The Truth About Cars » mercedes-benz cla http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 12 Sep 2014 23:54:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » mercedes-benz cla http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Volkswagen Shows Off CLA Competitor In Chengdu http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/volkswagen-shows-cla-competitor-chengdu/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/volkswagen-shows-cla-competitor-chengdu/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 16:50:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=903378 Volkswagen’s latest MQB-based vehicle is another challenge to Mercedes-Benz – the last time they threw down the gauntlet against Daimler, we ended up with the Phaeton. This should fare a bit better. Dubbed the “Lamando”, the vehicle in question is based on the MK7 Golf and its MQB chassis, and uses both the 1.4L and 2.0L […]

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Volkswagen’s latest MQB-based vehicle is another challenge to Mercedes-Benz – the last time they threw down the gauntlet against Daimler, we ended up with the Phaeton. This should fare a bit better.

Dubbed the “Lamando”, the vehicle in question is based on the MK7 Golf and its MQB chassis, and uses both the 1.4L and 2.0L TSI 4-cylinder engines, along with a 7-speed DSG gearbox. The Lamando will be built in China, for the Chinese market only, with a starting price of about $29,000. This puts it in direct competition with the Mercedes-Benz CLA.

Live shots of the car can be seen here.  Sales of the Americanized Jetta have slumped recently, despite a strong (but price-driven) introduction. A car like this would do a lot to add some pizzazz to Volkswagen’s compact sedan, and given its MQB bones, it could likely be built in Mexico easily. How about it, VW?

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Capsule Review: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4Matic http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/capsule-review-2014-mercedes-benz-cla250-4matic/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/capsule-review-2014-mercedes-benz-cla250-4matic/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 13:30:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=901154 If it looks like a Benz and goes like a Benz, it’s probably a Benz. And if it’s missing some of the trademark Benz-like qualities you noticed in your friend’s well-off uncle’s W124 300E in the late 80s, it’s still a Benz. So much a Benz, in fact, that numerous neighbours refused to believe that […]

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2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4MaticIf it looks like a Benz and goes like a Benz, it’s probably a Benz.

And if it’s missing some of the trademark Benz-like qualities you noticed in your friend’s well-off uncle’s W124 300E in the late 80s, it’s still a Benz.

So much a Benz, in fact, that numerous neighbours refused to believe that the bright red CLA250 4Matic that visited us in mid-August was Mercedes-Benz’s entry-level car. None of those neighbours visited the inside of the car.

When told that it’s a lesser car than the CLS or E or S or even C, those neighbours warm to a notion created over time, both by marketing and in their own aspirational minds, which says they could have all that inherent Mercedes-Benz goodness with an affordable price tag.

It sounds so easy: big brand, little car, the loss of some frivolous luxuries, the removal of a few horsepower, and a deep discount.

It’s not so easy.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4Matic red frontMany a luxury item has been removed, and I’m alright with that, but then again, many such features have been added back into this particular Mercedes-Benz Canada car, which would cost slightly more than $40,000 in the U.S. if it could be equipped identically.

But with the loss of luxury features like massaging seats and air suspension from high-end models, and even with the re-insertion of premium features like navigation and Bi-Xenons and a big glass roof, the attractive CLA250 interior is let down by a large amount of cheap plastic through the centre console and a screen that’s unconvincingly tacked on.

The best aspect of the CLA’s interior is the look of it, from the vents to the seatbacks to the simple but elegant layout of the controls. As much as the centre-mounted screen isn’t attractively placed, it is functional, requiring very little removal of the driver’s eyes from the road. I’ll always prefer a control knob mounted between the front seats, as in the CLA, compared with a long reach forward to touch a screen.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4MaticThere’s even room in the rear of the CLA. It’s not abundant, but we crammed three adult males back there for a short back road jaunt. Something about the shape of the seats also makes the installation of a rear-facing car seat surprisingly easy, too, so long as you remember to watch your head (and the baby’s) when loading through the narrow rear door aperture.

