Mercedes Benz CLA-Class vs. Mercedes Benz A-Class: What Is The Difference?

May 26th, 2020 by

Earlier this year, with the introduction of the second-generation Mercedes-Benz CLA at the CES innovation show in Las Vegas, one of the biggest questions on our minds is, “What’s the point of the new CLA now that the A-class sedan exists?” Both cars are four-door compacts that run on the same platform use the same powertrain, and have almost similar interiors with many of the same choices. Sure, the CLA is advertised with a swooped roofline and more rugged styling as a “four-door coupe,” but is it really different from the A-class to justify its presence?

Whereas, the CLA is still a better performance alternative. It offers more horsepower and torque than the A 220. You will also have the option of upgrading to the more powerful AMG CLA 45. While it’s a bit pricier, for more adrenaline-inducing thrills, the AMG CLA 45 will give you an impressive 381 horsepower.

When comparing the spec sheets, there are a few differences that are obvious. The latest CLA is 5.5 inches longer and 1.3 inches wider than the A-class at 184.6 inches long and 72.0 inches wide. Due to the sloping roofline, it’s also slightly shorter in height. The CLA comes in CLA250 form only, with a 4-cylinder 221-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter, whereas the A-class is only available in 188-hp A220 form. The CLA also provides different tuning for suspension, steering, and stability-control, but the CLA and A-class are still too close to many — including some at the C/D department. When asked Gorden Wagener, Daimler’s design manager, to really understand Mercedes ‘ reasoning behind the two vehicles and really gain some insight behind the design process of the CLA. Let’s break down the two cars in each of their respective categories.

Exterior

Mercedes may call the CLA a “coupe,” but by most definitions, if a vehicle has four doors and a traditional trunk, it’s a sedan. The CLA’s sloped roofline and frameless windows don’t change that, but they certainly provide points of differentiation. Remember that these two cars represent different brand generations (think version 1.0 and version 2.0). The CLA-Class is related to the A-Class hatchback of the previous generation sold in Europe. The A-Class we are addressing here is the sedan model of the newly revamped predecessor to that vehicle. Finally, on the basis of the same structure, a next-generation CLA will debut.Nonetheless, we’re looking at old (CLA) versus new (A) for 2019. What is the difference outside?

In addition, the CLA-Class is longer than the A-Class, which in its longer tail and larger trunk is the most noteworthy. Nevertheless, the A-Class has a shorter wheelbase, which is a big reason that it has more legroom in the back seat. Its less provocative roofline (note the knot in the back window vs the unbroken arch of the CLA) ensures more headroom for back seat passengers. The two deliver quite similar proportions in terms of styling, but it is quite clear that the new product is the A-Class. Notice the smaller headlight packages of the LED and the sharklike snout in line with other recent Mercedes models.

Interior

In contrast to the smaller trunk of the CLA, the A-Class has a considerable advantage in interior space. In particular the back seat has two extra inches of headroom, ensuring that even tall passengers can accommodate. Their knees may still be a little pinched (especially up front with equally tall folks), but they’re going to be more relaxed than in the CLA. We will also have a back middle armrest that is oddly absent from the CLA.

Nevertheless, the differences in interior design and quality will be most apparent. It’s night and day really. The quality of the A-Class has been significantly improved, and although some of the materials do not equal that of pricier Benz, it sure does its model. With its available 64-color ambient lighting and two-tone color schemes, this is a ritzy, trendy atmosphere made much cooler. The CLA, on the other hand, is perfectly fine, but it is dated and pales in comparison with the quality of its products. Compared to mainstream brands, they are appropriate, but we expect a luxury brand to do more.

Mechanicals

The A-Class is part of Mercedes ‘ next-generation small car platform so its foundations are basically new-and-improved versions of what you would see in the CLA. Specifically the performance of the transmission and the throttle are greatly improved, but below we will go into more detail.

