Bark's Bites: The Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Is a Shining Beacon of Inauthenticity

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
bark s bites the mercedes benz cla 250 is a shining beacon of inauthenticity

To be honest, I would have rather had anything else on the lot, and I do mean anything. However, when I arrived at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, National Car Rental was a bit short on cars on the ol’ Emerald Aisle. There was a line of people about ten deep waiting for cars to be brought up from the overflow lot, and I had a meeting to get to. So I did what anybody else (who rents 40 cars and spends about $10,000 annually with National) would do — I walked over to the “upgrade” area, hopped into the least expensive “luxury” car available, and drove it to the exit booth.

“I won’t be paying any extra for this,” I explained to the booth attendant, “because a Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 is not an upgrade.”

Three days and a couple hundred miles later, I realize how prescient I’d been at the time. I would have rather had a Chevrolet Impala, a Dodge Charger, or even a Nissan Altima over the Hungarian Baby Benz. Here’s why.

Let me try to do my best to explain to you what driving a CLA 250 in Miami-Dade County is like. You feel like a rolling chicane at all times, because the hamsters powering the four-cylinder motor act like they have been deprived of alfalfa, no thanks to the sluggish seven-speed automatic transmission.

MB claims a 0-60 time of around seven seconds for the CLA, but that’s irrelevant when it comes to the urban combat of Miami’s streets, because the lack of available torque means that you have to be more patient than you’d ever want to be. You can’t dart into available spaces or punch the throttle to make your way through a yellow light, and in Miami, that can be the difference between being on time for your appointment or being 10 minutes late. The one redeeming quality is that there’s very little torque steer, but that can be explained by the fact that there’s very little, you know, torque.

Oh, I can’t forget to mention the automatic stop/start. It’s the roughest I’ve ever experienced. Passengers ask, “Is something wrong with the car?” It rattles every subpar piece of interior trim at each and every stoplight. I decided the extra fuel economy wasn’t worth it and shut it off.

Unlike the similarly priced competition from BMW and Audi, the CLA doesn’t feel like it’s related in any way to its more expensive stablemates. It’s painfully obvious that nobody at Benz has any idea how to tune the suspension of a FWD car. Understeer isn’t just “at the limit,” it’s a way of life. Spirited driving is rewarded with a thrust of the nose in whatever direction you were headed when you initially pressed the accelerator — steering inputs are treated with complete disregard.

It’s like somebody tried to design a reasonable facsimile of a C-Class interior, but said to the production line, “Make it look okay in photos, but make it feel like like a punishment when you actually sit in it. Remove any and all available headroom. Glue a Chinese iPad copy to the center of the dash, and make sure the UI is a strange combination of buttons on the dash, steering wheel, and armrest. Oh, and make finding a seating position that isn’t painful and awkward impossible. Got it? Oh, wait, don’t forget to make the stereo sound like it’s a couple of cans on a string!”

The rear seat is so tiny that it’s downright funny to any adults who try to use it. “This isn’t even a full-sized door,” laughed one of my colleagues. “Are adults supposed to be able to sit back here?” Keep in mind, I’m 5’9″ on a good day, and there isn’t enough legroom behind my driver’s seat for a 10-year-old.

And I haven’t even talked about the way the damn thing looks yet. It’s like somebody put a CLS into the trash compactor on the Death Star — I can almost hear C-3PO crying every time I look at it. They call it a “four-door coupe” to make up for the fact that it’s got a claustrophobia-inducing cabin, a completely unusable back seat and zero available headroom, but that doesn’t make it look any better from the outside. The wheels resemble Pep Boys special hubcaps, and they’re wrapped with run-flat tires that are totally unfamiliar with the concept of lateral g-forces.

But perhaps the most awful thing about driving the CLA 250 is the way you feel about yourself when you drive it. You feel like a fraud. A fake. A phony. You envy people in C-Classes. You imagine that people in E-Classes are actually vomiting as they pass you. You think about the $35,000 or so that you spent on it and you realize that you could have gotten something like a Fusion Sport, a Golf R, a Focus RS, hell, even a pimped-out Camry XSE. Any and all of them would have been better options — better driving dynamics, better construction, but most of all, they’re real. A Fusion is a Fusion. It’s not a pretend Continental.

And then somebody who doesn’t know much about cars hops in and says, “Wow, nice Mercedes! This thing is really pretty. I like it. How much does it cost? Only $33,000! Oh my goodness, that’s less than my Accord!” This actually happened to me this morning. And if you’re like me, you start complaining and apologizing and pointing out things like the fact that the infotainment system doesn’t recognize a USB device unless you turn it off and turn it back on. But it’s too late — the Benz star has already had its desired effect.

So I get it. I understand why the CLA 250 has to exist, even if MB should be offering a $5,000 “CLA devaluation” discount on every other model they sell. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like it.

And I don’t.

[Images: Mark “Bark M.” Baruth/TTAC]

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2 of 183 comments
  • Jagboi Jagboi on Apr 03, 2018

    Every one I have seen is a Car2Go. I don't think luxury when I see one, I think rental by the minute.

  • MyerShift MyerShift on Jun 09, 2018

    Thank you for the TRUTH on this terrible, overpriced, pathetic-excuse-for-a-Mercedes economy car. I drive a Corolla ('16) and I look down on this. I am a previous Golf owner ('08 Mk V) and that was a very solid, refined, excellent little German road car. Unfortunately, from my experiences, reliability of nationalities of cars and their makers are: German

  • Chris P Bacon I had a chance to drive 2 Accords back to back as rentals. The first was a base ICE LX. I was underwhelmed. The next was a Sport Hybrid. Like night and day. So much so that I ventured on to the grounds of my local dealer. Was looking for a Sport or Sport-L. Autotrader showed nothing within 250 miles. Dealer confirmed. Told me I'd have to "get on the list" for a delivery, and there was a non-negotiable $3k "market adjustment". I guess I'll have to hope to see one on the Emerald Aisle again.
  • DungBeetle62 I just this past weekend rented one of these for 5 days in SoCal and with $5.29 the best I could find for gas, this ride's wonderful combination of comfort and thrift was welcome indeed. My biggest real beef is with the entire Accord product line - with that angle of backlight, not having this as a 5-door hatch seems a real waste of space.
  • RICHARD I bought my wife the exact car in the picture 3 weeks ago. Acceleration is average for the class. Smoothness of the powertrain, competent ride dynamics, quietness, and comfort are definitely pluses. The styling is restrained for sure, but we weren't looking for a shouty car that doesn't deliver on the design statement. She drives about 8,000 miles per year, mostly around town. At the current rate, we expect to buy about 16 gallons of gas per month. This really is a car that appears to do everything well rather than excelling at a few things to the detriment of others.
  • Ajla "2010-2019 Borrego"The Borrego only had model years 2009 - 2011 in the United States. The Borrego/Mohave did exist in international markets beyond them but the NHTSA of the United States would not be handling a recall on those. It's annoying that apparently the manufacturer, the federal regulator, and automotive press didn't notice this.
  • SilverCoupe The last Accord I test drove was in 1978, but I ended up buying a VW Scirocco instead. The Accords have put on quite a bit of weight since, then, but then again, so have I!