Why is Mercedes selling both the nearly identical A-Class sedan and CLA at the same time?

Mercedes’ line of front-wheel drive-biased models used to be pretty simple: you had the A-Class, a practical yet rakish compact hatchback, the B-Class, a more MPV-like (or people carrier-like version of the A-Class,) and then the sleek CLA that successfully impersonated a smaller version of the sexy CLS.

However, you can now order a sedan version of the A-Class and the new CLA. Sure, the latter is certainly more dramatic to look at but not to a huge degree. If you look at both cars from the front side by side, you will notice that only the headlights are really different. From the side, you can definitely see the CLA’s coupe-like roof and C-pillar - it’s the C-pillar of the A-Class sedan that really makes it look different.

When it comes to the rear, the A-Class sedan has a unique design not shared with other Mercedes, whereas the CLA has almost identical clusters to the larger CLS. Step inside, and you’d be hard-pressed to tell which is which - spotting the interior differences is far trickier than doing so on the outside.

Exterior

Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan
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Both of these cars are undeniably modern Mercedes models based on their styling, and you can tell this just with a quick glance at their front fascias. They do have slightly different headlights, one has a more aggressive hood with creases, the shape of the C-pillar is quite different, as are the rear lights. One is ever so slightly more coupe-like (the CLA), while the other tries to retain the look of a more traditional sedan (the A-Class) with its more upright C-pillar and less tapering going on towards the rear.

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA Exterior
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But they’re not actually the same size: the CLA is longer, wider and lower than the A-Class, and its rear overhang is considerably larger too - it definitely looks like a sedan to my eyes. By comparison, the three-box A-Class’ rear area looks almost short enough to belong to a sedan-like hatch - you expect the glass to go up when you open the trunk, like in a Skoda Octavia, for instance.

2017 Skoda Octavia High Resolution Exterior
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Front

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Looking at both cars dead-on from the front, you can’t not notice how similar they are - the A-Class does have slimmer, more slanted headlight clusters, compared to the CLA’s larger and more triangular-shaped lights that look a lot like those of the larger CLS. The shape of the grille is almost identical on both models, although the CLA’s appears to be just a bit larger.

The hood is also different. It looks like it has the same overall outline and shape, but the CLA’s hood has two longitudinal creases that are missing from the A-Class.

These are undeniably meant to make the CLA look more aggressive and sporty. Lower down, on the bumper, the A-Class has openings that look like they do channel air towards the wheel well, while in the case of the CLA, these openings appear to be larger, but they are also fully covered off.

Side

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The front part of the two cars’ side profiles, right up to the B-pillar is almost identical. You can only realistically tell them apart by the shape of the headlight cluster (if you know which one belongs to what car). Aside from this, there is little to set them apart, although after the B-pillar, the CLA’s roofline starts to taper downward very gradually, while the A-Class sedan’s stays pretty much level with the belt line of the car until after the place where rear passengers’ heads are supposed to be inside the car.

In other words, the CLA does make a concession for style, with its more elegant coupe-like roof, while the A-Class sedan is designed to offer superior levels of rear headroom.

The rear end design of the two cars is also quite different - probably the most different part. The CLA has a longer trunk area that continues the tapering design of the rest of the car, while the A-Class has a lot less rear overhang and looks considerably more squat, although in my opinion it isn’t any less successful, lending the car a more youthful appearance.

Rear

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It’s probably the trunk/rear lights area that is the most noticeably different area between the two cars. The CLA looks like a smaller version of the CLS, whereas the A-Class sedan doesn’t really resemble any other three-box Mercedes. The more upright C-pillar of the A-Class also gives it a unique look and, in that respect, I think it’s the most similar to a traditional sedan out of Mercedes’ entire sedan lineup - the C-Class looks more like a four-door coupe by comparison.

So, while the new CLA may look more rakish and dramatic from the rear, the A-Class looks less fussy and more honest.

