2020 Mercedes CLA Review
  • Car Review

2020 Mercedes CLA Review

By Autolist Staff | January 16, 2020

The 2020 CLA is the second generation of Mercedes' compact four-door car that mimics larger sporty coupes, but with the benefit of two additional doors and a lower starting price. It competes most directly with compact four-door sedans including the Acura ILX, Audi A3, Cadillac CT4, Mercedes' own A-Class sedan, as well as the two-door BMW 2 Series Coupe and upcoming four-door BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class has been redesigned for 2020, inheriting many of the design touches and technology from the more upright A-Class sedan. That includes the prominent MBUX infotainment technology, which features two TFT displays in place of physical dials, and offers things such as augmented reality navigation.

The CLA 250 is also about $4,000 more expensive than the A 220 sedan, starting at $37,645, although it does have more standard horsepower. And there are high-performance AMG versions for those looking for a compact Mercedes with more vigor. That gives the 2020 Mercedes CLA one of the broadest lineups among compact luxury cars.

Pros:

  • Striking styling inside and out.
  • More extensive interior technology.
  • Numerous performance derivatives.

Cons:

  • Controls can be complex.
  • Styling impacts practicality.
  • More expensive than similar Mercedes A-Class.

Exterior

TL;DR: The CLA cuts a more dashing look than the A-Class and looks like a mini CLS.

The CLA’s main draw is its styling. When compared to compact sedans, even Mercedes’ own A-Class, it is decidedly more sporty and coupe-like (Mercedes likes to call it a “four-door coupe”). The Acura ILX and Audi A3 are traditionally upright, and the Cadillac CT4 only slightly less so. Even the BMW 2 Series Coupe is arguably more traditional looking than the CLA. Only the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe does anything similar, also described as a “four-door coupe.”

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To some, the CLA invokes strong images of the larger and more prestigious Mercedes CLS-Class, with its frameless side glass on the doors and sharply sloping roof. There are even noticeable echoes of them in the front, side, and rear. The prominent Mercedes emblem in the back even serves as the way to open the trunk from the outside. Standard LED lights also add some nighttime jewelry to the look.

And compared to the previous model, the CLA is arguably more like the CLS in terms of detailing, with a smoother appearance and more refined overall profile that reviewers seem to prefer. Some of the increased elegance might be attributed to the additional two inches in length and width, which helps give the new CLA a more significant presence than the outgoing car. That width also sets it apart from the A-Class sedan, making it look a little more expensive (which it is).

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For those who want four doors but don’t want to exude a practical nature, the CLA’s fetching looks may seal the deal.

Interior

TL;DR: Emphasis on style extends inside into a somewhat intimate cabin.

Coupes are typically image-driven, and even though the CLA has four doors, the style and detailing that makes the exterior special is also evident inside.

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Much of the interior is borrowed from the A-Class sedan. However, the 2020 CLA’s cockpit is much improved over the outgoing model’s. It’s no longer Mercedes-Benz’s least expensive model, and that’s evident from first impressions. Materials are generally regarded by reviewers as on par with more expensive Mercedes cars, however. The CLA features the same turbine-style air vents as the A-Class, even though some pieces are painted hard plastics rather than metal or wood. Overall, though, many other pieces of switchgear having the same heft as the C or even E classes.

Yet compared to the A-Class, the CLA’s interior feels a little more aggressive. That’s mostly the product of different seats and shorter windows that are the result of its sloping roofline. At least a standard panoramic roof helps relieve claustrophobia. But otherwise, features and quality are about the same. Most models will be dominated by two 10.5-inch TFT displays (seven-inch ones are standard). One of these sits in front of the driver to display speed and vehicle information. The one in the center of the dashboard handles all infotainment functions. With an available 64-color ambient lighting system, Mercedes has managed a modern atmosphere that is far removed from its larger and arguably more stodgy models. Heated and cooled front seats are also available to improve perceived comfort and quality.

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By comparison, the Acura, Audi, and BMW have had the same interior designs for several years now and feature smaller infotainment screens. At least Audi brought in the digital gauges from more expensive models.

Just like the outside, for those who prioritize style, the CLA may be the winner in the interior stakes.

Utility & Practicality

TL;DR: Give up practicality, gain style.

One of the biggest attractions of a coupe can also lead to one of its biggest shortcomings. That sloping roof may look cool from the outside, but can seriously impact headroom inside, especially for taller passengers. The 2020 CLA largely escapes this, however.

