It’s based on the A-Class hatch, but on the face of it the CLA doesn’t actually make a great deal of sense, because prices are higher and it offers substantially less practicality, unless you buy a Shooting Brake. But the standard car’s saloon configuration is still relatively usable, especially if you don’t need to carry lots of people or luggage. Even the entry-level cars (1.6 petrol or 1.5 diesel) are perky enough, while the bigger engines provide swift progress without being unduly thirsty. However, while Mercedes doesn’t offer spartan models any more, it does do relatively poorly equipped; whatever you buy, make sure the original owner didn’t scrimp on options or trim level.
The CLA 180, CLA 250 and CLA 200 d came with a six-speed manual gearbox, and a seven-speed auto was offered as an option; all other CLAs were fitted with the auto as standard, with no manual option.
Sport specification models come with 18-inch alloy wheels, Active Park Assist, automatic headlights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, cruise control with speed limiter, a media display, artificial leather trim and a multifunction steering wheel. AMG Sport adds bi-xenon headlights, privacy glass and Sport suspension, which is both stiffer and lowered by 20mm at the front, and 15mm at the rear).
Be on the lookout for cars fitted with the Exclusive package, which adds comfort features such as heated front seats and upgraded interior trim. Other options worth having include the rear camera, Harman/Kardon hi-fi, DAB radio (standard on the CLA 45 AMG) and panoramic sliding sunroof.
Buying a later, post-facelift CLA ensures you get more equipment for your money and improved styling. The AMG Line became the entry-level trim and features everything you need in a saloon car. Indeed, take a look at the spec list of the CLA you’re considering; the option packs add little to the value of a used car.
What are the alternatives?
In concept, the Volkswagen CC is perhaps closest to the CLA, because it’s also a saloon with a coupe-like silhouette – but the VW is 300mm longer, so it’s a size up. The Audi A3 Saloon – while not as sleek as the CLA – is also well worth a look.
The five-door Audi A5 Sportback is slightly longer than the CLA, and it adds hatchback practicality to the mix. Like the CC and A3 it’s good to drive, has a plush interior, is well equipped and comes with some excellent engines, too. If you’re really keen to have a saloon, you could opt for an Audi A4 which is also only slightly longer than the Merc, while the BMW 3 Series is about the same size.
With its conventional saloon silhouette you get improved rear seat space and, if you want extra usability without resorting to an estate, there’s always the five-door BMW 3 Series GT.
Mercedes CLA 220 CDI Sport vs Volkswagen CC GT 2.0 TDI
One could argue that the Volkswagen CC is little more than a Passat in fancy dress, while the Mercedes CLA is just a less practical A-Class. But when image is everything, these cars start to make more sense. It was a narrow victory for the Volkswagen when it faced the then-new CLA in 2013, but we praised the newcomer’s interior and efficient engines.
Audi A3 vs Mercedes CLA
It was another defeat for the Mercedes CLA when it faced the Audi A3 saloon. We called the Audi an “accomplished premium compact car”, praising its economy, quality and upmarket appeal. We even said it was a “sensible and top-value alternative” to the larger and more expensive Audi A4.
Audi S3 Saloon vs Mercedes CLA 45 AMG
Without wishing to sound like a broken record, it’s another defeat for the Mercedes CLA, this time in the battle of two performance saloons. The fact that the S3 Saloon was £10,000 cheaper than the CLA 45 AMG was a big factor in the Audi’s victory, but we did say that the Mercedes was more exciting than its rival.
When it was new, the Mercedes CLA range started at around £24,000, but buyers didn’t get a lot of kit for their money, and the prices quickly started to rise with a few options.
You can buy an early Mercedes CLA for around £10,000. It’s likely to be an ex-fleet car with a diesel engine, but buying a high-mileage diesel is preferable as it reduces the chances of an expensive diesel particulate filter (DPF) replacement.
