CLS design and AMG performance: The CLA-Class was once a forgettable entry-level model with boring designs inside and out. In 2020, Mercedes redesigned the CLA-Class, moving it out of the entry-level slot, and replaced it with the A-Class. This redesign brought CLS-inspired styling and even more juice from the AMG team.

This niche four-door coupe class has limited competition, but the 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class takes heat from the Acura ILX and Audi A3. Find out below if the 2021 CLA-Class’ style and performance can overcome its handful of shortcomings.

Sleek, coupe-ish design that eats into the trunk space: One of the CLA-Class’ most endearing qualities is its sleek silhouette that almost looks like a coupe, a la the pricier CLS-Class. This gives the lower-tier CLA-Class a design that punches well above its $38,900 (destination fee included) base MSRP.

Want something sportier? The AMG models bolt on loads of look-good bit, including flashier wheels, updated bumpers, side sills, a revised grille, and even a domed hood.

There are some significant tradeoffs to its design, though. It cuts sharply into the trunk space, leaving the CLA-Class with just 11.6 cubic feet of space. Plus, its tapered backside makes the trunk opening pretty tight. The rear door openings are also low, making them a hazard to taller passengers’ heads.

Buyers looking for additional trunk space can check out the Acura ILX, which delivers 12.4 cubes and a larger door opening. The A3 has an even tighter trunk at 10 cubes, but it also has more traditional door openings that aren’t targeting 6-footers’ domes.

Buyers can even look across the showroom at the A-Class, which offers 14.8 cubes of trunk space and a $4,000 lower starting price.

Stunning interior and tech, limited rear-seat room: The 2021 CLA-Class offers an interior to match its attractive exterior. It features all the latest Mercedes bits, including circular air vents, a flat-bottom steering wheel, a clean center stack, a wraparound LED light strip, and available side-by-side infotainment and gauge cluster screens.

Mercedes also stuffed the 2021 CLA-Class with tech, including a standard 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and an available 10.3-inch touchscreen. Buyers can also add a booming Burmeister audio system and other upscale tech gadgets.

Safety tech is no issue in the CLA-Class with its standard automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring. The A3 comes standard with only automatic emergency braking. The ILX offers standard automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise, optional on the CLA-Class, but its blind-spot monitors are optional.

The CLA-Class’ most prominent issue is its rear seats, which offer just 33.9 inches of leg room. This combined with the sloped roof makes the rear seats a punishing space for taller riders. Buyers seeking more back-seat leg room can look to the Acura ILX (38 inches) or the A3 (35.1 inches).

Mercedes CLA-Class

Thrifty or speedy – your choice: The 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class has a powertrain for every buyer, starting with its surprisingly potent base 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 221 horsepower and pairs with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. This combo sprints the CLA to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds. The 201-hp ILX and the 186-hp A3 can’t hang, though the all-wheel-drive A3 has a 220-hp standard four-cylinder.

With this base powertrain, the CLA-Class is also relatively thrifty at 29 miles per gallon combined, beating the ILX by 1 mpg combined.

Want more speed? Opt for the 2021 CLA35 AMG, which boasts an AMG-tuned 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. AMG pumped this four-pot to 302 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque and tinkered with the transmission. Thanks to standard all-wheel drive maximizing traction, the CLA35 AMG sprints to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. The ILX has no match for it, but the 288-hp Audi S3 and its sub-five-second sprint time gives it a run for its money.

If you’ve gone totally off the rails, the CLA45 AMG takes the same 2.0-liter and pushes the power to 382 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. This power also flows through standard all-wheel drive for a blistering four-second 0-60 time. Audi has the CLA-Class’ number with its RS 3, which delivers 394 hp and a sub-four-second 0-60 time.

Final thoughts: If you can get over the tiny trunk and punishing rear seats, the 2021 Mercedes CLA-Class is an incredible buy. It features all the style you’d ever want inside and out, loads of tech, and impressive performance in every tune level.

For buyers who care more about the rear seats and trunk, the ILX is a good option, but it lacks the style and performance.

The Audi S3, and RS 3 are good matches to the CLA-Class’ AMG-blessed models, but the base S3’s 186-hp can’t match the base CLA-Class, and its trunk is even smaller.

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