Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class eyes Millennials with a front-wheel-drive price

Aki Sugawara
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Mercedes-Benz has long resisted bringing a compact front-wheel-drive car stateside, and understandably so: the A-Class until recent years looked more like a miniaturized Mazda MPV. But the A-Class got a makeover for 2013, and sales took off — making the hatchback one of the most successful launches for Mercedes-Benz in Europe to date, in spite of a sluggish economy and an industry-wide sales decline. The company hopes to mirror that success stateside with the new CLA-Class, targeting Millennials with a swoopy sedan that looks like a baby CLS.

Staying true to the Concept Style Coupe unveiled at the Beijing Motor Show last year, the self-labeled "style rebel" emphasizes premium styling over practicality. Although it's more than an inch longer than a C-Class at 182 inches, the rear quarters are tight fit for anyone taller than 5-foot-6. That said, it doesn't feel like an over-glorified economy car like the Acura ILX—the satin accents and stitched leather feel aptly upscale.

Although based on the front-wheel-drive platform of the A-Class, the CLA touts numerous improvements over the Euro hatchback. With a slippery 0.22 coefficient of drag — the lowest of any production car — and a 211-horsepower turbo paired with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the sedan promises good fuel economy (no word yet on official EPA figures). Also available as an option is a newly designed 4Matic all-wheel-drive system that will roll out across other models, which can distribute up to 50% of its power to the rear wheels.

That equals "unmatched driving fun" according to Dr. Thomas Weber, member of the board of management of Daimler AG — which may be enough to woo the upcoming generation of luxury car buyers when it hits dealerships this September.