken through automatic carwashes because of it, and it's basically impossibly to fix a scratch once it happens. If you attempt to polish or wax over a scratch you'll create a weird smudgy spot. Most liquid and paste waxes are also to be avoided because they change the nice crisp matte finish to look more smudgy. Worst of all, bugs and bird poop need to be gently wiped immediately, as scrubbing can ruin the paint. That's not all, however.

Small cars, in my opinion, can get away with wilder colors, and often look rather dull in subdued ones. That's why I'm happy to see that the CLA comes in "Northern Lights Violet Metallic." It's a deep purple that's unexpected and fun yet dark enough to still be classy. It's the color of kings and if you don't get your CLA in this color you have done yourself a great disservice.

RECOMMENDATION: Northern Lights Violet Metallic ($720)

05
of 09
Exterior packages and options

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250.

 So you've chosen Northern Lights Violet Metallic as your color (because you're not a chump), and now you must move on to the many and varied packages and options waved in front of your face. If and when you start feeling overwhelmed, just go gaze at that awesome paint for a little while and you'll feel rejuvenated.

Sport Package: $2,300
This comes with the chrome hexagons in the grille that are reminiscent of the sexy Concept-A, some 18" AMG wheels, upgraded brakes with painted calipers, and some aesthetic whatnot. It's pricey for what it is. You'd probably be better off buying the bits you like aftermarket and slapping them on yourself.
RECOMMENDATION: Skip

Night Package: $2,600
This package is exactly like the Sport Package, but it also paints a few things black. It does look a good bit more menacing this way, and if you really do want all the stuff from the Sport Package and some black trim, you are probably better off with this option.
RECOMMENDATION: Maybe

Sport Package Plus: $4,000
The price goes up, but you're finally getting some serious content. In addition to the goodies from the Sport Package, this one comes with performance-oriented upgraded suspension, steering, and exhaust as well as even fancier looking wheels. For reasons that completely elude me, there's no Night Package Plus.
RECOMMENDATION: If you like to corner hard, it's a must-have.

Panorama Roof: $1,480
It's exactly what it sounds like: the roof is replaced with a big pane of glass. It's like a really, really big sunroof. If you want to drop $1,480 on a really big sunroof (that hurts performance and handling on account of weight) feel free, but I'd skip it.
RECOMMENDATION: Skip

Bi-Xenon Headlamps and LED Taillamps: $850
Better, brighter lights. Given that most modern cars actually don't pass lighting tests and that seeing is rather important, you should definitely grab these.
RECOMMENDATION: Yes!

Illuminated Star: $550
The Mercedes-Benz logo in the grille lights up so you can flaunt your wealth better in the night. It's totally tacky and makes one look like the worst kind of nouveau riche braggart, especially given that this is the "budget Benz."
RECOMMENDATION: Skip

Rear Spoiler: $300
Don't spend $300 on a little lip spoiler that probably does nothing at all for aerodynamics. Just don't. If you're planning to do the kind of driving that would get use out of a spoiler, you should be shopping for a Mercedes-AMG CLA45 anyway.
RECOMMENDATION: Skip

06
of 09
Interior colors

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250.

"DINAMICA" is what Mercedes came up with when the accountants decided that they were tired of paying for the expensive Alcantara name. Alcantara is just a fancy sounding name for the decidedly uncool-sounding thing that is ultrasuede. Now Mercedes makes it's own, and calls it DINAMICA.

I love the look and the feel of new DINAMICA, but like all ultrasuede it sucks up oils from skin and is very difficult to clean. Even once you get it clean, there's no guarantee that you'll be able to get the pile back into a pleasing arrangement. It's destined to get nasty. Sadly, that nice Sport Package Plus only comes with a ton of it. If that package isn't a must-have for you, I'd opt for a leather, budget permitting. 

The standard MB-Tex (fake leather) comes in black, beige, and ash grey, while the leather can be had in black, ash grey, and brown. Veneer options are grey carbon fiber, aluminum, black ash, and the traditional burl walnut, which looks a little dated in an S-Class at this point, and genuinely somewhat funny in a smaller, more youthful car like the CLA. 

RECOMMENDATION: Black Leather and Black Ash

07
of 09
Interior Packages and Options

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250.

Interior Package: $1,650
Where does that leather come from? The "Interior Package." For your money, you get the real leather seats, some nice topstitching, and the multi-color ambient lighting that shows up everywhere and will mildly amuse you when you're waiting in a parking lot for the first time. After that, it loses its appeal. DO know that this is intrinsically linked to the $2,400 Premium Package, which we'll get to later.
RECOMMENDATION: Get it for the leather and the Premium Package.

Multicolor Ambient Cabin Lighting: $155
If you didn't get the Interior Package you can drop $155 on that above-mentioned mildly amusing feature. Spend that money on books and just use the regular dome light to read them. You'll be much happier.
RECOMMENDATION: Hell no!

Illuminated Door-Sill Panels: $650
In case you didn't get the illuminated three-pointed-star on the grille and you've forgotten what your car is in the dark, you can have the door sill remind you upon entry. I'd try to give this a reason to exist as a safety feature (making the door-sill easier to see and reducing a trip hazard or some such) but we all know that entering a car is all muscle memory anyway.
RECOMMENDATION: Nope.

