2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250
It’s been nearly 500 years since the passage of the Reinheitsgebot, the “German Beer Purity Law” decreeing that beer shall be made from only three ingredients: water, barley, and hops. (And yeast, of course, though its contribution to the fermentation process wouldn’t be understood until a few centuries later.) The letter of the land until 1988, it holds considerable sway over brewers even today, a testament to the country’s mania for integrity and tradition. It’s this same sort of obsessive attention to detail that we so often admire in German luxury sedans, at least the ones we find as satisfying as a stein of authentic lager. This newest four-door from the fatherland, the Mercedes-Benz CLA, comes off more like Bud Light in comparison. Indeed, the CLA is a potion pitched at mainstream America, a less intoxicating—and less costly—take on the company’s “four-door coupe” trope. Its MSRP starts at just $29,900 before the $925 destination charge. While this is important for landing it on those “Best Cars Under $30,000” slide shows that pass for shopping advice on the web, that’s nearly six grand less than the price of the C-class, the car that’s spent the last two decades serving as the Mercedes of choice for Americans who can’t really afford one. Not surprisingly, then, a base CLA is a few longnecks short of a case. Options include equipment that might be taken for granted on something with a three-pointed star in its grille: leather ($1500), a sunroof ($1480), and heated seats ($580). Yes, you will be upsold. Our test car was ordered with the $2200 Premium package, which seems unlikely to be left off any car destined for a dealer lot and includes an iPod connector, garage-door opener, compass, auto-dimming mirrors, satellite radio, dual-zone climate control, a Harman/Kardon-branded sound system, and heated seats. Gotta have that compass. A loaded CLA does include trickle-down tech like adaptive cruise control (bundled with other assistance features in a $2500 package) and automated parallel parking ($970), but it stickers for more than $45,000. Visually, the CLA is the most interesting thing to come out of Stuttgart in a decade. The refreshing lack of straight, formal lines gives the car a distinct identity, rather than the look of a smaller progeny. Sitting still, the CLA looks like an arrow that has just left the bowstring, styling that should hit the target market the way William Tell split his apple. The CLA’s convex curves and droopy fascias aren’t new ideas, but they all work better here than on similarly styled products from BMW and Volkswagen, or even the Mercedes CLS that served as inspiration.