With five adult males aboard and with the heavier all-wheel-drive configuration, the CLA250’s 258 lb-ft of torque still comes on strong. Soon enough. Whether you blame the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission or the turbo’s lag or Mercedes-Benz’s traditional lack of immediate throttle response, there’s a distinct pause at first. It’s easy enough to become accustomed to the engine, as it seems to punch above its weight once up to speed.

The DCT, however, is easily confused in Sport mode and overly interested in fuel economy when left in Eco, racing through the gears like it’s, well, a race. “What’s wrong with the car?”, my brother asked from the back seat when we accelerated away from an intersection in Sport and the CLA groaned under the weight of first gear as though I was unwilling to perform an upshift in Manual mode. He also chuckled when the CLA shot up to seventh under light acceleration in ECO, almost in an immature panic, although the rate with which the DCT can snap off shifts is oddly impressive.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4Matic interiorOdd is also how you’d describe the CLA’s mixed bag of suspension movements. The CLA has the ability to eliminate road imperfections, but it struggles to maintain composure when the surface is full of small elevation changes. At the same time, there’s a sense of initial agility, but it’s followed by a surprisingly early onset of understeer when you’re encouraging the CLA to impress your teenage nephews, and the CLA then becomes too uncommunicative.

It’s difficult to say when they’re not driven back-to-back – my time with the CLA250 4Matic came nine months after a week I spent with the front-wheel-drive CLA – but the AWD CLA250 seems to ride better, handle worse, and draw more attention to the DCT’s deficiencies. We also saw no fuel economy penalties with the all-wheel-drive, a 29.4 mpg car in our mostly urban driving, compared with the 28.7 mpg we saw on similar drive routes when the temperature was admittedly cooler last November.

The CLA250 is therefore a relatively quick and efficient car with a premium badge and decent interior space. Although I’m personally not convinced that the stylistic themes work on a product with the CLA’s dimensional limitations, it’s an obviously design-oriented car. Thus, for those who love the car’s appearance and the fact that it screams, “I’m expensive!”, the appeal of a CLA is not difficult to comprehend.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4Matic screenCLA pricing begins at $30,825 including destination; 4Matic adds $2000. Is Audi’s A3 the CLA’s key rival? Or is the un-optioned $41,325 C300 4Matic, a dramatically improved car for the 2015 model year, a competitor for properly-equipped entry-level Benzes, CLAs with 18-inch wheels, heated seats, a rear view camera, and dual zone automatic climate control?

Regardless, Mercedes-Benz has carved out a space for the CLA in America. U.S. sales have slowed noticeably since the car’s arrival late last year, but that’s due in large part to the CLA’s global successes. Yet with 2378 July sales (its best month since January), the CLA accounted for 13% of Mercedes-Benz’s passenger car sales last month. It’s not a rare car. On the other hand, it’s no C-Class, which even in this transition year has averaged 5500 monthly sales.

Yes, more consumers prefer the more costly C-Class, even the old, outgoing C-Class. And though the CLA is appealing in theory, it’s not hard to see why the C-Class is more appealing in practice.

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Question Of The Day: Who Will Win The Luxury Compact Crossover Sales Race? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/question-of-the-day-who-will-win-the-luxury-compact-crossover-sales-race/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/question-of-the-day-who-will-win-the-luxury-compact-crossover-sales-race/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:28:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=875425 With pricing for the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA announced, the fight for the luxury compact crossover sales crown is officially on. It’s going to be the most important battle of the year for the luxury car market. Crossovers are, without a doubt, the hottest sales segment right now, and one of the most profitable […]

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With pricing for the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA announced, the fight for the luxury compact crossover sales crown is officially on. It’s going to be the most important battle of the year for the luxury car market.

Crossovers are, without a doubt, the hottest sales segment right now, and one of the most profitable segments for OEMs. Take some normal car underpinnings, add a bit of cladding, a higher ride height and a two-box body and all of a sudden, you can charge a hefty premium over what you’d normally have to sell a sedan for. And what better way to lower your CAFE rating than to sell a ton of “light trucks” that get the kind of fuel economy that you’d normally find in a compact or mid-size car? These little trucklets/wagonlets are going to float the ability of the German brands to keep making AMG, M and RS cars by keeping things kosher with the Feds. Remember that when you bemoan the lack of wagons on sale today.

