2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA First Drive Review: Round 2 TKO

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The first-generation Mercedes-Benz CLA met with so much success that the follow-up had to be great. The new 2020 Mercedes-CLA is now just as good as it looks.

Munich, Germany — It happens more often than I should admit but I’ve driven cars that I dislike, made it known, only to see said car become a massive success for its builder. The Mercedes-Benz CLA is one such example. When it launched, I thought it looked good but ultimately believed it was a half-arsed Mercedes, built exclusively to make money.

And that it did as more than three quarters of a million were sold in barely more than five years. I stand by my impressions that, even after reviewing it two or three times, Mercedes-Benz unassumingly designed an attractive shell around left-over parts and a questionable cabin to see what would happen.


Shares all the good stuff from the A Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

For round 2, Benz rolled up its sleeves, broke out the good silverware and China with the simple intent to impress. Like the 1st CLA, the new one shares its underpinnings with the A Class but things are dramatically different now. The old A Class was a “cheap” Mercedes but the new car, as we’ve outlined in our reviews of the A 220 sedan and the A 250 hatchback, is nothing short of an incredible offering.

As the foundation on which the new CLA is built, it could not lose. In fact, as I write these lines, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA is a far better car than the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupé and more than a serious match for the Audi A5 Sportback. I am aware that the CLA is notch below these cars “scale” wise but that shows you how compelling it has become.


Minutely bigger, much prettier

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The CLA’s 4-door coupé shell has evolved wonderfully, and subtly. Much like the new CLS, the CLA has shed exaggerated creases and highlights in favour clean flowing visual cues. The new car’s foot print is fractionally larger but then it looks far more mature, and larger. And bonus for Canadian buyers: all our CLAs will be of the AMG line with sportier everything. It’s a good look.

Size gains in the cabin are equally limited despite the wheelbase increase representing the biggest expanse. The rear bench remains snug for two and watch your head when dropping in. Up front, all is very good. There’s a newfound attention to detail, classier materials and better fit and finish than the old car – this interior is befitting of the oversized 3-pointed star on its front grille.


MBUX tech

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Like the A Class, the CLA wins the display war with standard twin 7-inch screens which grow to 10.25 inches as an option. With all CLAs, MBUX is a standard feature. Interestingly, it is not yet offered in the new 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT

Funny thing about the MBUX is that it’s actually listening. On numerous occasions, while driving and talking with my partner, “Mercedes” came online to see what it could do to help. Every time, we thought we’d accidentally hit a prompt button but it was only at the end of the day that we realized that in the course of our conversation, we had said the word “Mercedes” and the car thought it was being summoned.


The 250 is just right

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The main reason for flying us out to Germany was to drive the car. In Europe, CLA buyers will be presented with a large number of powertrain options whereas we Canadian will only be offered the 250 4MATIC. This explains why we spent all morning in a CLA 220 and a CLA 250 in the afternoon. This was a happy coincidence as these are the A Class’ two powertrains. Although both feature a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine and a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox, the 250’s 221-horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque provide far more pleasure than the 220’s 188 and 221, respectively.

We’d normally be quick to dismiss the 250 as the pedestrian version but torque builds up quickly and is full on as of 1,800 rpm. With the brilliant 7-speed DCT, the CLA 250 catches 100 km/h in only 6.3 seconds.

While the power is good, the ride happens to be better and this is key. The 1st generation CLA sounded tinny, thin and lacked refinement whereas the new car is all premium and upscale. It’s quieter and more sophisticated in every way, right down to the controls. Steering is on point with excellent precision, the brakes are strong and never grabby and road manners are a seamless blend of sport and comfort. To be clear, the new CLA, and A Class for that matter, are at the very least as good as the C Class.


What affordable Mercedes-Benz to buy?

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

And herein lies the Mercedes-Benz’s marketing department’s challenge. With three impressive cars to select from, how does one promote one over the other? Actually, Benz has figured it out already: The A 250 is the playful hatchback, the A 220 is the gateway bargain and the CLA 250 will continue to stand as the first ring to Mercedes’s aspirational products. And it’ll work quite well.

My money would go on the A 250 because hatch but I’m thinking I’d wait and price a 35. Both the A 35 and CLA 35 are on the way. No confirmation on the 45 at the moment but we are holding our breath.

As the car is not expected until later this year, pricing is not yet known. A 2019 CLA 250 4MATIC starts at $42,500 and although the new 2020 CLA is leaps and bounds ahead of this one, we suspect pricing to remain in the same ballpark if only to be competitive.


2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Photo Gallery

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA | Photo: Matt St-Pierre
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA | Photo: Matt St-Pierre
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

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