On the space front, the headroom is regarded as a significant improvement over the previous CLA, especially for rear passengers. Testers approaching six-feet-tall find the headliner brushes their hair, but there is reportedly enough legroom to slump down a little. And the added width helps make things a little airier for four passengers. While there is a fifth seatbelt, don’t expect to seat three adults across the back seat without lots of fidgeting.

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Front space is almost as good as in the similar A-Class sedan except for the loss of headroom. Ultimately, count on the CLA being slightly more snug than a traditional sedan like the A3, CT4, or ILX. But having four doors makes it better at accessing the rear seat than the BMW 2 Series Coupe, for example. The 2 Series Gran Coupe will have a similar layout as the CLA.

Mercedes-Benz has not published official trunk capacity figures for the 2020 CLA but told reviewers it’s slightly less than last year’s 13.1 cubic feet. Still, the A3 only holds ten cubic feet and even the two-door 2 Series Coupe nearly 14. Only the CT4’s 10.7 cubic feet seems especially paltry in this class. The A3 and 2 Series Coupe have relatively square opening and shape for the cargo area, while the CLA’s aggressive styling makes it more difficult to access the space and load a tall object inside.

Infotainment & Technology

TL;DR: Technology will dazzle passengers, possibly confuse drivers

Like several new Mercedes vehicles, in-car technology is a centerpiece of the CLA’s interior. Yet like those new vehicles, it may be overwhelming to some drivers. At least passengers might be impressed.

The 2020 CLA is the latest Mercedes model to use the company’s newest infotainment system, called MBUX. It effectively connects the two TFT screens in the cabin to control vehicle, audio, navigation, and ventilation functions. A touchpad in the center console can navigate through the features, but you can also touch the center display or use two touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel. Or you could also use Mercedes’ new voice assistant to change the temperature, for example, by saying, “Hey Mercedes.”

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While all of this sounds technically amazing, several reviewers found it complicated to do simple functions such as changing a radio station, and that none of the controls worked smoothly. At least there are physical buttons for some functions such as heating and cooling. And the screens themselves, especially with the optional 10.25-inch displays, are of high resolution (seven-inch units are standard).

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but the CLA comes only with three USB-C ports. Depending on their phones, buyers may need to invest in some adapters to connect their devices.

Major tech options include augmented reality for the navigation system to see precisely the intersection or destination that you should look out for. Those directions can also be shown on an optional head-up display.

And this Mercedes has more comprehensive technology than the comparatively old designs of the ILX and 2 Series Coupe, while the A3 is also feeling its age. Its primary competition for technology likely comes from the new 2 Series Gran Coupe and CT4.

Safety

TL;DR: More standard technology than last year is good, but many features remain optional.

The 2020 CLA is updated with numerous driver assistance technologies from larger Mercedes models, including an advanced system that can perform modest steering inputs. But these will be options when less expensive mainstream models make them standard.

Every CLA now gets automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, an attention-monitoring system for the driver to detect drowsiness and crosswind assist.

Options include active LED headlamps, blind-spot monitoring, and a 360-degree camera. A comprehensive option package includes adaptive cruise control with high-speed emergency braking, active lane-keep assist, active blind-spot monitoring, and a lane change assist.

The navigation system can also be equipped with a speed-based re-routing system.

The active steering assist can make steering corrections, but the driver cannot keep their hands off the wheel for more than a few seconds. However, Mercedes says the system uses cameras and radars to monitor the road up to 1,640 feet ahead of the vehicle.

In contrast, the Acura ILX makes adaptive cruise control and active lane-keep assist standard on all models – and that car starts at roughly $10,000 less than the Mercedes. The Cadillac CT4 will get the company’s lauded Super Cruise driver assistance system in 2020, which can make hands-free lane changes on highways in the U.S. and Canada.

Neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, have posted test results for the 2020 CLA.

Driving Experience

TL;DR: CLA is more refined than before, more aggressive than sedan sibling.

The CLA doesn’t just look more sporting than the A-Class; it has the power to back it up. Not only is the standard version more powerful than before, but there are two performance-oriented models with high-performance numbers to match.

The CLA 250 comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Power is up 13 over the 2019 CLA 250, and 33 over the A 220 sedan. The only transmission available with this engine is a 7-speed dual-clutch automated transmission. Mercedes estimates the CLA 250 gets from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, even with optional all-wheel-drive.

The Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 is equipped with a 302-horsepower version of the engine, with 295 pound-feet of torque and a manufacturer-estimated 0-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds. And the CLA 45 goes even further with 362 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque, with Mercedes estimating a 4-second 0-60 time – along with the promise of a top speed of 155 mph.