Audi’s Q3 starts at $33,325, versus $29,900 for an A3, though the Q3, unlike the A3, does come standard with AWD .  The Q3 is front-drive, but it does have a 2.0T engine, unlike the A3′s 1.8T mill. A Mercedes-Benz GLA starts at $32,225 for a front-drive model versus $29,900 for a front-drive CLA. The one wildcard is the BMW X1, which is both rear-wheel drive and $30,900, making it the cheapest BMW in the entire model range.

I’m going to put my money on the Q3 taking the crown, just because Audi is very much the brand of the moment. This segment is a fickle, fashion-driven one, and products live and die by how cool they are. The Audi A3 quickly toppled the Mercedes-Benz CLA from the small sedan sales charts, and this won’t be any different.

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Daimler, Nissan To Co-Operate On Mexican Factory http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/daimler-nissan-to-co-operate-on-mexican-factory/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/daimler-nissan-to-co-operate-on-mexican-factory/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 16:59:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=853161 Daimler and Nissan have agreed to a joint-venture that will see front-drive Infiniti and Mercedes models built at a Nissan plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Reuters is reporting that the deal is the largest between the two entities. The deal gives Infiniti a range of front-drive cars, including a sedan, coupe and SUV, based on the […]

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Daimler and Nissan have agreed to a joint-venture that will see front-drive Infiniti and Mercedes models built at a Nissan plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Reuters is reporting that the deal is the largest between the two entities. The deal gives Infiniti a range of front-drive cars, including a sedan, coupe and SUV, based on the same architecture underpinning the Mercedes A, B, CLA and GLA-Class models.

In return, Mercedes will get a low-cost, NAFTA zone production site for these models, which tend to have lower profit margins.

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Analysis: Three Shifts, Four Models A Profitable Formula For Daimler’s Front Drivers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/analysis-three-shifts-four-models-a-profitable-formula-for-daimlers-front-drivers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/analysis-three-shifts-four-models-a-profitable-formula-for-daimlers-front-drivers/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 17:39:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=776705 Strong sales of the Mercedes-Benz CLA have led Daimler to add a third shift at the Hungarian factory that produces the compact front-drive sedan, as well as the B-Class hatchback. According to Bloomberg, Mercedes can’t get enough capacity for the new small cars based on their front-drive architecture. Even though parent company Daimler also builds […]

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Strong sales of the Mercedes-Benz CLA have led Daimler to add a third shift at the Hungarian factory that produces the compact front-drive sedan, as well as the B-Class hatchback.

According to Bloomberg, Mercedes can’t get enough capacity for the new small cars based on their front-drive architecture. Even though parent company Daimler also builds the smaller A-Class, the B-Class and GLA compact crossover at a factory in Germany, they also had to contract out production of 100,000 units of the A-Class hatchback to Finland’s Valmet Automotive. In the United States, sales of the CLA have been strong, with over 14,000 units sold in 2013, despite being on sale for a mere four months. Although sales were weaker at the start of 2014, sources report that inventories are tight in many key markets, with most cars being pre-sold.

In our market, the CLA is a strong proposition for many buyers, offering an entry point into the Mercedes brand below the larger, rear-drive C-Class, at prices more in line with a well-equipped Honda Accord (the CLA starts at just under $30,000). But in world markets, specifically Europe, the CLA is crucial for Mercedes-Benz. A weak economy has hit young Europeans the hardest, leaving older buyers best positioned to buy new cars. Despite their affluence, they are, literally, a dying demographic.

On the other hand if there is indeed a “lost generation” of consumers, continuing to sell expensive vehicles on a volume basis is not necessarily sustainable over the long run. The CLA allows Mercedes to capture both older buyers looking to downsize, and appeal to younger buyers with less money, but premium aspirations, both in Europe and other markets worldwide. The latter demographic may not be conventionally wealthy, but they are used to brands and products that are considered to be luxury products, even if they don’t necessarily have the exorbitant price-tag of exclusive brands – think Starbucks, J.Crew and Apple.

