Originally published on January 15, 2014

Review and photos by Brendan McAleer

The three-pointed star on a W122 or W124 chassis Mercedes E-Class is small, discreet, and reserved: a targeting reticule to line up on less refined machinery before an autobahn strafing run. In contrast, the badge on the front of Mercedes’ new entry-level sedan is large enough to function as an agitator pond in the wastewater treatment plant of a medium-sized city.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250. Click image to enlarge

It’s simply enormous, the size of a hubcap off one of its forebears – half the time I got out of the car, looked back and fancied I’d arrived by propeller-driven Messerschmitt. Frankly, it’s all a bit worrying.

You see, the former vehicles were unassailable in their Benziness even without any prominent badging. They were large, luxurious, impeccably trimmed, and not so much assembled as hewn from a single piece of Teutonic marble. Even today there is a stateliness about these majestic machines, and given a chance to pilot either a V8-powered 500E or a brown 450SEL 6.9 like that driven by Robert DeNiro in the film Ronin, my brain might simply shut down from the overwhelming excellence.

But this big-badged new car – this is Mercedes-Benz dipping their toe in the tepid pool of entry-level luxury. Oh dear. Entry-level luxury is a segment that has produced far more cubic zirconium than diamonds in the rough. Luxury is expensive, decadent, aspirational. Entry-level luxury is affordable, shiny, sometimes tawdry.

Thus it was with some trepidation that I approached this little four-banger Merc front-driver – sure, a lower price point makes a new car more accessible to younger buyers, but it also dilutes exclusivity. At what cost low-cost?

Mind you, that’s the problem of the Mercedes-Benz marketing department, and perhaps you just care whether the car itself is any good. It mostly is. Mostly.

For all this pontification about the giant Merc’ badge domineering the CLA’s bullish snout, all Mercedes these days have similarly-glittering grilles, and so too did the excellent 560SEC of the 1980s, which was a really cool car. The little CLA flows backward from its faux air-intakes and blingy nose like a guppy version of the CLS’s barracuda shape. Pretty good, actually.

Also, ten million styling points to Mercedes for making a car that doesn’t look goofy riding on the base wheels. I’m not a huge fan of the particular machined-face style here, but these rims are an entirely-liveable 17-inch in diameter, improving ride and making the purchase of snow tires reasonable. If you want the look but not the pricetag of the AMG version, a styling package is only $1,600 and includes 18s – not too crazy.

I will, however, claw a few of those points back for the slightly-untidy way the rear end of the car draws everything together. Just personal preference here, but it’s a little too curvy and swoopy, especially those taillights.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 2502014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 2502014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250. Click image to enlarge

On the inside, there’s an attractive-looking swathe of cross-hatched aluminum spread across the dash, and very cool aircraft-styled heating vents. These last are a bit weird – they look great, but swivelling them around you note how rubbery and wobbly their mountings are. The softness must cut down on in-dash buzzing, but it’s a curious tactile experience.

The rest of the car hides cost-cutting quite well, with cheaper plastics mostly tucked away where you can’t see them. It’s not quite as nice in here as in a higher-priced Mercedes, but it’s not a letdown either. But let’s talk ergonomics.

Firstly, my tester came equipped with a $2,800 Premium Package that included niceties like heated seats and automatic climate control. Handy, because the air-conditioning controls are mounted so low in the centre stack that you absolutely have to take your eyes off the road to adjust them.

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