AMG Door Pins: $50
What? Why?
RECOMMENDATION: NO!

08
of 09
Gadgets and such

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250.

 It wouldn't be a Mercedes-Benz without an overwhelming array of gadgetry to choose from and pay an exorbitant fee for. Seriously, this company knows how to overwhelm with doo-dads.

Premium Package: $2,400
If you opted for those leather seats you also bought this. Congratulations. The Premium Package comes with auto-dimming driver's side and interior mirrors, always a plus when an arse in a massive SUV left his brights on; a handy compass display in the mirror; heated front seats, which are always a nice luxury in some parts of the country; a HomeLink garage door opener, because the clip on ones are unbecoming in a Mercedes-Benz; KEYLESS-GO, because keyless start is kinda nice and Mercedes loves CAPSLOCK; 6-months of SiriusXM Radio, so you'll get hooked and come crawling back for more; and a fancy Harmon-Kardon sound system. You know you want the leather, and now you know a lot of this stuff would be nice to have, and you were already looking at the upgraded sound so...
RECOMMENDATION: Yeah, but it's going to hurt.

Multimedia Package: $2,480
The Multimedia Package is a little bit more expensive than the Premium Package, but it also comes with some good gear. First up is a backup camera, which is a very good idea given the CLA's mediocre rear visibility. In addition, you get five years of SiriusXM Traffic and Weather and three years of navigation map updates on your COMAND system, which also has a pretty cool feature: voice control. We all want to be able to just talk to our faithful startship... errrrr... car just like in the movies, and voice recognition and processing technology has finally gotten to the point where this works. The car doesn't have the personality of our favorite fictional vehicles yet, be we know it's only a matter of time until a new Benz starts to feel like a friend. 
RECOMMENDATION: Maybe. it's a bit pricey for what it is.

Heated Front Seats: $580
This one's pretty self-explanatory. The front seats are heated. It's nice in the winter in some parts of the world, but overall it's easy to do without. Probably better to spring for the Premium Package and get all that other stuff too.
RECOMMENDATION: Skip.

12-Way Power Front Passenger Seat With Memory: $400
It's a lot easier to get comfortable in a car as a passenger. Not only can you recline a bit further without worry, but there's no need to be persnickety about the distances from the pedals and the wheel. The memory really seems like overkill here.
RECOMMENDATION: Skip

KEYLESS-GO: $550
Here's another nice feature that's a bit pricey on it's own, but is otherwise contained in the Premium Package. Yeah, it's nice to not have to worry about fishing around for your keys, but there are a lot of much, much nicer things out there for $550. Like a pair of custom shoes that will outlast this car if cared for or a nicer bank account balance.
RECOMMENDATION: Skip

harman/kardon LOGIC7 Sound System: $850
Everybody, and I mean everybody, spends a lot of time listening to music in the car. Most of us probably hear more music on the road than anywhere else and that's while I'm always in favor of upgrading your sound system to a higher quality one. For posterity, I would like to say that this is not en endorsement of filling your trunk with an enormous subwoofer and drowning out your own music whilst annoying an entire city block and vibrating your rear-view mirror off. If you do that you're a bloody moron.
RECOMMENDATION: Absolutely

Garmin MAP PILOT: $600
Yes, Garmin's GPS systems are better than any carmaker's and the option to integrate a Garmin system in one's Mercedes is always appreciated. That said, the Mercedes COMAND system has improved a lot in the last few years, and really isn't far off from the Garmin at this point. If you're a big fan of Garmin, feel free, but you're unlikely to regret skipping this one.
RECOMMENDATION: Skip

09
of 09
The "Going fast and not dying" section

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250.

It may be a bit amusing that performance and safety are lumped together by Mercedes-Benz, but there is a bit of truth to it. The person pushing the limits of a car (always on a closed course, mind you) is significantly more likely to actually use a car's safety features.

Driver Assistance Package: $2,500
I have mixed feelings on this one. The DISTRONIC adaptive cruise control is fantastic on long drives, allowing the driver to set a minimum following distance and a maximum speed before letting the car sort the rest out, and Blind Spot Assist can be a nice feature (as long as you turn off the annoying beep), but Lane Keeping isn't something an alert and capable driver should need.
RECOMMENDATION: Probably skip, unless you just got a big bonus

Sport-Tuned Suspension: $100
This was formerly the standard suspension, but most drivers thought it was too stiff. I prefer this, but a lot of people don't.
RECOMMENDATION: It's cheap enough to simply be a personal preferance.

Selective Damping: $850
Being able to change the dampers from cushy comfort to flat-cornering stiffness on the fly is awesome. I think this is a must.
RECOMMENDATION: YES!

PARKTRONIC with Active Parking Assist: $970
You're going to spend $970 because you're afraid of parallel parking a compact car? Spend the money on driving lessons.
RECOMMENDATION: NO!

Rearview Camera: $460
As mentioned earlier, the sightlines are sub-par and this can be a huge help
RECOMMENDATION: Go for it.

Blind Spot Assist: $550
I hate the chime (which can be disabled) but do like the light-up orange triangles.
RECOMMENDATION: Yes

Wheel Locks: $140
Wheels are a lot more expensive than wheel locks.
RECOMMENDATION: Absolutely