Affordable luxury compacts are a hot market niche right now not inexpensive compacts with luxury features, but reasonably priced compacts made by luxury manufacturers with all of their upscale features.
One of the most competitive is the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250, a smallish front-wheel-drive sedan from a company better known for its large rear-wheel-drive freeway cruisers. But, despite the size and mechanical differences, all of the M-B trademarks are there, including the sharp styling, secure handling, and leather-lined interior. And the standard turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four delivers impressive power and surprisingly good fuel economy, up to 38 miles per gallon on the freeway, according to the EPA.
More and more cars are getting small displacement turbo engines these days, largely to help manufacturers meet the increasingly higher U.S. fuel economy standards. This is good news for consumers because the technology actually works well to deliver both good mileage and in many case robust performance. Otherwise wasted exhaust gases drive a turbine that pushes more fuel and air into the engine, increasing power while improving economy. Some manufacturers are even beginning to offer turbocharged three cylinder engines in subcompacts.
Mercedes has been advertising the CLA250 as an affordable luxury car, emphasizing its base price of less than $30,000. That may be true, but our test car came with several option packages that pushed its cost to more than $45,000. That may still be a good price for a Mercedes, but does the CLA250 deliver at that price?
The short answer is, yes. The 2014 CLA250 looks, drives and feels like a Mercedes. The exterior design, which includes a large front grill and air dam, looks much larger than a traditional compact. Front interior space is closer to a midsize. The ride is impressively quiet. And the suspension is firm enough to qualify as a genuine driver's car, which may be a little too stiff for some potential buyers.
There are some compromises to consider, however. The touch screen has a definite "add on" look, the only false note in the otherwise high class interior. Rear seat headroom is compromised by the coupe-like roofline. And although the turbo engine has plenty of power when pressed, it is a little slow off the line.
A high performance AMG version is also valuable with a more powerful engine, but no one is pretending that's an affordable compact luxury car.
The 2014 CLA250 is not the only genuine luxury compact to consider if you're in the market for one. Audi, BMW, Cadillac and Lincoln all have their own. But the Mercedes has the advantage of being offered by one of the oldest prestige manufacturers in the world, and it is infused with the company's DNA.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250
Base price: $29,900.
Price as tested: $45,295.
Type: 4-door, 4-passenger sedan.
Engine: Turbo 2.0-liter.
EPA estimated mileage: 26 city/38 highway
Overall length: 182.3 inches
Curb weight: 4,334 pounds
Final assembly: Budapest, Hungary