As far as the way the standard CLA 250 drives, reviewers say it feels more athletic and taut than the A 220, as well as more composed and substantial that the previous CLA 250. The engine provides strong power from the start and quickly gets up to highway speeds (and then some). However, some say the transmission suffers from hesitant shifts at low speeds and that it isn’t as smooth as some of the company’s traditional automatic transmissions.

In this company, the rear-wheel-drive BMW 2 Series Coupe and Cadillac CT4 may offer more rewarding driving experiences, especially to those used to Mercedes’ rear-wheel-drive models such as the C-Class. Opting for the CLA’s all-wheel-drive system (standard on the AMG CLA 35 and CLA 45 models) could be a fix.

Still, the CLA will likely be a satisfying drive for most buyers looking for Mercedes virtues in a smaller package that feels more youthful.

Fuel Efficiency

TL;DR: Fuel economy estimates show the CLA is just as efficient as less powerful rivals.

The EPA estimates the 2020 CLA 250 will achieve 25 mpg city, 35 highway, and 28 in combined city/highway driving. The all-wheel-drive CLA 250 4Matic is rated at 23 city, 33 highway and 27 combined. Estimates for the CLA 35 and CLA 45 are not yet available.

The less powerful A 220 models achieve 28 mpg combined, with roughly the same city and highway estimates, so there’s no benefit in going for fewer horsepower in this case. The CLA’s superior aerodynamics likely are at play there.

By comparison, a front-wheel-drive Audi A3 achieves a marginally better 26 mpg city, 35 highway and 29 combined. But opt for the more powerful and all-wheel-drive A3, and the numbers drop to 22 city, 30 highway and 25 combined. The far less powerful Acura ILX is no better than the CLA 250, either, at 28 mpg combined, and the BMW 230i Coupe is at 27.

Trim Level and Pricing

The 2020 CLA is available in three versions with various levels of performance.

The CLA 250 starts from $37,645, including a $995 destination charge. The 4Matic all-wheel-drive version starts from $39,645. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 221 horsepower and 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is the only powertrain.

Standard equipment includes LED headlamps and taillights, panoramic roof, 18-inch wheels, and the MBUX infotainment system with two 7-inch displays – including a touchscreen for media functions. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with smartphone integration are also standard. Significant options include leather upholstery, a 64-color ambient lighting system, the 10.25-inch digital displays, navigation package with augmented reality, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise with active driver assistance technologies, Burmester audio system and various wheel and trim packages.

The Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 is the first performance trim. It starts with a 302-horsepower version of the CLA 250’s engine, along with standard all-wheel-drive. The CLA 35 gets a distinctive hood design, as well as changes to the front and rear bumpers and a rear spoiler. Inside, the 64-color ambient lighting system is standard, along with the 10.25-inch displays for the infotainment system. The infotainment system also includes special readouts for track times. Options are similar to those on the CLA 250, including 19-inch wheels and sport seats with Dinamica inserts. Prices for the CLA 35 are not yet available.

Finally, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 offers the most performance in the CLA. It comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 362 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque, along with a more aggressive all-wheel-drive system and rear axle. The CLA 45 also adds a distinctive AMG grille and standard 19-inch wheels, as well as different lower body trim. And an active exhaust system changes the sound based on the drive mode selected.

An optional AMG Aerodynamic Package includes exterior revisions to the lower front trim and adds a rear spoiler, while a Night Package makes the exterior trim a gloss black. The AMG Ride Control system allows the driver to switch between three settings for either a better ride or firmer handling. Performance race seats and Nappa leather upholstery or Dinamica synthetic fabric are among the interior options. Prices for the CLA 45 are not yet available.

Value

Among compact luxury vehicles, the CLA is a slightly more expensive choice and slightly less well-equipped than some. But it offers more standard performance without a fuel economy penalty and throws in some striking looks inside and out. It has somewhat more practicality than a two-door like the BMW 230i Coupe but isn’t as accommodating for rear passengers as a traditional sedan like an Audi A3. And Mercedes’ own A-Class sedan may take a hit in performance, but offers basically the same features as the CLA for thousands less. However, both feature complicated controls and make optional some advanced safety and technology features that competitors make standard.

Ultimately, it comes down to whether the CLA’s smooth lines are worth the sacrifice over a more traditional sedan. That may be worth the added initial outlay.

More Photos

See more 2020 Mercedes CLA Photos.