The allure of the Mercedes CLA250 is difficult to resist; it’s a small sedan with a sterling reputation, and an un-stodgy look and feel (just take a look at that roofline). The base price is pitch-perfect, too.
But start adding options, or try to fit passengers into the back seat, and the CLA raises plenty of questions—not the least of which is, what else should I test-drive before I sign the paperwork?
Yes, the Audi A3 comes close to the CLA when price and prestige factored in; and the Acura ILX fits right up against in size and specs. But we consider the Buick Verano as an interesting vehicle to potentially cross-shop.
Which one should you drive next: The Benz, or the Buick?
MORE: Read our 2016 Buick Verano and Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class reviews
We rate all cars for styling, performance, comfort and quality, safety, features, and fuel economy. And in this case, the CLA comes out on top, even before all the safety ratings are in. There’s a “however,” of course: in our numeric rankings, the CLA doesn’t break entirely free of Buick in any category, while the Verano outshines the CLA in at least a couple areas.
Debate all you want–we consider the CLA’s styling to be the Verano’s superior by the widest margin in all our head-to-head comparisons. The CLA’s a mini-CLS in silhouette, with the exciting surfacing of its bigger counterpart, and with a finely penned cabin. The Verano is handsome, but ultimately less exciting, inside and out. If only it had a little more of Buick’s fantastic Regal in its panels and dash.
The Verano’s a remarkably quiet, well-composed four-door–and in the preferred form, The Verano Turbo is priced just about where the base CLA250 starts. In a straight line, on a long freeway cruise, we’d honestly be happier with the Verano’s serene attitude. But when the road bends at all, it’s the Benz you’ll want to drive. The steering has a firm handshake, the ride’s taut, body roll is about zero, and the paddle shift controls put the rorty–sometimes loud–turbo four in the middle of it all. The Verano leans willingly and lets its wheels travel more, all to take the brunt of the road for you, way more passive than aggressive. It’s a night-day difference that lingers more in the back of our brains as we realize the Verano Turbo is the top of that line–while the CLA has AMG reaches left to explore.
Comfort and safety are the arenas where the Verano swipes points from the CLA’s side of the table. The Buick’s seats are softly supportive, and easier to climb into, especially in back where room is more ample, period. The CLA’s basic leatherette seats are good, but the roof is low and the back seat only workable for medium-sized adults and anyone smaller. Its interior telegraphs “sporty,” with plenty of plastic trim, while the Verano commands a more muted, more substantial look.
As for safety, both of these models comes very well-equipped, and while the picture isn’t complete for either of them, the Verano does have an excellent record in the NHTSA’s testing. The CLA is without crash-test data.
Gas mileage: the CLA owns the Verano, with a 38-mpg EPA highway rating in easy reach of normal interstate driving.
Finally, in terms of features, both cars come very well-equipped at their point of competition. The Verano has more standard features at the CLA’s base price, but without some key upsides. At around $30,000 the Buick includes standard leather seating and 18-inch wheels, both options on the CLA. And yet, it doesn’t offer the sporty handling of the Mercedes, even in its base form, which lands at around the same price. Available all-wheel drive, higher gas mileage, and the three-pointed star on the hood are all additional, whether you think that’s worth the brisk upcharge or not.
The CLA is a sea change for Mercedes, and it’s put together a convincing package at a compelling price, which is still substantially higher than the Buick’s no matter how it’s parsed. The Verano takes the idea of a small Buick up the social ladder, in no small way—but it sidesteps the sporty vein that the compact luxury cars from Germany will mine, all day long, the CLA first among them.
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