Prices for a post-facelift CLA start from around £15,000, while you’ll need to find at least £20,000 for a Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 4MATIC. Its relative rarity, and the fact that it arrived two years after the standard CLA, means that Shooting Brake prices are higher. Bank on spending at least £15,000 for even a basic CLA Shooting Brake.
You can check out the latest used prices for the Mercedes CLA on our sister site BuyaCar or value a specific model using our valuation tool.
Economy and CO2 emissions
It’s not surprising that the most efficient version of the Mercedes CLA is diesel-powered, and our pick of the range for running costs overall is the CLA 220 d. This DCT auto-equipped model claims 67.3mpg fuel economy from its 2.1-litre engine and emissions of 106g/km.
The lower-powered CLA 200 d has the same 67.3mpg fuel figure with a manual gearbox, but emissions are slightly higher at 109g/km. Add an auto gearbox and the CLA 200 d has a claimed 70.6mpg and 105g/km of CO2.
The 122bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine in the CLA 180 emits 128g/km of CO2 and promises official 51.4mpg economy when fitted with the six-speed manual gearbox. Buyers are looking at improved figures of 124g/km and 52.3mpg with the automatic box.
It’s not surprising that the 2.0-litre petrol engine in the performance-focused CLA 250 AMG and hot Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is the least efficient in the range. The CLA 250 AMG claims fuel economy of 42.2mpg and emissions of 156g/km, while adding the DCT auto results in figures of 45.6mpg and 143g/km. Add 4MATIC four-wheel drive, and economy is claimed at 41.5mpg, while emissions are 160g/km.
Even though the AMG 45 model has sizzling straight-line pace, its figures of 40.9mpg and 162g/km aren’t much worse than the CLA 250 AMG 4MATIC. That’s on 18-inch wheels; add the 19-inch rims and economy drops to 38.7mpg and emissions rise to 171g/km.
All CLAs need servicing every 12 months or 15,500 miles, alternating between minor and major. Costs vary, but you can get quotes from mymercedesservice.co.uk
Expect £250 for a minor and £400 for a major service for diesels; petrols are closer to £240/£340. The fourth service is £700-£750, which includes air and fuel filters. Brake fluid is needed every two years (£90), coolant every 10 (£225), while autos need a £400 service every five years. All engines are chain-driven.
Depending on spec, the line-up kicks off in insurance groups 20 to 24 for the entry-level Mercedes CLA 180 petrol models. The CLA 200 d diesel sits in around group 24, with the CLA 220 d in group 27.
If you have to ask how much it costs to insure a Mercedes-AMG CLA 45, you probably can’t afford the premiums for this high-performance group 45 rocketship.
Insurance premiums start off lower for the Audi A3, as basic versions feature smaller engines, but like-for-like models are roughly in the same ballpark as the Mercedes.
The appeal of Mercedes’ three-pointed star badge should ensure the CLA resists depreciation reasonably well. Our experts predict that diesel models are likely to hold on to their value best, while those with an automatic transmission will retain more of their price than manual versions.
Get behind the wheel of the Mercedes CLA, and it’s clear that the low-slung driving position has been created to help with the sporty feel inside the car. Happily, though, anyone should be able to get comfortable because there’s a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment.
Up front, there’s plenty of storage space dotted around; the electric parking brake frees up room on the centre console for some decent-sized cubbyholes.
Plus, buyers can pick from a long list of options to make the CLA more practical. For around £170, the storage package adds parcel nets in the cabin, a 12v socket in the passenger footwell, storage boxes under the front seats and a sunglasses holder in the overhead panel. For a similar price, an optional rear armrest and ski hatch can be ordered. Privacy glass cost around £230 when new, while run-flat tyres cost around £140.
If you want more space without sacrificing style, the CLA Shooting Brake should appeal. It carried a price premium of around £1,000 over the saloon, plus an increase in boot capacity from 470 to 495 litres. Clearly, it’s not a full-on load lugger, but the extra space and arguably more handsome looks mean it’s worth considering.