And, on top of this, its more upright greenhouse should provide better headroom too. And with its shorter deck lid and perky ducktail spoiler, the A-Class is to me the more visually successful of the two - the four-door coupe look just lends itself better to a larger car, like the CLS.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan vs. Mercedes-Benz CLA - exterior dimensions

Mercedes-Benz A-Class Mercedes-Benz CLA
Wheelbase 107.4 106.3
Length 179.1 182.3
Width (w/ mirrors) 78.4 80.0
Width (w/o mirrors) 70.7 70.0
Height 56.9 56.6
Track (front / rear) 61.7 / 60.9 60.9 / 60.8
Ground Clearance (max load) 4.3 3.9

Interior

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The interiors of the A-Class and CLA are virtually identical. Sitting in a driver’s seat and looking around, it would be hard to tell in which of the two cars you are in, even for somebody who’s fully familiar with the two models and what sets them apart.

2018 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Interior
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interior from 2019 Mercedes C-Class shown here
With that being said, though, Mercedes’ new line interiors for its front-wheel drive cars is great.

Materials are not quite up to even C-Class levels in some places, but all key points you touch frequently feel nice and expensive. Seat comfort is good, better than in the previous versions of both cars, but it’s not quite up to C-Class levels again, due to their smaller wheelbase and inherently more cramped interiors.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan
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The CLA is not that great at carrying tall passengers in the back, although it is marginally better than before. The A-Class sedan fares a bit better in this respect, but it is by no means cavernous feeling in the back of one.

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Aboard the A-Class and CLA, all eyes immediately go to the two displays on the upper part of the dash.

As standard, they both come with smaller screens, but if the version you have opted for doesn’t have the bigger 10.25-inch screens, then you really should try to get them included as well. The bigger screens make the interior feel more special and upmarket because with the smaller screens in place; there are huge black bevels around them that just look bad and should be best avoided.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan vs. Mercedes-Benz CLA - interior dimensions

Mercedes-Benz A-Class Mercedes-Benz CLA
Head room (front / rear) 40.3 / 37.2 38.2 / 35.4
Leg room (front / rear) 41.8 / 33.9 40.2 / 27.1
Shoulder room (front / rear) 55.1 / 54.0 56.0 / 53.2
Cargo Volume (seats up) 8.6 13.1

Powertrain

2019 Mercedes A-Class vs 2019 Mercedes CLA
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Mercedes has tuned the CLA to feel slightly sharper to drive than the A-Class sedan, in-keeping with its sportier and more exclusive image. Its suspension is a bit stiffer and this results in better body control around the corners, although the obvious negative effect of that is a less accomplished ride.

2017 Mercedes-AMG CLA45
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But the average driver probably won’t be able to tell there is any significant difference between the two, especially if neither car has the AMG package, or if, say, they are comparing a CLA without the package against an A-Class that does have it. In that particular situation, it may be the A-Class that feels sportier, so as is the case with most of these small premium-badged cars, what you get is all down to how you spec it.

In regards to engines, most units are shared. Both, the A180 / CLA180 and A200 / CLA200 models are powered by a 1.3-liter turbo-four (developed with Renault). In its lower power output, the unit makes 134 horsepower and 200 Nm (148 pound-feet) of torque, but should that not be enough, you can have it with 161 horsepower and 250 Nm (184 pound-feet) of torque. These versions come with either a six-speed stick or seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Engine Transmission Drive
Gasoline
Mercedes A180 \ CLA180 1.3-liter four-cylinder six-speed manual \ seven-speed DCT FWD
Mercedes A200 \ CLA200 1.3-liter four-cylinder six-speed manual \ seven-speed DCT FWD \ AWD
Mercedes CLA220 2.0-liter four-cylinder seven-speed DCT FWD \ AWD
Mercedes A250\ CLA250 2.0-liter four-cylinder Seven-speed DCT FWD \ AWD
Diesel
Mercedes A180d \ CLA180d 1.5-liter four-cylinder Seven-speed DCT FWD
Mercedes A200d \ CLA200d 2.0-liter four-cylinder Seven-speed DCT (Est) FWD \ AWD
Mercedes A220d\ CLA220d 2.0-liter four-cylinder Seven-speed DCT (Est)

Then you can move up to the CLA220 that comes with a 2.0-liter engine with 185 horsepower and 300 Nm (221 pound-feet) of torque. You will be able to order it with front- or all-wheel drive. Claimed sprint time to 100 km/h (62.1 mph) is 7 seconds and its top speed is 245 km/h (150 mph) (or 242 km/h (147 mph) for the all-wheel-drive model). Only the automatic transmission is offered in this spec.

