2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA is just like the A-Class, only swoopier
Mercedes' techy, swoopy, compact four-door makes its debut at CES 2019.
Emme HallFormer editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
The CLA-Class launched in 2013 as the smallest, least-expensive Mercedes-Benz you could buy in the United States. The small four-door with a sloping, coupe-like roofline was fairly popular, even though it wasn't super good. So following the launch of the new A-Class sedan last year, we're getting a new CLA in time for the 2020 model year, and this one's a whole lot better than its predecessor.
The CLA will join the A-Class and GLE-Class SUV in offering Mercedes' new MBUX infotainment system. This next-generation system promises to be a huge leap over the COMAND interface we've been working with for a while. An improved voice control setup recognizes the phrase "Hey Mercedes," and can reply to complicated questions. Mercedes-Benz gave the example, "Hey Mercedes, which child-friendly Asian restaurants are nearby that are neither Chinese or Japanese?" I haven't sampled the system yet so I can't vouch for its reply, in our previous experiences, we've found it to be a mostly glitch-free setup.
MBUX is housed on a standard seven-inch screen, with the accompanying seven-inch gauge cluster, but most folks will likely upgrade to the larger 10.25-inch screens. The screen is operated by touch, natch, but also by touch pads on the redesigned steering wheel as well as a new touchpad on the center console. Thankfully Mercedes-Benz has ditched the old phone-integration-for-$350 plan and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard.
The CLA also gets the available Interior Assistant, first seen on the GLE. This gesture-control system takes out all that pesky button-pushing, so if you want a map light turned on, simply wave your hand towards the rear-view mirror. Need to light up the empty passenger seat? A mere gesture over the seat sheds some light. Mercedes-Benz says the technology works during the day and in complete darkness, as well.
Interior Assistant can also be used to activate a favorite function. Just throw a V finger-gesture over the center console and your personal pre-programmed favorite is loaded up and ready to go. The system can distinguish between passenger and driver's hands and bring up each person's favorite function, accordingly.
The current CLA already has adaptive cruise control, but the tech gets a bump for 2020 with route-based speed control. Utilizing the GPS, the car will automatically slow down for curves, toll plazas and the like. It can also modulate speed when crossing into a slower speed zone.
Other new driver's aids in the CLA include active steering assist to keep the car centered in the lane as well as active lane-change assist. Active emergency stop will bring the car to a complete stop if the system thinks you aren't paying attention or are otherwise incapacitated.
These new offerings, coupled with the now de rigueur blind spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist, mean the CLA will be one of the most techy compact offerings on the market.
Things get a bit of a tweak under the hood for 2020. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine gets a bump of 13 horses to 221 horsepower, but torque remains the same at 258 pound-feet of twist. Torque availability is between 1,800 and 4,000 rpm instead of the 1,250 and 4,000 rpm of the 2019 model. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission puts the power down to the front wheels, while all-wheel drive remains an option.
Though I haven't gotten a taste of the CLA from the driver's seat, the hardware looks to provide a pretty sporty ride. Sway bars are thicker than in previous years to keep body roll in check and a wider stance gives the new CLA a lower center of gravity. The electric power steering has been modified to take advantage of all the little four-door has to offer, including an optional adaptive suspension program.
The 2020 CLA is a much better looking car than previous generations, thanks to a tucked in hood and new front fascia with tightly-designed headlamps. The greenhouse is small, emphasizing a wider stance. The 2020 model year has a one inch longer wheelbase and is about two inches longer overall. Cargo space decreases just a tad, down to 16.2 cubic feet of space from 16.5. You can't have your fake-coupe and cargo too, people.
Inside, the design echoes that of the new A-Class -- that is to say, the now ubiquitous turbine-inspired HVAC vents are front and center, topped by the optional larger screens and plenty of ambient lighting.
Mercedes-Benz did not offer any information on pricing, but the current CLA starts at $33,100 for front-wheel drive and can easily jump to the mid-$40,000s with a few option boxes ticked. With the wealth of new tech available in the 2020 model, I expect it to start closer to $40,000 and go up from there. Of course, given how attractive the A-Class is, you'd have to really want that swoopy liftback shape to pony up for the CLA. It's an interesting decision for Mercedes to sell both simultaneously, but hey, no company knows how to slice up niche segments like Mercedes-Benz.
Look for the 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA to hit US dealerships in late 2019.
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA cuts a sharp figure at CES 2019