Mercedes-Benz is known for making some of the best luxury vehicles in the world, but it’s also known for its rather prohibitive pricing. That stereotype isn’t as applicable as it used to be, however. Case in point: the 2022 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, a compact luxury sedan with a starting price under $40,000. It’s based on the even-smaller A-Class sedan that starts some $6,000 less but distinguishes itself with a sloping roofline for a “coupe-like” profile. Despite Mercedes calling the CLA a coupe, it is indeed a four-door sedan.
The current second-generation CLA-Class debuted in 2020, a year after the A-Class hit showrooms. The first-generation CLA was introduced in 2014 and was roundly criticized for its lazy driving dynamics, stiff ride, and some disappointing interior materials. Thankfully, those drawbacks have been addressed, and both the current A- and CLA-Classes are standard bearers for entry-level luxury. Both cars continue largely unchanged for 2022, but the smaller A-Class is being discontinued after this year, leaving the CLA as the most affordable sedan in the Mercedes-Benz stable.
The CLA won’t be alone in the small luxury sedan class, though. Its rivals include the Audi A3 and BMW 2 Series, which have both been fully redesigned for 2022, as well as the similarly-named but quite different 2 Series Gran Coupe, Cadillac CT4 and distinctly Scandanavian Volvo S60. The base CLA isn’t as sporty as comparable BMWs and Audis, but the available AMG variants definitively close the gap. Throughout the lineup, however, the CLA gains an advantage for its praiseworthy MBUX infotainment system.
The base CLA 250 starts at $39,250 and gets you plenty of features and technology to accompany the 221 horsepower four-cylinder engine that drives the front wheels. Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system can be added to that for $2,000 extra. More performance-focused shoppers may want to look into the AMG CLA 35 which increases power output to 302 horsepower and sharpens handling with a sport-tuned suspension. Then there’s the top-of-the-line AMG CLA 45 with 382 horsepower. Both AMG models come with all-wheel-drive (AWD) standard as well.
AMG CLAs ride a bit more harshly than standard versions, but they’re not uncomfortable for long journeys. The CLA’s weaknesses, however, are its tight back seat and tiny trunk, both relevant to journeying with passengers. By the standards of small compact sedans, 11.6 cubic-feet is not great compared to many sedans, but it’s actually quite decent for this class. There are 33.9 inches of rear legroom, not bad for this class, but the sleek sloping roof that helps make this car so stylish means just 35.7 inches of headroom and tall folks ducking to get in.
There’s enough daylight between each of these models to make it easy for shoppers to choose between mild, spicy, or hot versions. The vast majority of drivers will find the base CLA 250 will exceed their expectations for performance. The competition is fierce, though, and the new rivals from BMW and Audi deserve consideration alongside this entry-level Benz. The good news is, there’s really not a bad choice in the bunch.
The 2022 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class kicks off with the base CLA 250 powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission sends power to the front wheels. The CLA 250 4Matic adds AWD, which should interest those living in regions prone to foul weather. Mercedes estimates both models will accelerate to 60 mph in a brisk 6.3 seconds.
Stepping up to the AMG CLA 35 increases output to 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, which Mercedes claims will reach 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. By contrast, the AMG CLA 45 gets a partially hand-built engine with 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque and should only need 4.0 seconds to get to 60 mph. The downside to the 45 is its $56,950 price tag. For that much, you could opt for a larger vehicle like the BMW M340i.
In addition to the added power and quicker acceleration, the AMG models further benefit from improved handling, thanks to sport and performance suspension tunings. These stiffer settings will negatively affect comfort, but the available adaptive dampers will soften the ride quality to make them easier to live with in everyday driving. All CLA models are enjoyable to drive and are appropriately balanced for comfort and performance as you progress through the trim levels.
Fuel Economy: 10/15
The EPA estimates the CLA 250 will return 25 mpg city, 36 highway and 29 mpg in combined driving. Adding AWD drops that estimate slightly to 24 mpg city, 33 highway and 27 combined. Not surprisingly, the AMG models trade fuel economy for performance. The AMG CLA 35 is estimated at 21 mpg city, 29 highway and 24 mpg in combined driving. The AMG CLA 45 returns 20 mpg city, 28 highway and 23 mpg combined.
The Audi A3 beats the CLA’s estimates with a 32-mpg combined estimate for the base front-wheel-drive version and 31 mpg for the all-wheel-drive Quattro model. Meanwhile, the BMW 2 Series’ estimates are closer, at 29 mpg combined for the rear-drive 230i and 26 mpg for the six-cylinder all-wheel-drive M240i xDrive which is comparable to the AMG CLA 45. The 2 Series Gran Coupe’s MPG numbers are almost identical to those of the CLA, while the Cadillac CT4 is slightly shy of them.
The Volvo S60 is more of an outlier because it’s available in two T8 plug-in hybrid models. The Extended Range model is estimated to be able to travel as far as 40 miles on electricity alone and achieve 31 mpg on the hybrid powertrain when the battery is depleted. The standard PHEV model should return 22 miles of EV range and 30 mpg under hybrid power. The conventional B5 four-cylinder engines are estimated at 30 mpg combined for the front-drive and 28 mpg combined with AWD.
Safety & Driver Assistance Tech: 10/15
The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class has not been evaluated by the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) or the the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) but it did earn a five-star rating in 2019 from the European New Car Assessment Program (EuroNCAP), which performs similar tests to those agencies. The CLA comes standard with forward collision alerts with automatic emergency braking as well as a blind-spot monitor, crosswind steering assist, automatic emergency call service, and a drowsy driver monitor.