There is no A220 on offer, so in the case of the A-Class, if you want more power, you have to jump to the A250. Both it and the CLA250 are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 218 horsepower and 350 Nm / 258 pound-feet of torque, hooked up exclusively to the seven-speed dual-clutch. Both front- and all-wheel drive variants are available, with a sprint time to 100 km/h / 62 mph of 6.3 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h or 155 mph.

Should you want a diesel in your A-Class or CLA, for now, your only option is a 1.5-liter with 116 horsepower and 260 Nm / 192 pound-feet of torque. No manual gearbox is available, but in conjunction with the standard dual-clutch seven-speed, Mercedes claims the A180d / CLA180 return 4.1 l/100km. However, they needs a leisurely 10.5 seconds to reach 100 km/h / 62 mph, so they’re strictly aimed at those with a hypermiler mentality.

In the near future, Mercedes will add more powerful 2.0-liter diesel engines for both the A-Class and CLA. These will be sold as A200d / CLA200d and A220d / CLA220d.

Mercedes-Benz A220 Sedan vs. Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 - U.S. specifications

Mercedes-Benz A 220 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
Engine Type 2.0L inline-4 turbo engine 2.0L inline-4 turbo engine
Engine Material Aluminum-Alloy Aluminum-Alloy
Valvetrain / Arrangement DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder
Displacement (cc) 1,991 1,991
Bore (in / mm) 3.27 / 83.0 3.27 / 83.0
Stroke (in / mm) 3.62 / 91.9 3.62 / 91.9
Compression Ratio 10.6 : 1 9.8 : 1
Horsepower @ rpm 188 @ 5,800 – 6,100 208 @ 5,500
Torque @ rpm 221 @ 1,250 – 4,000 258 @ 1,250 – 4,000
0-60 mph (seconds) 7.1 (4MATIC: 7.1) 6.9 (4MATIC: 6.8)
Top Speed (mph) 130 (electronically limited) 130 (electronically limited)
City / Highway / Combined (mpg) 24 / 35 / 28 (4MATIC: 25 / 33 / 28) 24 / 37 / 29 (4MATIC: 24 / 32 / 27)

Price

Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan
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In Germany, the A-Class starts from €30,916, while the CLA is a bit more expensive, but not by much, starting at €31,475. Few buyers will, therefore, separate them on price, so the choice to buy one or the other will boil down to which styling you prefer the most.

Most Desirable Options

10.25-inch display €1,475
AMG Line Pack €3,510
MBUX Infotainment w\ Voice Assistant €1,368

Desirable options you’ll want to add on both are the 10.25-inch screens (part of the €1,475 Display Package), the €3,510 AMG Line pack that just makes the cars look so much sportier, as well as the MBUX Innovation package that adds a head-up display and the clever voice-activated assistant for €1,368.

Conclusion

2019 Mercedes A-Class vs 2019 Mercedes CLA
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Mercedes has made two very similar small, front-wheel-drive biased sedans that it sells at very similar prices and offers with pretty much the same engines. The decision to buy one or the other will therefore not be a rational one, but one made based on other positive or negative points you may discover.

They are definitely hard to split - I don’t even know which one I’d go for after documenting for and writing all of the above. I’m tempted to say the A-Class sedan is the better choice because it’s slightly cheaper, has a bit more room inside, and it somehow looks less flashy and more honest.

Buying a CLA, you’re essentially telling the world you want the bigger CLS, but can’t afford to pay twice the price for one. Opting for the A-Class sedan, on the other hand, doesn’t say that about you, although, it could just be people will say you couldn’t afford the C-Class.

This decision will undeniably be made easier when, in the near future, you will be looking to pick one up second hand. Then, the CLA may have just held on to more value, thus making the cheaper but mostly the same A-Class sedan the clear winner.

Further reading

Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan
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Read our full review on the 2019 Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

2019 Mercedes A-Class vs 2019 Mercedes CLA Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLA.

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