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The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Is Sleeker, Smarter, and Finally Done Right

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 1/8/2019 Daniel Golson
a car parked on the side of a road: Say what you will about the Mercedes-Benz CLA, the compact "four-door coupe" has been a roaring success, with more than 750,000 sold worldwide since its introduction in 2013. Nearly 150,000 were sold in the United States alone, with sales surely helped by the CLA's low price: it was originally advertised at started under $30,000. It was never as stylish as it set out to be, though, and instead of being a Mercedes that happened to be cheap, it was more like a cheap car that happened to have a Mercedes badge. Now, with the new A-class sedan taking the lowest rung on the Benz totem pole, the brand is repositioning the CLA to be a sportier, more stylish, and more upscale compact offering-what it should have been from the beginning.

Say what you will about the Mercedes-Benz CLA, the compact "four-door coupe" has been a roaring success, with more than 750,000 sold worldwide since its introduction in 2013. Nearly 150,000 were sold in the United States alone, with sales surely helped by the CLA's low price: it was originally advertised starting under $30,000. It was never as stylish as it set out to be, though, and instead of being a Mercedes that happened to be cheap, it was more like a cheap car that happened to have a Mercedes badge. Now, with the new A-class sedan taking the lowest rung on the Benz totem pole, the brand is repositioning the CLA to be a sportier, more stylish, and more upscale compact offering-what it should have been from the beginning.

a car driving on a road: The second generation of Benz's fashion-forward four-door is sleeker, smarter, and finally deserving of the three-pointed star.© Mercedes-Benz The second generation of Benz's fashion-forward four-door is sleeker, smarter, and finally deserving of the three-pointed star.

The second-generation CLA, which debuted today at CES in Las Vegas, immediately makes a much better impression than the outgoing generation did. No longer is it stumpy, dumpy, and weird; it has a mini-CLS look, albeit with front-wheel-drive proportions and more aggressive and angular design details. The smoother body helps the CLA to look more expensive than it really is, and the aerodynamics have been improved. The CLA is on the same all-new platform that underpins the A-class, and Mercedes says suspension and steering improvements make it the best-driving of all Benz's new compact models. It has grown 1.9 inches longer and 2.0 inches wider, rides on a 1.1-inch-longer wheelbase, and is slightly lower to the ground than before, making it even larger than the A-class sedan.

a car parked next to a body of water: 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA© Mercedes-Benz 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA

To back up the CLA's sportier looks and further set it apart from the lowly A-class, the new model will only be offered in CLA250 form, with a new turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four making 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. That's 33 horses and 37 lb-ft more than the A220 makes (and a 13-hp bump over the current CLA250). Front-wheel drive is standard with 4Matic all-wheel drive as an option, and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is the only transmission choice. Mercedes gives no performance estimates for the new CLA, but it should better the 6.1-second zero-to-60-mph time we achieved in an A220 4Matic by a tenth or two. Performance lovers that we are at C/D, we can't wait for the AMG models-both a 300-hp CLA35 (previewed by the new A35) and a 400-plus-hp CLA45 are on the near horizon.

If the introduction of the new CLA at a technology show instead of a traditional auto show comes as a surprise, it shouldn't. Mercedes is making a big deal that the CLA's MBUX infotainment system, which debuted in the A-class in early 2018, has already been improved. The voice-control system, which the user activates by saying "Hey, Mercedes," is now able to answer complex questions like "What child-friendly Asian restaurants are nearby that are neither Chinese nor Japanese?" The system also will no longer get confused by talking passengers; it will only recognize and respond to the last person who says "Hey, Mercedes."

a boat sitting on top of a car: 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA© Mercedes-Benz 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA

The rest of the interior is nearly identical to the A-class, with a funky dashboard design, two standard 7.0-inch screens (10.3-inch units are optional), and a more playful use of materials than in other Benz models. Other new tech features include gesture-activated interior dome lights, a suite of active-safety and semi-autonomous systems, adaptive LED headlights, and a surround-view camera.

We were impressed by the refinement, chassis, powertrain, and tech found in the new A-class, and the second-gen CLA looks to improve further on all of the A's strong points. For those who want a fashion-forward compact four-door, the new CLA finally seems to have hit the mark.

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