This is the kind of car buyer that will gravitate to the CLA, and you can bet that the GLA will be also a smash hit in the nascent small-crossover segment. Like the CLA, it has the right badge and the right price tag, but with the added bonus of having the right form factor to sell not just in Europe and North America, but emerging markets with a whole new class of affluent customers, willing to pay a significant premium for a slightly higher ride, a two-box body and perhaps some faux-rugged cladding.

The target buyer for the CLA and GLA often comes up for criticism on TTAC, as well as the vehicles themselves: a small Mercedes with a transverse engine layout and a four-cylinder engine is anathema to most car enthusiasts, and a crossover doubly so. But in this kind of analysis, it’s important to suspend value judgements and look at it from a business perspective.

The business case for the cars is stellar. Four models spawned from one architecture, with the CLA and GLA able to serve as the high-margin variants. Combine that with the low assembly costs presented by building the cars in Eastern Europe, and you have a textbook example of how a car company can leverage economies of scale while also bringing to market a series of enticing products that are able to penetrate emerging markets and untapped demographics. Even BMW is looking to get in on the action, with their new front-drive 2-Series Active Tourer minivan.

The idea may not be terribly enticing to some – as an enthusiast, I’m certainly not thrilled about this direction - but this is where the market is going.

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Mercedes-Benz Increases Its U.S. Luxury Lead Over BMW On Strong CLA Sales http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/mercedes-benz-increases-its-u-s-luxury-lead-over-bmw-on-strong-cla-sales/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/mercedes-benz-increases-its-u-s-luxury-lead-over-bmw-on-strong-cla-sales/#comments Wed, 06 Nov 2013 13:30:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=643305 In the new $29,900 CLA coupe’s first full month of U.S. sales, Mercedes-Benz sold 4,895 units in October, helping the brand post a 25% increase over last October’s sales and double it’s lead over BMW, the number two luxury brand in this market.   In addition to the CLA, deliveries of the E-class were up […]

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2014 Mercedes CLA

In the new $29,900 CLA coupe’s first full month of U.S. sales, Mercedes-Benz sold 4,895 units in October, helping the brand post a 25% increase over last October’s sales and double it’s lead over BMW, the number two luxury brand in this market.

 

In addition to the CLA, deliveries of the E-class were up 23%, with total sales for the month at 30,069. By comparison, BMW brand October sales were 27,574 vehicles, a 4% increase over last year. For the year, M-B has sold 245,125 units compared to BMW’s 240,139, Lexus’ 213,479, and Cadillac’s 148,206. Lexus sales are up 12% for the year and Cadillac is up 27% on the year to date.

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QOTD: Pump Up The Volume http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/qotd-pump-up-the-volume/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/qotd-pump-up-the-volume/#comments Fri, 25 Oct 2013 14:59:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=634665 With the wraps finally off the BMW 2-Series, we now have a full slate of entry-level products from the German luxury designed to bring a whole new demographic into the arms of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. As much hand wringing as there is over the possible brand dilution going on here (all in the name of […]

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With the wraps finally off the BMW 2-Series, we now have a full slate of entry-level products from the German luxury designed to bring a whole new demographic into the arms of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. As much hand wringing as there is over the possible brand dilution going on here (all in the name of ever more important volume), it’s a damn good time to be a German car fan with around $30k to spend.

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The Mercedes-Benz CLA is the first to hit the market, with the all-important sub$30,000 pricepoint. $29,900 gets you a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and swoopy, pseudo-CLS styling. But you won’t be staying there for long – pretty much everything is an option, and the price can creep upward really quickly.

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For the same $29,900, Audi will also offer you a same sedan that is front-drive, with an engine 200cc smaller and the same “looks like a big Audi, till a big Audi pull up” styling. The A3 at least has a fair bit of standard equipment: xenon lights, leather and a moonroof are all standard.

digital post production: Ole Bunger www.pixoleb.com

Of the Germans, only BMW has breached the $30,000 barrier, with its all new 228i, which starts at $33,025. But the 228i offers two things that the Audi and M-B can’t give you at any price: rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission. Of course, it’s also got two doors, while the other have four.

