A Mercedes for Nearly Every Budget: CLA at Under $30,000 ?

Mercedes CLAQ: How do you get a Mercedes into your driveway when your paycheck tells you no? When your common sense says ?stay under $30,000??

A: Easy: The new entry-level Mercedes CLA-Class, every bit a Mercedes and yet priced at $29,900.

The CLA is an all-new model with the premium kind of looks you?d expect from Mercedes, even resembling its more upscale sibling, the CLS. And it?s a tad longer and wider than the C-Class, which is on a higher shelf, too, and $5,000 more.

This is a sharp looking animal that, by most observations, dazzles the pants off its wide range of competitors in the looks category. Its profile is aerodynamic with a sloping roof that looks great ? but will cost in head room for rear-seat passengers, as is often the case.

The plan here, of course, is for Mercedes to capture the younger folks early and hope they?ll become loyal fans who continue to upgrade over the years.

The 2015 CLA, introduced first as a 2014 model, is the first front-wheel-drive Mercedes sold in the U.S., but it?s doubtful anyone will have a problem with that.

That?s because it?s quick off the line and feels like it has plenty of run. And turbo lag, a frequent factor in front-wheel-drive vehicles, is negligible.

The standard CLA gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder engine that generates 208 horses and 258 foot-pounds of torque. While that may not sound like much, it?s fun to drive and manages a 0-60 mph in a relatively swift 6.4 seconds. Give an assist to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic tranny with shift paddles.

And this all adds up to some sweet EPA figures: 26 mpg city and an amazing 38 mph on the open road (I calculated right around 38 on a highway run).

If you must have more punch, opt for the CLA45 AMG version, which gets a twin turbo and? puts out 355 horsepower and 32 pound-feet of torque. A quicker-shifting version of the same tranny, plus a few other components, means 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds. Edmunds? website says it one of the quickest compact sedans you can buy.

Turn to the Sport Mode and the CLA even grunts and growls from the exhaust throughout the shifts.

The sport-tuned suspension means good road feel and tight cornering. And an electric steering system offers great feedback that adds to that human-vehicle connection ? you know, that zone where you feel one with the car.

That sporty suspension, however, also means a firmer ride quality. So, yes, along with the road feel you?ll also feel the road?s negatives: broken pavement and rougher surfaces that make for a somewhat harsher ride.

Inside, it?s all Mercedes. No worries that Benz cheaped out because this is the entry level. The materials are top-quality, the fit of components and panels is clean. The center stack is neat and buttons are easily reached.

Not crazy about the nav system display location ? mounted high on the dash like an aftermarket item you put there yourself.

Seats are supportive and comfortable. Space up front is adequate, with enough head and leg room for six-footers.

In the backseat, not so much. As aforementioned, the sloping roof impedes on head room back there. And legroom is less than desirable for most, too. On top of that, it?s not too easy to enter and exit with small rear doors.

But, if anyone is feeling too cramped, the panorama sun roof might help to open up the space.

Despite cramped quarters in the rear seat, the trunk is wider and deeper than you might expect. A decent 13.1 cubic feet fits the golf clubs or groceries or a couple of less-than-gargantuan suitcases.

If sound systems are your thing, you?ll want to opt for the premium package ($2,300), which buys a Harmon/Kardon Logic7 Surround Sound system with satellite radio.????????? ?

Smart electronics are part of the safety package, too, with a standard collision prevention system that uses radar to detect a potential collision and gets involved, even braking if necessary. Attention Assist monitors drivers? who aren?t paying attention or are getting drowsy.

Also standard are a slew of air bags, from knee bag to side bags, plus front-seat side pelvic bags and full length side-curtain air bags.

Optional safety systems include rearview camera, parking sensors and parking-assist, a lane-tracking package and blind-spot warning.

The CLA -Class comes in CLA250, CLA250-4Matic and CLA45 AMG versions. The first is nicely equipped with 8-way power seats, driver memory but no leather ? upholstery is premium vinyl which is hard to distinguish from the real thing.

The 4Matic offers all-wheel-drive. The AMG gets bigger wheels (18-inch) and more power.

An optional premium package gets a host of electronics goodies, including a 7-inch nav screen with voice command, 10-gig music server and 6-disc CD changer. A sport package adds a more aggressive front, rear spoiler, sunroof, leather and wood trim inside.

So, to answer the original question, yes ? the CLA gets a Mercedes into your driveway for under $30,000.

As for the follow-up question, is it a cheap imitation or the real deal? Considering the sharp exterior, the refined look inside with electronics aplenty, and a turbocharged and nimble driving experience, I don?t think you?ll have a problem there, either.

Mercedes CLA 250: $29,900
As tested: $34,700 (with Premium package $2,300; panorama sunroof, $1,480; blind-spot monitor, $550; 18-inch wheels, $500; and burl walnut wood trim, $325).

Source: (TNS)