Under that hood resides a new 2.0-liter engine, a turbocharged 4-cylinder that sends 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque to the front or all four wheels (FWD, AWD) via a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This powerplant propels a CLA chassis with a 5-seat cabin highlighted by sport seats, a panoramic roof and a large digital instrument cluster that flows horizontally into a touch screen at the top of the center stack.
While the split-folding back seat remains far from roomy (especially when the front seats are adjusted all the way rearward), the CLA 250 is much improved over the car it replaces. Significantly, it no longer feels like it has been surpassed in design, technology and content by the A-Class, a newer entry-level vehicle in Mercedes-Benz’s U.S. lineup.
Main competitors for the new CLA 250 include the BMW 2 Series and the Acura ILX, while the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 competes with the Audi S3 and the BMW M240i xDrive.
Driving the 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA
KBB sampled a 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250, a 4Matic model outfitted with most every option. With 4Matic all-wheel drive sending as much as 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels on an automatic as-needed basis, torque steer never reared its head, even though this engine produces a healthy 258 lb-ft of it at only 1,800 rpm. Nor is turbo lag a problem: This engine, which produces 13 more horsepower than the previous CLA 250, is characterized by a smooth delivery of power that builds in a linear fashion.
You sit low in the new CLA 250, which has supportive sport seats and provides a good view out the windshield. Headroom is excellent, even with the standard panoramic glass roof. The transverse-mounted 4-cylinder engine gets the job done well, leveraging all that low-end torque to feel totally relaxed when cruising about town. But when you dip a little deeper into the throttle, the CLA 250’s acceleration comes on quite strong.
Mercedes says the CLA 250 hits 60 mph in a respectable 6.3 seconds, and has an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph. Also notable: The shifts of the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission are uncannily smooth, and the shift paddles are there for fun stretches of road or the occasional downshift when you need to keep downhill speeds in check.
This is a quiet and composed sedan with natural-effort steering and comfortable ride quality, and the “Hey Mercedes” MBUX user interface — think of it as an Amazon Alexa for your car — works well to change the temperature of the CLA cabin or set a destination. That stated, MBUX can seem a bit like overkill when all you otherwise might need to do is tap a rocker switch or twist a knob. Nevertheless, this MBUX interface, with some controls on the steering wheel, is bound to get better.
KBB also sampled a 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA 35. If you can imagine a CLA 250 that’s firmer, quite a bit faster and fitted with sticky Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires, that’s the new CLA 35. This hot-rod CLA is blessed with a plethora of AMG styling cues, not to mention a powerful surround-sound Burmester stereo and some pricey Recaro sport seats. The CLA 35 hits 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and has an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.
Driving the 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA
This standard technology allows you to switch the CLA among several driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual. Comfort, the default mode, is just that, while Sport and Sport+ bring out the CLA’s inner sports sedan with quicker throttle response and steering.
In the new Mercedes-AMG CLA 35, the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine is modified by AMG to produce 302 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque from 3,000 to 4,000 rpm.
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Interior
Although the 2020 CLA is slightly larger than before, its interior feels about the same size, which means it’s fine for a pair of tall folks in front and two shorter people in back. There is a center rear seat, but you wouldn’t want to sit back there because the bench is too narrow for three adults.
On a positive note, the CLA interior has been majorly improved. With its free-standing digital instruments, its large digital touch screen and circular turbine-look vents (with mood lighting), the CLA interior feels like a much more contemporary place, and the comfortable front seats have integral headrests.
In Mercedes tradition, the adjusters for the front power seats are on the door panels, and the seats themselves in the finest German tradition have enough rearward travel to satisfy drivers who are 6-foot-5 or maybe even taller. The CLA’s interior materials feel top-notch, and the shut-off button for the automatic start/stop system is conveniently located right below the push-button starter on the dash.