Tell me which one you’d prefer in the comments, or if you’d rather have a W-Body paid for in cash because owning one of these past the warranty period is an exercise is masochism.

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Nissan, Daimler To Jointly Build Infinitis and Mercedes-Benzes In Mexico http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/nissan-daimler-to-jointly-build-infinitis-and-mercedes-benzes-in-mexico/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/nissan-daimler-to-jointly-build-infinitis-and-mercedes-benzes-in-mexico/#comments Wed, 04 Sep 2013 11:30:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=508345 Reuters is reporting that his sources tell him that Daimler will join Nissan in building cars at Nissan’s $2-billion Aguascalientes plant in Mexico, which will start production in late 2014. The factory will assemble compact crossovers, the Infiniti Q30 and possibly the Mercedes-Benz GLA, which will share engines and other components with the Q30. The […]

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Body line at Nissan's Aguascalientes, Mexico assembly plant

Body line at Nissan’s Aguascalientes, Mexico assembly plant

Reuters is reporting that his sources tell him that Daimler will join Nissan in building cars at Nissan’s $2-billion Aguascalientes plant in Mexico, which will start production in late 2014. The factory will assemble compact crossovers, the Infiniti Q30 and possibly the Mercedes-Benz GLA, which will share engines and other components with the Q30.

The GLA will go on sale in the spring of 2014 in Europe and then in the U.S. in the fall of next year. Concepts of both cars are expected to be revealed at the upcoming Frankfurt Auto Show next week. The GLA will initially be assembled in Rastatt, Germany while the Q30, slated to go on sale in mid 2015, is expected to first be assembled at Nissan’s Sunderland facility in the UK. Both vehicles may be built in the Aguascalientes plant to supply the North American market. Assembly of Mercedes-Benz’s CLA sedan may join them later in the decade.

In 2010, Nissan, which is allied with Renault, signed an agreement with Daimler to share vehicle platforms, engines and other components. The Q30 will be the first Nissan product to share a Daimler platform. According to a Reuters source at a European supplier, both the GLA and Q30 are based on Daimler’s new small car architecture known as NGCC, for New Generation Compact Car. The new Mercedes-Benz CLA, which goes on sale this month in the U.S., and the upcoming electric version of the B-Class also use lightweight chassis components from the NGCC. The CLA is currently assembled in Hungary but M-B executives have previously said that the next generation of the compact sedan, expected as a 2018 model, could be assembled in Mexico.

Mercedes executives have said production of the CLA could shift from Hungary to Mexico when the compact sedan is redesigned in 2018.

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Infiniti Q30 Concept Previews Compact Luxury Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/infiniti-q30-concept-previews-compact-luxury-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/infiniti-q30-concept-previews-compact-luxury-car/#comments Thu, 29 Aug 2013 11:00:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=502025   Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi are doing it, so why not Infiniti? The Q30 concept, shown here, previews a front-drive compact luxury car that will likely share its underpinnings with the Mercedes-Benz CLA. The Q30 will make its debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show, while a production version will be built at Nissan’s facility in […]

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Infiniti Q30 Concept

 

Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi are doing it, so why not Infiniti? The Q30 concept, shown here, previews a front-drive compact luxury car that will likely share its underpinnings with the Mercedes-Benz CLA. The Q30 will make its debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show, while a production version will be built at Nissan’s facility in the UK that also builds the Juke and Qashqai. A European-centric product, the Q30 is reportedly not slated for North American sales or production.

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Mercedes Gives Us A Consolation Prize http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/mercedes-gives-us-a-consolation-prize/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/mercedes-gives-us-a-consolation-prize/#comments Wed, 20 Mar 2013 15:25:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=481816 Just because the Mercedes A45 AMG isn’t coming to America doesn’t mean that Daimler forgot about us. Instead, we’ll get the three-box version. The CLA45 AMG is mechanically identical to the A45 – same ultra-boosted 2.0L 4-banger with 360 horsepower, same dual-clutch gearbox and yes, the red brake calipers and Recaro seats made it over […]

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Just because the Mercedes A45 AMG isn’t coming to America doesn’t mean that Daimler forgot about us. Instead, we’ll get the three-box version.