The A-Class is marketed only as the A 220 model and is available with either front-wheel drive or 4Matic all-wheel drive like the CLA. The A 220’s engine is a 2.0-liter4-cylinder turbocharged engine generating 188 horsepower and 221 lb-ft torque. Both the A and the CLA have an automated manual transmission (DCT) of7-speed dual-clutch, but their tuning and actions vary greatly. At the time of this writing, fuel economy was not published, but considering the lower output of the A 220 and slipperier aerodynamics, we would expect it to achieve a better fuel economy — claim, 30 miles per gallon compared to 29.

The CLA is available as the CLA 250 and the CLA 45 AMG. Since there is no equivalent A-Class available, we’re going to set aside the 375-hp AMG version and just assume if you’re looking for that kind of quality in this kind of vehicle size, you’re likely to be quite satisfied with it. Nevertheless, the CLA 250 only comes with a 2.0-liter turbo four, but it produces torque of 208 hp and 258 lb-ft. Definitely, this increased power would result in quicker acceleration.

Features and Technology

The new A-Class is not only the Mercedes small car of the next generation, it is also the first Mercedes to adopt the MBUX tech system of the next generation, which will gradually find its way through the series.

It replaces the system known as COMMAND, which is a generation behind what you will see in higher classes for Mercedes in the CLA. While essentially the same thing you see on its dash-top screen, its software means is restricted to a center console knob, a range of center stack keys, and a small number of wheel controls. It’s old of course, but it works pretty well indeed. In some respects, in those lower Mercedes classes it is still less complex than newer versions of COMMAND.

Nonetheless, in our view, MBUX is an upgrade over both. It is an all-new system with a complex menu structure and graphics highlighted by a pair of side-by-side display screens (a 7 inch standard and 10.25 inch upgrade). It is possible to modify the layout and design of these displays. It has also improved the mechanism by which they are controlled The knob of COMMAND is completely gone, completely replaced by a touchpad on the center console with a nice, leather-like touch look. But, MBUX goes much further with enhanced touchscreen features with pinching and swiping gestures, tiny touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel and natural voice recognition commands.

Driving Experience

The A-Class is a better to drive, simple as that. This has to do largely with the big driveability weaknesses of the CLA 250 that the A-Class is correcting The throttle-pedal feeling of the CLA 250 is mushy and responsive The A 220’s are quite normal The7-speed DCT transmission of the CLA 250 produces jerky motions at slow speeds and is slow to respond to the already sluggish throttle responses. Particularly in traffic, it can be an annoying car to drive. In the A-Class, which is a more sophisticated vehicle, all this is corrected.

In fact, the CLA looks more like a contender for a sporty compact car like the Volkswagen GTI, while the A-Class feels like a real Mercedes reduced to a compact size. The A 220 is definitely less powerful than the CLA 250, but its turbocharged 4-cylinder still offers an efficient, torque-rich power supply that is cleaner and easier to access.

We’re not positive about the variations in ride quality between the two, and we’d advise you to check them out with their basic run-flat tires and new, non-run-flat tires with some bigger wheels. Run-flat tires on the CLA build tiresome impact stiffness, and although we tested the A 220 with its available 19-in wheels and stock tires had a smooth ride, we have our doubts that would be the case with the standard run flats.

Safety

The CLA comes with an impressive range of safety equipment including eight airbags, a backup camera, a driver inattention screen, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. For blind spot warning and lane-keeping assistance, you can upgrade it.

The A-Class is fitted with updated next-generation versions of those systems, however, and goes much further with the full range of the new, most advanced security software brought down from the New Window flagship S-ClassOpens. The optional driver support kit also provides blind spot and lane-keeping assistance, but its alert feature is improved and the blind spot system can now enable steering intervention.

The new DISTRONIC adaptive cruise control feature now provides steering assistance (keeps you in your lane when on the highway, just place a finger or two on the wheel) and gets input from the GPS system of the car so that it knows how to slow down for curves. Pedestrians are also monitored by the forward-collision warning system. This is an incomparable outstanding package from any rival.

Bottom Line

As we discovered the Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, the new baby Benz is more spacious, more functional, easier to ride and much more advanced technology. Allegedly the CLA may be the stylish “coupe” version, but at least to our eyes, the cleaner, fresher look is the latest A 220. In terms of design and quality, the interior is not a competition. Only the CLA 45 have a clear advantage because there is no comparable A-Class.

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