With the styling of the new 2020 CLA, it’s fair to say that Mercedes has hit a triple, maybe even a home run. The added width, the coupe-like roofline and short rear deck make for an especially handsome sedan, one that benefits further from power bulges in its hood, dual exhaust outlets, LED headlights and a rear license plate now integrated into the lower part of the bumper. What’s more, in a case of looking sleek really being sleek, Mercedes says the coefficient of drag for the new 2020 CLA 250, at 0.23, is among the lowest in the world for a production vehicle.
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Standard Features
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 is generously equipped. Standard features include the voice-activated Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system, LED headlights and taillights, a panoramic glass roof, 18-inch wheels, and horizontal 7-inch screens for the instruments and touch-screen multifunction controller. Other standard CLA 250 features include dual-zone climate control, push-button ignition, shift paddles, driver-selectable drive modes and automatic emergency braking, what
Mercedes calls Active Brake Assist.
Additional standard hardware found on the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 includes the specially tuned 302-horsepower engine, 4Matic all-wheel drive, AMG-calibrated suspension and driving modes, 18-inch AMG wheels and 64 colors of ambient interior lighting. Also significant: The CLA 35 comes standard with the larger 10.25-inch digital instrument panel and touch screen, plus 3-stage electronic stability control.
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Interior
The option list on the new CLA 250 is lengthy. We suspect the most popular items will be the larger 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and multifunction touch-screen controller (part of the DP1 Premium Package), plus a Driver Assistance Package that includes active cruise control, automatic emergency braking, a blind-spot-warning system and lane-keep assist. Active Parking Assist also is available on the CLA, as is an AMG package offering vented front brake rotors, a handful of styling tweaks and an AMG diamond-block grille.
Options available on the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 include the packages above plus AMG Track Pace, a system that lets you use your smart phone to track vehicle-specific data at your favorite racetrack. The CLA 35 also can be ordered with AMG’s Ride Control sport suspension, heated AMG seats (by Recaro) and an AMG Night Package that uses black trim in several places to give the car a sinister appearance. Nineteen-inch AMG wheels, in matte black, are a stand-alone option.
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Engine
Mounted transversely up front in the CLA 250 engine bay is an all-new turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder powerplant that produces 221 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and a substantial 258 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 4,000 rpm. A good blend of power and economy, the 4-cylinder endows the front-wheel-drive CLA 250 with EPA fuel-economy ratings of 25-mpg city/35-mpg highway/28-mpg combined. With 4Matic, those numbers drop to 23/33/27, respectively.
The twin-cam 16-valve engine in the new Mercedes-AMG CLA 35, courtesy of more turbo boost and a few other minor modifications, is tuned by AMG to produce 302 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque from 3,000 to 4,000 rpm.
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (CLA 250)
221 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,800-4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/35 mpg (FWD); 23/33 mpg (AWD)
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (AMG CLA 35)
302 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
295 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000-4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/29 mpg
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Exterior
The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of the all-new 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 is $36,650. With 4Matic all-wheel drive, the CLA 250 starts at $38,650. The destination fee for both models is $995.
With a healthy selection of options — such as the $2,250 Driver Assistance Package, a $1,950 AMG Styling Package, a $1,450 leather interior package and a $1,100 Premium Package that features the highly desirable larger digital instruments — the price of the CLA 250 can climb to about $55,000.
A new 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 has an MSRP of $46,900. When fitted with options such as the $3,270 AMG sport seats, the $2,250 Driver Assistance Package and a $1,150 Multimedia Package (that includes a navigation system with augmented reality), the CLA 35 hits nearly $65,000.
Which 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Model is Right for Me?
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
Front-wheel or all-wheel drive
Turbo 4-cylinder engine w/221 horsepower
MBUX driver interface
Multifunction leather steering wheel
2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA 35
4Matic all-wheel drive
Turbo 4-cylinder engine w/302 horsepower
Larger 10.25-inch digital instruments
AMG Ride Control suspension
18-inch AMG wheels, optional 19s