For occupants in the rear, however, things aren’t so good. The coupe roofline makes space quite tight, and it’s easy for taller passengers to bang their head on the low door frame when getting in and out. On paper, the Mercedes CLA is a five-seater, but the seat in the middle of the rear bench is narrow and the wide transmission tunnel means there’s not a great deal of foot space.
Dimensions and cabin design
It’s worth taking a moment to consider where the CLA sits in the Mercedes range. At 4,630mm, it’s less than 6cm shorter than a rear-wheel-drive C-Class saloon, but nearly 34cm longer than the front-wheel-drive A-Class five-door with which it shares its platform. An Audi A3 Saloon measures 4,460mm end to end.
Despite the slightly claustrophobic rear, the Mercedes CLA provides plenty of luggage space. There is a 470-litre boot with load securing rings, as well as a foam puncture repair kit which hides under the boot floor. Plus, Mercedes provides split-fold rear seats as standard.
Equipment and technology
As the CLA was marketed as an upmarket saloon, it was originally offered in Sport or AMG Line trims only, while AMG is classed as a separate model; unlike the A-Class, there’s no CLA SE version available. As well as these higher-spec trims, Mercedes offers limited-edition versions with special trim packages and extra kit.
Standard equipment is okay but not brilliant. The Sport model has sat-nav, automatic wipers, keyless entry and Artico leather sports seats, along with climate control, while AMG Line adds a styling makeover (including a different grille), a choice of driving modes and LED headlights.
Some of the options were expensive but will add little to the value of a used CLA. Look out for the likes of Garmin enhanced sat-nav, frameless 8-inch media display, electric tailgate (Shooting Brake), memory function for the driver and passenger seats, dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, Harman Kardon audio system and keyless entry/start.
The 2016 facelift introduced new bumpers, a new grille, different alloy wheel designs, LED headlights and some interior changes. These included new seat covers, chrome detailing and extended smartphone integration. The highlight was a slimmer-looking 8-inch display screen, which helps with the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems in the cars.
Opt for a late AMG Line Edition and you’ll be treated to an enviable level of specification. Highlights include 18-inch AMG alloy wheels, diamond grille with silver pins, a choice of driving modes, lowered Comfort suspension, a reversing camera, a 7-inch media display, sports seats and a leather steering wheel. The AMG Line Night Edition adds cosmetic upgrades and LED headlights, plus more extras if you opt for the CLA 45 4MATIC Night Edition.
If a CLA has the optional Plus pack, it will feature Active Park Assist, memory seats and a panoramic sunroof. Mercedes also offered an Exclusive Package worth around £2,000, which added upmarket features such as heated seats, leather upholstery with contrast stitching and aluminium trim.
Standard safety kit on the CLA includes seven airbags and Isofix child seat mountings. Plus, when the car senses an impact with a pedestrian, the active bonnet rises 65mm to protect them from the hard components underneath. All versions also feature Attention Assist, which detects signs of the driver becoming drowsy at the wheel and wakes you up with an alarm and a dashboard message.
Optional extras included lane-keeping assistance with blind spot warnings, while rear side airbags could be added for £400. Check to see if a used CLA comes with these options.
All of this safety tech helped the CLA achieve a five-star rating when it underwent its Euro NCAP crash test back in 2013. The car was awarded scores of 91 per cent for adult occupant safety and 75 per cent for child safety. It scored 74 per cent for pedestrian protection, and 81 per cent for its safety assistance systems.
Out on the road, the CLA delivers good grip in corners and the steering is progressive and well weighted. Factor in positive turn-in and taut body control, and the Mercedes feels sportier and sharper than its main rival, the Audi A3 Saloon, although it lacks the nimble, rear-wheel-drive feel of a BMW.
The Mk1 Mercedes CLA is available with three petrol engines: a 1.6-litre turbo in the CLA 180, a 2.0-litre turbo in the CLA 250 AMG, or a 351bhp 2.0-litre turbo in the flagship Mercedes-AMG CLA 45.
