2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Test Drive

Ron Sessions | Jan 09, 2020

Introduction

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 front view

Photo: Ron Sessions

With the all-new A-Class sedan assuming the role of drawing new and younger buyers from non-luxury brands to Mercedes-Benz, the new second-generation CLA 4-door “coupe” has been allowed to grow a bit larger and gets a more powerful 4-cylinder engine. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 adds some CLS-Class style to the lower end of the brand’s passenger-car lineup, fitting in between the entry luxury A-Class and volume-leading C-Class sedans. The 5-passenger compact “coupe” is available with front- or all-wheel drive.

Among the CLA250’s chief competitors in the compact luxury car segment are the Audi A3, BMW 2-Series and Acura ILX.

The front-wheel-drive version of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 is priced at $37,645 including the $995 destination charge. When equipped with 4Matic all-wheel drive, the CLA250 is $39,645 with destination.

I recently had the opportunity to drive a 4Matic-equipped 2020 CLA250 over 70 miles of suburban streets and rural 2-lane highways north of Phoenix, Arizona.

Styling and Design

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 backseat styling

Photo: Ron Sessions

In the spirit of the larger CLS-Class, the second-generation CLA250 is a 4-door “coupe,” meaning it has a dramatically sloping roofline and a “narrow” greenhouse with frameless side glass that tilts inward at the top. A more generous wheelbase, up 1.1 inches from the previous-year model, results in short overhangs and an added 1.9 inches overall nose to tail allows for a longer, more eloquent hood and sloping nose, moving the visual mass of the cabin rearward as with the brand’s rear-drive models. The 2020 CLA 250 gains an extra 2 inches of width and a wider track enhances the car’s sporty stance.

For 2020, Mercedes-Benz designers removed the previous version’s somewhat busy-looking scalloped detailing along the sides of the car, crafting cleanly arched CLS-like beltlines that sweep from the windshield to the rear roof pillar. Up front the SL-like power domed hood and wider, SL-style grille and new, slimmer headlamps add elegance while equally slimmer GT-style tail lamps and a low-set license-plate mounting accomplish the same upgraded appearance at the rear.

As 4-door cars go, even ones marketed as “coupes,” the 2020 CLA250 cuts a sleek profile. More than just striking to look at, according to the Mercedes-Benz wind tunnel in Stuttgart, Germany, the CLA is also quite slippery in the airstream, with a very low 0.23 coefficient of drag. That helps with wind noise and fuel economy.

Features and Controls

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 dashboard features

Photo: Ron Sessions

As with most coupes, the CLA250’s cabin is tailored around the driver and passengers. Four doors mean no one has to squeeze past the front seatbacks to get in or out of the back seat. The added two inches of body width translates directly to increases in shoulder and hip room for both front and rear-seaters. Front-seat legroom is compact-sedan appropriate, but rear-seat occupants over 6-feet tall will definitely have to bargain with the front-seaters to skootch their seats forward a bit. The wheelbase stretch did a lot for the looks of the 2020 CLA250 but didn’t add any legroom—or trunk space for that matter which remains at 11.6 cubic feet with the 50/50 split folding rear seatbacks in the up position. Folding down one or both of the rear seatbacks adds room for longer items in the trunk. A standard panoramic sunroof gives a feeling of openness, but it steals nearly 2 inches of front seat headroom.

The first things you’ll notice when entering the new CLA250 are its twin high-resolution color displays for the driver and infotainment system. Standard are a pair of 7-inch screens, but for maximum effect the optional 10.25-inch landscape-format screens, positioned side by side on top of the dash, are what you’ll really want. The bigger 10.25-inch screens are part of a $1,100 Premium Package that also includes auto-dimming rearview mirrors and power folding side mirrors. Both the 7- and 10.25-inch screens are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.

Standard interior fare includes MB Tex faux-leather seat coverings with real leather hides $1450 extra. Also standard are a leather-wrapped tilt/telescope steering wheel with shift paddles, sport-bolstered power-operated driver and front passenger seats with adjustable lumbar and 3-position memory, plus dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton start, rain-sensing wipers, a decent-sounding AM/FM stereo, and basic cruise control. Some buyers will find the front buckets a tad narrow, but even though they are German-car firm, they’re good for all-day bouts behind the wheel. Still checking option boxes, heated front seats will set you back $580, a console-mounted wireless phone charger $200 and a nifty 64-color ambient lighting package that creates an ever-changing interior light show on the doors, speakers, console, dash and climate control vents costs $310 extra. Other upgrades include a rich-sounding 12-speaker, 590-watt Burmester surround-sound audio system for $850 and six months of SiriusXM satellite radio for $460.

All of the climate-control functions are grouped in an elegant-looking and easy-to-reach bank of switches on the dash above the center console. However, small lettering and icons for the functions against a chrome trim panel make the various settings hard to read against the reflective panel, especially in bright sunlight.

Safety and Technology

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 high resolution touchscreen

Photo: Ron Sessions

About that large, 10.25-inch high-resolution center touchscreen, it’s the window into standard Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) content on the center screen and can also be accessed via a console-mounted touchpad, steering wheel controls or natural language-enhanced voice control, which includes keyword activation. The new console touchpad has a handy resting place to steady your hand as well as quick access buttons for home, back, favorites, vehicle settings, camera settings and audio system volume.