The CLA45 AMG is mechanically identical to the A45 – same ultra-boosted 2.0L 4-banger with 360 horsepower, same dual-clutch gearbox and yes, the red brake calipers and Recaro seats made it over as well. 60 mph should come up in 4.5 seconds, which is actually a tick faster than the quoted time for the hatch. Even though it lacks the brutality and belligerence of the great V8 powered AMG models, I cannot imagine how much fun this thing will be in the snow, what with 360 horsepower and all-wheel drive…

Discuss this more at our Mercedes CLA Forum

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Generation Why: BMW And Mercedes Ignore Coach At Their Peril, Part II http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/generation-why-bmw-and-mercedes-ignore-coach-at-their-peril-part-ii/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/generation-why-bmw-and-mercedes-ignore-coach-at-their-peril-part-ii/#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2013 20:15:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=474946 After a long slog through NAIAS and getting TTAC’s house in order for the new year, I was delighted to see the response to my first big endeavor of the year, my Generation Why piece. But with 174 comments and multiple tangents, I wanted to open up the floor to clarify a few things. 1) […]

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After a long slog through NAIAS and getting TTAC’s house in order for the new year, I was delighted to see the response to my first big endeavor of the year, my Generation Why piece. But with 174 comments and multiple tangents, I wanted to open up the floor to clarify a few things.

1) I should have been more clear in my thesis. While I highlighted both the BMW 320i and the Mercedes-Benz CLA, due to having both of them debut at NAIAS, I do not think they can be weighted equally

2) The 320i is really not that drastic of a departure for BMW’s North American product range – or world product range for that matter. As I mentioned, Canada has had a 3-Series model below the 325/328i for over a decade. This model is actually fairly spartan in its options and features (at least the E46 and E390 variants were) and it’s not unusual to find stick shift models purchased by older guys who just want a fun sports sedan. We all know that the majority of these cars in the U.S. will not be equipped like this, but the point remains the same – it’s not such a departure from BMW’s past ethos. Unfortunately, a number of commenters seized upon the 320i example – to the point of turning it into a strawman – as a means of criticizing my thesis (that a premium auto maker’s quest for volume and short term profits will ultimately erode that brand equity over the long term).

3) I should have been more clear in my piece that the product that’s really in danger of doing damage is the Mercedes CLA. The 320i is ultimately a 3-Series, and part of BMW’s core range. The CLA on the other hand, is a strange bird for Americans. It is a stubby, compact car with odd proportions. For those in the know, it is a front-drive, four-cylinder Benz, something that those types will equate with a cheaper car. For those who don’t know, it’s a Mercedes, but it’s small – and small does not mean premium to many American car buyers. Yes, Mercedes and BMW are full-line car companies in Europe. But merely having a car in Europe is a privilege  Anything larger or more expensive than a Golf is a luxury, and that’s why the A/B-Class, 1-Series and A3 work over there. They are right-sized, but pricey enough to let everyone know you’re not clipping Carrefour coupons.

4) I still re-affirm my belief that allowing too many people to obtain a premium product harms its very nature. Let too many people into your exclusive nightclub and it suddenly becomes passe. If too many people can buy your premium clothing line at T.J. Maxx or Marshalls, its seen as a mass-market product, or worse, something for poor people. I’m fairly agnostic when it comes to “brand values” or “heritage” – that stuff is just pap cooked up by suits and sold to wide-eyed types as a marketing narrative. I find it conceivable that, in such a crowded, competitive marketplace, traditional Mercedes customers could abandon the brand if too many undesirables are seen as entering the brand via the CLA and other lower-end cars. In more affluent communities, there are already soccer moms driving AMG SUVs merely because they are more expensive than the more pedestrian GL550s and ML320 Bluetecs. If this is the trend, then how much more damage can a $30,000 compact do?

