Would You Buy An Underpowered BMW Over The Mercedes CLA?

I can’t wait to start seeing ads for low, low lease rates for a new BMW 320i. Something just tells me it’s going to be the car that’s going to get a lot of people to go to a BMW showroom and leave with a 328i instead. It’s probably because when I went online to build one I ended up very far from that $32,550 base price that’s supposed to lure everyone in.

Spec up a 320i with a paint color other than white or black, sunroof, power seats, an alarm and a USB slot and you’re just over $37,000. So, typical BMW pricing.

Would You Buy An Underpowered BMW Over The Mercedes CLA?

This would be fine were it not for how uninspiring 180 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque sounds. And the fact it looks like any other standard 3-series, which is decidedly meh. Worse still, it’s going to be up against a car I’m very interested in: the Mercedes-Benz CLA.

The CLA doesn’t go on sale for a few more months, but with Kate Upton's help we found out it’s going to squeeze in at $29,900. And we found out what those options will cost a while back. It looks like the standard car is going to come better equipped than the 320i, even if they still bundle iPod control and satellite radio in a big bundle option. Still, even if it’s around 35 grand once you add a package or two to make it Mercedes spec, you must decide between the gorgeous junior CLS or the base 3-series that looks like what an associate VP would drive.

The CLA’s dirty secret, though, is that it’s front wheel drive. Down some 28 horses on the Merc, the BMW’s still likely going to be more fun to drive. And you can get it in a manual, unlike the CLA. It may be pretty, but beneath the looks there’s something very worrying about the CLA for the driving enthusiast. I hope I’m proven wrong.

I’ve started hating on the 320i less and less. In 10 years or so when all they’re all on a second or third owner, these could be the source of cheap rear-drive fun that’s a bit down on power. This could be the second coming of the 318ti. Without the hatch, of course. So what I'd do is, um, buy the 318ti.

What do you think? On paper, would you go for the rear-drive Bimmer or be seduced by the pretty Merc?

Photo: Mercedes-Benz