The entry-level version has 122bhp and delivers lively performance, reaching 0-62mph in 9.0 seconds. The 2.0-litre petrol makes 218bhp in the CLA 250 AMG and feels a lot faster, completing the benchmark sprint in a very respectable 6.5 seconds.
Meanwhile, the flagship AMG version will beat some serious sports cars with its 4.2-second 0-62mph time. The AMG CLA 45 was updated in 2016 to bring it in line with the A45 AMG with an impressive 376bhp and 475Nm of torque from its turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine.
Diesel buyers get the choice of Mercedes’ tried and trusted 2.1-litre engine with 136bhp in the CLA 200 d or 177bhp in the CLA 220 d. Unfortunately, while both diesels are efficient, they sound pretty gruff compared to those in rivals from Audi or BMW. Still, performance is decent, especially from the 220 d version, which covers the 0-62mph sprint in 7.7 seconds. The 200 d takes 9.5 seconds.
There’s also the entry-level 1.5-litre diesel engine in the CLA 180 d. It offers reasonable performance, but a 0-62mph time of 11.6 seconds means it needs working hard to get the best from it, which will put a dent in the fuel economy.
On the road
There is a downside to the CLA’s sharp handling, though, and that’s pretty poor ride quality. Thanks to its stiff suspension settings, the way the car thumps over broken surfaces becomes tiring. This is a shame, given that the cabin is well insulated from wind and road noise.
Other gripes concern the seven-speed automatic transmission, which can sometimes take a frustratingly long time to respond and change ratios.
If you opt for a 4MATIC drivetrain with the CLA 250 AMG or CLA 45 AMG, expect to find eye-opening traction but little in the way of added driver engagement. AMG Line models also come with firmer suspension, which passengers might find uncomfortable.
The CLA shares its underpinnings with the previous version of the Mercedes A-Class, a car that dates back to the end of 2011, so any teething troubles with common components should have been ironed out by now. That said, Mercedes scores poorly in our Driver Power satisfaction surveys, while the CLA isn’t without its faults.
Common used Mercedes CLA problems
Before the facelift in July 2016, diesel CLAs were given a CDI badge. After that cars were sold as 180 d, 200 d and 220 d.
All examples of the CLA come with a tyre sealant kit rather than a spare wheel of any size – the latter isn’t even an optional extra.
18-inch wheels provide as firm a ride as you’re likely to want; the optional 19-inch alloys and sport suspension really are too firm for comfort.
Make sure the filler flap opens as it should. Reports of faulty solenoids and caps that get stuck shut are not unknown.
The CLA has been subject to 25 recalls, most of which also affected other Mercedes. The first two came in July 2014 for loose seatbelt anchors and faulty airbags; the most recent was in February 2019 for calibration of seat sensors for the airbags and belts. In between came recalls for faulty driveshafts, brake servo errors and much more, so do check any potential purchase is up to date.
The Mk1 CLA didn’t feature in our Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but the platform- sharing A-Class Mk3 appeared in the 2017 and 2018 New Car surveys, placing 69th and 56th respectively. It scored well for its exterior fit and finish, with the only other top 50 scores for running costs and reliability. All other scores, from safety and practicality to engines and infotainment, are outside of the top 50.
In the latest 2021 Driver Power survey, the Mercedes A-Class finished 23rd out of 75 cars, although it’s worth noting that in the vast majority of cases the results are based on the current A-Class.
Mercedes has been performing better since the Mk1 CLA went out of production. In the 2021 Driver Power survey of manufacturers, Mercedes ranked 13th out of 29, so while there’s still room for improvement, the result places the company higher than BMW (21st) and Audi (23rd).
It’s also worth pointing out that the Mk1 CLA scores well on our sister site Carbuyer, with a rating of 4.5 out of 5. Owners rate its styling and value for money.
Overall, perceived quality is very high, but some cost-cutting is evident up close, especially on the inside. There’s an element of ‘paying for the badge’, but the CLA remains a premium product.