 

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Generation Why: BMW And Mercedes Ignore Coach At Their Peril http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/generation-why-bmw-and-mercedes-ignore-coach-at-their-peril/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/generation-why-bmw-and-mercedes-ignore-coach-at-their-peril/#comments Tue, 22 Jan 2013 18:14:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=474795 BMW’s debut of the American-spec 320i at this year’s NAIAS may have been big news for the American auto press, but up here in frigid Canuckistan, the 320i is old hat. Roughly a decade ago, BMW launched the $33,900 320i, along with an ad campaign touting its price, which was comparable to a well equipped […]

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BMW’s debut of the American-spec 320i at this year’s NAIAS may have been big news for the American auto press, but up here in frigid Canuckistan, the 320i is old hat. Roughly a decade ago, BMW launched the $33,900 320i, along with an ad campaign touting its price, which was comparable to a well equipped Honda Accord.

Very few Accord customers were poached by BMW; those looking for an Accord wanted the extra space, the power from a comparably-priced Accord V6 and found a BMW a little too obnoxious. Car enthusiasts may have been attracted to the rear-drive dynamics and the silky inline-six engine, but the 170 horsepower figure was considered lacking, and what better way to out oneself as a try-hard striver than to buy the cheapo, leatherette-equipped base 3-Series?

BMW ended up doing fairly brisk business with the 320i, with much of their client base consisting of young, professional women (whether in the workforce or collecting an annuity from the First Bank of Mom and Dad) who also would have carried a Coach handbag. I say “would have”, because at the time, Coach was the bridge between a nasty department store house brand and the absurdly expensive Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga or Hermes bags. Remember, this was a decade ago and we were a few orders of magnitude removed from today. The cheap-credit-and-Kardashian-fueled mental illness that compelled the masses to find one percent aspirational goods essential to one’s well-being was barely in a gestational stage. The idea of spending four figures on a handbag when one worked at an entry-level white collar job would have been seen as irresponsible and reckless at worst, crass at best.

Fast forward a decade; a confluence of societal forces, from fashion magazines to reality TV to rap music, has convinced us that luxury goods are the key to fulfillment and happiness in life. I don’t mean traditional luxury goods, like a mechanical watch, or a well-made pair of shoes or bespoke clothing that requires a significant upfront investment in return for a lifespan of a few decades (or, in the case of a good watch, one that may outlive you by a couple generations). I mean luxury as in lug-zhur-ee, proletarian crap made somewhere offshore and sold for an absurd markup (most clothing items sold in Neiman Marcus, Saks or Bloomingdales), or worse, objects that serve as tokens of social status that masquerade as ethically or morally superior consumption choices  despite evidence that asserts the dubious nature of these claims (any food or clothing item that is “local”, “organic”, “sustainable”, “artisanal” or any combination of these buzzwords).

Left without any sort of moral, spiritual, familial or economically stability in the first quarter of life, Generation Why has become the most aspirational generation of all-time, and the onslaught of smart phones and social media has enabled this disease like a co-dependent parent plying their drug addict child with money for meth and cigarettes. I myself am guilty of this, taking a perverse pleasure in posting photos of press cars on Facebook so that former highschool classmates I haven’t spoken to in years can press “Like” on my photos. But Mercedes-Benz and BMW are far better at making money off this phenomenon.

At NAIAS, the two brands released two cars aimed dead-on at Generation Why members with a bit of money or reasonable access to credit: the newest generation 320i is a novel and exciting foray for BMW USA, but Mercedes-Benz’s CLA is an entirely new frontier for German luxury cars, one that BMW won’t catch up to for a couple more years.

At this point, obnoxious Audi die-hards will note that the A3 and A4 have long been entry-level, front drive options like the CLA, but I’m inclined to dismiss these assertions. The A4′s front-drive layout was a consequence of circumstances, while the current generation A3, fine car as it may be, is a half-hearted Euro-transplant ill-suited for the American market (but great for Canada). The CLA, on the other hand, is expressly designed to be a cut-rate, entry-level Benz, devoid of substance, awkwardly styled and priced just far enough out of reach for a no-credit Cruze customer, but just accessibly enough that a pharmaceutical sales rep or social media brand strategist could afford the $299 a month lease payment.

