It might be the least expensive Benz available, but the 2018 Mercedes Cla250 swoopy design makes it one of the more stylish cars on the road. The only engine is a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder making 208 hp. It teams up with a seven-speed automatic and either standard front- or optional all-wheel drive. However, the steering is heavy and the ride can be harsh over rough roads. The interior design is handsome, but the infotainment display looks tacked on—and tacky. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are optional.
Other than a Metris van, the 2018 Mercedes Cla250 is the most affordable way to rock a new Mercedes-Benz. Introduced for the 2014 model year, it’s based on a front-wheel-drive platform shared with the GLA crossover and the Europe-market A-class hatchback. The CLA’s shape mimics that of the larger, twice-as-expensive CLS—both are sedans in the “four-door coupe” mold that Mercedes started with the original CLS. Although there’s a wicked AMG CLA45 variant with 375 horsepower, the standard CLA250 uses a modest, 208-hp version of its 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with either front- or 4MATIC all-wheel drive as in our test car.
Potential customers seem to dig it. With a starting price of only $33,325, the 2018 Mercedes Cla250 puts a sleek body behind a seven-inch-wide star prominently affixed to a chrome-studded grille. In a way, the CLA approximates a gold chain more than it does a compact car.
We haven’t tested a CLA since its first model year in 2014, and neither of those previous cars was as lavishly optioned as this example. At $50,250, our 2018 Mercedes Cla250 4MATIC checked so many boxes that it nearly matched the CLA45’s base figure. A well-equipped C300 4MATIC would be more compelling at this price, and a base E300 is only a couple grand more. But model overlap is common. Choice reigns at Mercedes-Benz, and the CLA is the starting point.
Minor changes abound for the 2018 model year. At the front, the bumper adds a contrasting strip in black, silver, or chrome. LED headlamps, as on our car, are optional ($850) and include revised LED taillamps. Trapezoidal exhaust tips now fit flush to the rear bumper. The wheel designs and the Lunar Blue Metallic paint on our car also are new. Inside, Mercedes added more silver-painted switchgear and swapped in a new steering wheel, revised instrument-cluster gauges, and changed the seat upholstery. A slim 8.0-inch infotainment screen is standard, replacing the smaller, thick-bordered display on earlier cars. The ambient lighting can switch among a dozen colors (and just for fun, the lighting cycles through every hue when the car is turned off).
The only significant hardware changes are standard automated emergency braking and Dynamic Select drive modes. The latter alters steering effort, throttle mapping, transmission shift logic, and—in models with adjustable suspension ($850), as in our test car—it will switch the dampers between two firmness levels.