I saw the Concept Style Coupe last year at the Beijing Motor Show, when Mercedes-Benz announced that it would put the flashy show car into production as the CLA-Class. As much as I liked the general design of the CSC, I wasn't quite sure how well a cheaper, front-wheel-drive compact Mercedes sedan would play in the U.S. Nonetheless, I was eager to see how much of the CSC's dramatic, overwrought styling would be lost in the march from concept-car to production model.
Fast forward to Sunday, and Mercedes showed off the production 2014 CLA-Class -- after a loud performance by pop duo Karmin -- on the eve of the Detroit auto show. Compared to the CSC that I ogled in Beijing, the CLA has lost its dramatic wavy body panels, bright-green interior accents, turbine-style wheels, and fanciful dashboard. But it still looks great, and I especially like it in dark red paint as shown at Mercedes' party. Although criticized by some as "simply" a scaled-down version of the CLS-Class, the compact sedan has sharp lines, graceful curves, and all the presence necessary to fit in at a Mercedes dealership.
The CLA has plenty of neat flourishes showing the designers put extra time into making the car look special. The frameless windows, for instance, made it over from the Concept Style Coupe and are unusual for sedans in this price range; curving light pipes help make the LED taillights stand out from the bodywork; and the fact that the hood and trunklid taper inwards makes the CLA look larger than it really is, which should reassure any luxury buyer wary of driving a "compact" car.
As the smallest and cheapest (both relative terms) Mercedes, the Germans hope the CLA-Class will draw in so-called Gen Y buyers -- of which there are a claimed 75 million in the U.S. Those are the customers who, apparently, are "young at heart," tech-savvy, and interested in both style and value. But the new car is supposed to tug on the heart- and purse-strings of conquest customers from other luxury and near-luxury brands.
"Who are the people we want to seduce with this new CLA-Class?" asked Mercedes sales and marketing chief Dr Joachim Schmidt. "We believe that the CLA will win over many buyers who would never buy a Mercedes before."
Even though the flowing design is incredibly aerodynamic, with a 0.22 drag coefficient that executives claim is the best of any series-production car, Mercedes clearly didn't sacrifice design in order to achieve outlandish fuel-economy figures.
"Everybody feared that all cars would end up in the same wind tunnel-optimized shape," explained Professor Thomas Weber, Mercedes board member for research and development, "Well, that's not true. Who would have thought our stylish car could be a world-leader in aerodynamics?"
Despite its grand entrance Sunday, the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class won't be shown on the stand at the Detroit auto show. That's because Mercedes would rather show visitors check out the new E-Class sedan, coupe, and cabriolet. But that's not the only unusual step the German company will take in marketing the CLA-Class. The car's price will be announced not in a dreary press release, but in a Super Bowl commercial featuring pop star Usher and model Kate Upton.
For more on the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, read our First Look here.