Mercedes-Benz has upgraded the software for the MBUX system to respond to natural language commands. First, give the system a name and talk to it as you might to Alexa at home. Then, simply say something prefaced by, “Hey Mercedes,” or whatever name you want to give it. Wait for the appropriate beep that signals that it’s ready for the question and say, “What’s the weather in Cucamonga” or wherever you are going. You can also do the same for climate control adjustments, saying, “Hey Mercedes, I’m cold,” and the MBUX system will raise the cabin temperature on the side of the vehicle the voice came from in 2 degrees increments every time you ask. Or you can just tell it to set the temperature to a specific number. Be creative. There are a lot off possibilities here.

A $1,150 optional Multimedia Package brings brilliantly sharp navigation maps with not only streets and highways but also topographical detail of mountains, lakes and streams. Speed Limit Assist which can automatically adjust the CLA250’s speed to the posted limits is included as is something Mercedes-Benz calls Augmented Reality. When a navigation route has been selected, the latter can display a live, high-resolution camera shot of the road ahead including traffic on it as well as animation showing the direction of the upcoming turn or navigation instruction in real time. This is a big help in congested cities where multiple lanes and turning options are coming at the driver at a very fast clip.

In addition to a standard backup camera, attention assist and Mercedes-Benz emergency call service, there’s a $2,250 Driver Assistance Package that bundles a large chunk of driver-assistive features and safety tech, much of it trickling down from the S-Class flagship sedan. One is DISTRONIC adaptive cruise control with active steering assist, speed adaptation ahead of curves, tollbooths and the ability to execute a hands-free lane change on a 4-lane highway with turn-signal application if the lane is clear of traffic. The package also includes auto emergency braking, active speed limit assist that automatically adjusts to the posted speed, blind-spot monitoring with active braking as well as lane keeping with active steering and braking assist. The brake snubs and corrective steering torque can be frustrating on winding roads where it’s difficult to keep the tires from touching a white line or when swinging wide to avoid a pedestrian or bicycle rider without signaling, but that function can be temporarily disabled by the driver.

Also on the driver-assistive menu is a $1,090 Parking Assistance Package that adds a 360-degree overhead-view camera display plus active parking assist that operates the steering, gearshift and brakes to pull the CLA250 into a perpendicular or parallel parking spot hands-free.

Driving Impressions

Mercedes-Benz CLA250 221 horsepower engine

Photo: Ron Sessions

Along with its zoomier styling, the second-generation CLA250’s standard and only available engine gets a boost in output, up 6% from last year’s 208 horsepower to 221. The direct-injected 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo also develops an ample 258 lb-ft of torque over a broad range from a just above fast-idle to 4000 rpm, giving it good throttle response over a wide range of driving situations. It is teamed with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic which delivers seamlessly quick gear changes on the highway and a very direct feel. Around town, however, low-speed operation in stop-and-go traffic can get a bit lurchy if you’re not smooth with the throttle as the automated direct-clutch gearbox feels more like a manual one. The CLA250 can accelerate from rest to 60 mph in just over 6 seconds. It has an auto stop/start system that shuts off the engine at stoplights to save fuel then restarts automatically when the driver lifts a foot off the brake. The system can be turned off by the driver until the next key cycle, when desired.

EPA fuel economy estimates for the front-drive model are 25 mpg city/35 mpg highway/28 mpg combined. 4Matic versions get a 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway/27 mpg combined rating. I averaged an indicated 28.5 mpg over 70 miles of mixed suburban/rural driving in an AWD-equipped version.

With the CLA250, Mercedes-Benz is aiming to get current drivers of slightly larger, less-expensive Asian brands to make the jump into something with a Euro luxury pedigree. In AWD 4Matic trim at least, the CLA250 makes a strong argument.  The 221-hp turbo four doesn’t quiet replicate the muted soundtrack of an Old World Benz six or eight-cylinder, but it will scamper enthusiastically when prompted.

The car’s electrically boosted steering is precise and nicely weighted. Brake pedal response is crisp and as you’d expect in a German car with an Autobahn duty cycle, capable of scrubbing off speed quickly. The Sun Yellow test car’s lowered comfort suspension (a $290 option) and $800 19-inch AMG wheels (18s are standard) not only conveyed great curb appeal but gave it a ready-set-go road stance. Even with its forward weight bias, the CLA250 confidently and deliberately goes where it’s pointed. Body roll is kept well in check in tight turns and vertical motions well damped with no chop. If there is price for all of this control it’s a fair amount of road rumble entering the cabin over asphalt roads with high aggregate content. That’s when you can turn up the volume on the Burmester.

Conclusion

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

Although it’s some $3,000 more dear than the 2019 version, the new and improved 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 now has the presence and style to entice an upwardly mobile buyer to jump from the mainstream ranks to luxury territory. The latest driver-assistive and infotainment tech, downloaded from the S-Class flagship sedan to the CLA-Class “coupe” are further incentives. And if the CLA250’s 221 horsepower isn’t enough to fire up some passion, the 302-hp Mercedes-AMG  CLA 35 and 382-hp CLA 45 versions are there to help.

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