Mercedes-Benz's new entry-level car, the CLA, is a fun-to-drive, turbocharged, front-drive, compact sedan that looks more expensive than its $30,825 starting retail price.
In fact, this lowest-priced Mercedes presents a competitive alternative to the 2014 BMW 3-Series and 2015 Audi A3 sedans.
Price isn't the only attraction of the CLA.
The CLA's federal government fuel efficiency ratings of 26 miles per gallon in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway are higher than those of the 3-Series and A3.
Additionally, the CLA comes standard with a fuel-saving stop-start system that automatically shuts off the engine during most stops when the engine usually would idle, say, at stoplights. The car starts up on its own when it's time to move.
Yet, despite the fuel-thrifty engineering, the CLA's 208-horsepower, turbo four cylinder packs a punch and can push passengers' backs into the seats during acceleration.
This four-door Mercedes looks sleek and sporty on the outside, with a coupe-like profile and exterior styling that borrows heavily from the Mercedes CLS "coupe-style" sedan that starts at $73,025.
The CLA interior is nicely crafted, too, with well-placed controls and properly stitched seat and center console trim.
Even Mercedes' MB-Tex faux leather seat material looks and feels good in the CLA and can pass for real the real thing while saving the buyer the $1,500 option price for leather.
Best of all, perhaps, for money-conscious car buyers pining to drive a Mercedes, the CLA can be configured with extras such as rearview camera, navigation system, heated front seats and harmon/kardon surround sound system while the price stays below $36,000.
There are, however, no reliability ratings yet for the CLA, which is built in a new factory in .
And rear seat room in the CLA can feel cramped.
The CLA's starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $30,825 is $5,900 less than that for the previous Mercedes price leader, the C-Class. A 2014 CLA with all-wheel drive starts at $32,825.
Meantime, the starting retail price, including destination charge, for a front-wheel drive, 2015 Audi A3 sedan is $30,795 with 170-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder and six-speed, dual-clutch transmission. A 2015 A3 sedan with larger turbo four cylinder that develops 220 horsepower has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $33,795. Note this upper level A3 comes standard with all-wheel drive.
Another competitor to the CLA — the rear-wheel drive, 2014 BMW 320i — has a starting retail price of $33,675 with a twin-turbocharged four cylinder generating 180 horsepower. This model comes standard with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The base price notwithstanding, it can be easy for CLA buyers to drive away from dealerships with CLAs priced above $40,000. The test CLA250, for example, topped out at $43,245 because it had $12,420 in options on it. And, it's worth noting, even at that price, the CLA tester did not have leather seats.
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