For an additional $1,700, the Driver Assistance package adds adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, cross-traffic alerts with automatic braking, evasive steering assist, emergency stop assist, lane-change assist, and a traffic sign reader with automatic speed adjustments. The $1,090 Parking Assistance package adds a surround-view camera and an automated parking system while the Exterior Lighting package includes adaptive headlights that shine through the curves and automatic high beams for $900. An integrated dashcam is also offered for $200.
Comfort & Room: 12/15
The CLA provides adequate front-seat space for taller drivers and passengers, but rear seats are better suited to smaller occupants. The sloping rear roofline reduces rear-seat headroom to 35.7 inches, which is cramped for the class. By comparison, the more sedan-like A-Class on which the CLA is based provides 37.2 inches of rear headroom. If you plan on regularly having to shuttle rear passengers, the A-Class or larger luxury sedans will be a better choice.
The base front seats have plenty of power adjustments to ensure you’ll easily find your preferred position and the MB-Tex simulated leather upholstery looks and feels convincing and breathes well in warm weather. To further enhance comfort, available options include multi-contour seats with more adjustments, heating, and ventilation.
Among the class of small luxury sedans, only the two-door BMW 2 Series has less rear-passenger space, with only 35 inches of headroom and 32.2 inches of legroom, compared to the CLA’s 33.9 inches of rear legroom. Volvo, Audi and the 2 Series Gran Coupe all offer more rear legroom and headroom, though the bigger-on-the-outside Cadillac somehow offers fractionally less rear legroom than the Mercedes.
The CLA’s 7-inch infotainment display is on the small side for contemporary screens, but the MBUX infotainment system is so good the screen size really isn’t that relevant. Users have four ways to control the infotainment system: via the touchscreen, through a trackpad mounted on the center console, with a small trackpad on the steering wheel, or by natural speech commands. Operation is further simplified thanks to a good amount of physical buttons and switches for climate control and infotainment shortcuts. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard equipment.
Having a variety of ways to control the system ensures that most drivers will be able to use their preferred method. The menu structure is intuitive and MBUX is one of the least-distracting systems to use while driving. We’re particularly impressed with the voice controls that recognize natural speech patterns, meaning you can just say, “Hey Mercedes, I’m a little cold” and the system will increase the temperature for you. It works equally well for navigation and opther functions, but it is dependent on cloud data, so voice functions won’t work if you are out of a coverage area.
Cargo Space & Storage: 13/15
The CLA can hold up to 11.6 cubic-feet of cargo in its trunk. That figure matches the Volvo S60’s capacity, tying them for the largest trunk in this small group of sedans. It’s not huge compared to the Audi A3’s 10.9 or BMW 2 Series’ 10.0 cubic-feet, but it’s worth pointing out the A-Class’ trunk is oddly smaller, at a mere 8.6 cubic-feet. The rear seats are split 40/20/40 to maximize flexibility between passengers and cargo.
The deep center armrest bin and large door pockets are great for keeping your personal items in place and a wireless charging pad handily secures your phone. On the whole, while it’s still small in the grand scheme of things, the CLA is a bit more accommodating than its rivals in this category.
Style & Design: 9/10
Despite the CLA’s entry-level positioning in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, it’s just as attractive as more expensive models. From the front, the CLA is nearly indistinguishable from the A-Class and both fit in well with the larger C- and E-Class sedans. The profile is where the CLA diverges from the A-Class, with a gracefully arching roofline and longer trunk. Opting for the AMG variants will appropriately spice up the aesthetics with larger air inlets, bigger wheels, blacked-out accents and additional aerodynamic elements.
You’re also not missing anything on the inside, as the CLA’s interior is built just as sturdily as other Mercedes-Benz vehicles. There are a few more hard plastic surfaces here and there, but the quality is better than non-luxury branded cars. Even after several thousand miles, the cabin remains blissfully absent of creaks and squeaks, fulfilling expectations for the brand. Only Volvo’s beautifully-designed interiors are comparable among the CLA’s direct rivals.
Is the 2022 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Worth it? Which CLA is the Best Value?
The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is priced almost in lock-step with the BMW 2 Series and Volvo S60 and each come with a comparable list of features, though the Volvo does get you more safety-related tech and a little more room. The base Audi A3 does stand out for its price that comes in a few thousand dollars less, though. Pricing remains similar as you progress to the higher-performing models, though the Volvos switch to the plug-in hybrids instead of sportier trims.
We’re certain that the vast majority of drivers will find the base CLA 250 ($39,250 including a $1,050 destination fee) more than adequate when it comes to power and performance. In regard to luxury and technology, all of the significant features are available as options, so you won’t be missing out on anything there, and the $1,700 Driver Assistance package brings world-class systems. We recommend the AMG models only for the rare driver who really loves this machine and can justify the added cost.
How Much Does it Cost to Insure the Mercedes-Benz CLA?
The CLA costs a little more to insure than its competitors. According to our data, the average 30-year-old female driver with a good record can expect an average annual premium of $2,745 for a CLA 250 4Matic and a whopping $4,234 for the AMG CLA 35. That compares to $2,584 for the BMW 230i or $2,560 for the 228i Gran Coupe, $2,417 for Audi’s A3 Premium Plus, $2,572 for the Cadillac CT4 Luxury, and $2,490 for the Volvo S60 B5 R-Design. To get a more accurate picture of your potential insurance expenses, see our car insurance calculator.