There is one and only one reason behind the move; volume. The unquenchable quest for volume has led to a sales war between Mercedes-Benz and BMW, with both companies also trying to stave off a full-frontal assault by Audi. All three companies can use their premium positions and scale to capitalize on both margins and volume (Audi may be best suited for this, due to its scale and modular platforms, but that’s another article in itself). And while Europe may be in the toilet, the appetite for premium cars is still strong – hell, why buy a Focus when you can buy a front-drive BMW 1-Series or Mercedes B-Class that costs just as much? Needless to say, the hunger in America has only grown, even as the economy has nosedived. Even if you and everyone else is worse off compared to 2008, god forbid you should display any outward signs of frugality (which is of course, weakness and a loss of social status).

Sounds foolproof, right? After all, Mercedes, BMW and Audi have such strong brands that it will be almost impossible to erode their equity as premium marques, and they can continue to pump out front drive compacts until the Eurozone implodes. If you’re a management track sycophant at one of those companies, then that’s what you’ll tell the board.

Everyone else should take note of what happened to Coach. Their bags, once desirable luxury goods, are now the sort of thing that overprivileged mothers joke about giving to their Filipino nannies as Christmas gifts. Except it’s not a joke – ride the bus near the wealthy neighborhoods of Toronto, and you’ll see Coach bags being carried by the help, even though they live in low-rent walkups.  The rich moms and daughters have moved on to Longchamp bags for every day, and the previously unthinkable Hermes, Louis V, Balenciaga and all manner of obscure boutique labels that nobody has ever heard of and will forget about in six months (what the fuck is a Proenza Schouler bag? I don’t know, but that didn’t stop one girl from telling me how much she paid – as much as a solid NB Miata – and how long she waited for it on a waiting list).

Lest you think this has no relevance to the auto market, think back to when just having a Mercedes was a big deal, how extravagant and expensive it was to have a vinyl-upholstered 240D that took a glacial age to hit 60 mph. But it was imported and foreign and therefore prestigious. Now any of our new age celebrity demigods – think the Kardashians, or Lil Wayne or Dwight Howard – wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less than an S-Class. A Bentley, a G-Wagen or a 458 Italia are really the minimum requirement, and even the Bugatti Veyron, the finest car in the world from a technological standpoint, is the province of D-list rap stars and domestic abusers. The only reason that the top-tier of luxury and performance vehicles is considered the minimum entrypoint for “baller status” is directly related to the erosion of Mercedes and BMW as a brand completely out of reach for the masses. Now that any 9-5 working stiff has “an entrypoint into the brand”, they’re not nearly as special as they once were. They are fast becoming the Coach bags of the luxury car world, and all the pretty rich boys and girls have moved on to the really exclusive stuff, the Bugattis, Bentleys and Birkin bags.

The CLA and the 320i may fool the terminally insecure, regardless of age or gender, but Generation Why, the one that doesn’t care about cars, probably won’t be fooled. If there’s one thing we are good at, it’s detecting disingenuous appeals to our own vanity and self-importance. Personally, I’m hoping for a return to a new kind of luxury, one that is discreet, efficient and pampering to those who are in the know or behind the wheel. The 2013 Accord V6 Touring looks like it would fit the bill quite nicely. And what do you know, it’s only as much as a poorly-equipped 3-Series.

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Mercedes-Benz CLA250 Debuts, $299/Month Lease Deals To Follow http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/mercedes-benz-cla250-debuts-299month-lease-deals-to-follow/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/mercedes-benz-cla250-debuts-299month-lease-deals-to-follow/#comments Mon, 14 Jan 2013 00:55:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=473574 Just in case you need further proof that luxury has been democratized, Mercedes-Benz has blessed us with the CLA250. It’s got front-drive, a 208 horsepower turbocharged 4-banger, and it looks like a pastiche of every M-B design and “lug-zhu-ree” styling cue in existence. Yech. Discuss this further at our Mercedes CLA Forum

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Just in case you need further proof that luxury has been democratized, Mercedes-Benz has blessed us with the CLA250. It’s got front-drive, a 208 horsepower turbocharged 4-banger, and it looks like a pastiche of every M-B design and “lug-zhu-ree” styling cue in existence. Yech.

Discuss this further at our Mercedes CLA Forum

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