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Sizing Up (Down?) The New Benz

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250

I know what you’re thinking: This new, small Mercedes-Benz isn’t even the smallest car they offer, so what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that it is the smallest sedan offered in the US by the German luxury brand manufacturer. And it’s the first one with front-wheel-drive. You’re possibly confused, because living so close to the Canadian border you regularly see the much smaller A-Class hatchbacks scooting around area shopping mall parking lots. The CLA is a whole different ballgame.

First off, it’s in a class with much more sporting company: BMW 3 series, Audi A4, Lexus IS 250. Second of all, check this out: The CLA 250 had its official unveiling last year at Berlin Fashion Week, rather than the Podunk Auto Show in Anytown, USA. And thirdly: Buyers aren’t likely to relegate it to second-car, running-errands-type duty. The CLA is a driver’s car, thank you very much.

I received my CLA orientation last week at Mercedes-Benz of Buffalo, who were very well represented by their vehicle delivery specialist, Egon Moldenhauer. A quick 15 minutes explaining the merits of the car, and I was on my way.

The CLA, although packed with goodies, is still a straightforward car. I didn’t need to read the owner’s manual to adjust the heat, change the radio station, or—heaven forbid (and believe me, it’s happened before)—start the car. I’ll admit, however, to being dubious as Egon explained the rather aptly-named Central Controller—a round knob which falls to hand on the console next to the cupholder. “I can control just about everything on the dash right from here while I’m driving,” he told me. I listened politely, picturing myself fidgeting with the thing and having it do everything but what I was trying to get it to do. Wrong, I was. Half a mile from the dealership and it was like I’d had the car for a week. Nice job, M-B.

My test car was a nicely equipped upper-range model with a list price of $40,870. Under the hood was a 2.0-liter turbo four direct-injection engine which put out 208 horsepower. It was connected to a seven-speed auto-shift manual transmission with paddle shifters. This powertrain combo is good for an EPA-rated 26/38 miles per gallon city/highway. The shift mechanism itself is a drive-by-wire stalk mounted on the side of the steering column. Also very easy to figure out. An ECO mode will shut down the engine when you’re at a stop (providing 17 different criteria are met by the car’s computer), which helps enhance fuel-saving. Step on the gas, and everything starts back up without anyone in the car being the least bit aware that anything out of the ordinary has happened.

And when you do step on the gas, that turbo four is sweet. Moves right off the line without hesitation. And those seven gears? It’s difficult to feel the shift points (that’s a good thing). I’m not sure why anyone would even want to bother with the paddle shifters.

The CLA is not a large car, but there’s ample room for four. Once in, I had no problem getting my six-foot frame comfortable, and there was still room for a passenger to stretch out (a bit) behind me. M-B has decided to complement the Central Controller with hard dash controls for the audio and HVAC—bravo! And the Harman-Kardon sound system was excellent. All the information which is controlled by the console knob is displayed on a very tablet-like screen mounted high on the dash well within the driver’s line of vision.

Pricing for the CLA starts at under 30 grand. M-B is using the car to attract the buyer who never thought he/she could afford a Mercedes-Benz. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, after owning one, they become repeat buyers.

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Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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