It’s no secret that the vast majority of the cars chosen for Meh Car Monday tend to come from either what’s generally known as the Malaise Era: that grim span of time from around 1972 to 1982 or so when, automotively, everything just sort of sucked, or from the early-to-mid 1990s, when too many cars seemed to be homogenizing into giant silver suppositories. Today, we’re going to try something different, and pick a very modern meh car: the (current, not the about-to-be announced) Mercedes-Benz CLA.
German cars are also somewhat under-represented in the Umehiverse, and I’m pretty sure we’ve never had a Mercedes-Benz. So this is a big day for meh cars in a lot of ways, and I encourage everyone to celebrate it accordingly, perhaps with a nice big bowl of puréed, boiled chicken and maybe cocktail made from generic vodka and store-brand tonic water.
You could garnish that cocktail with a blank Post-it, too, if you wanted.
The CLA was sort of a big deal for Mercedes; for the American market, it was the first transverse-engined, front-wheel drive smallish Benz ever sold, so you’d think that’d be a big deal.
And it was, conceptually, but the problem was the end result was essentially a very nice Honda Civic with much worse reliability.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against the idea of an entry-level small Mercedes-Benz. In fact, I like that concept a lot. I even liked Mercedes’ earlier attempts at such a car, the original two generations of the A-Class, a radically-designed tall one-box city car that managed to be practical and very innovative.
Sure, there’s plenty of people who probably wouldn’t even want to think of something like that as a “real” Mercedes, but it sure as hell wasn’t meh and they can write their own damn series on boring cars if they don’t like it.
The all-new CLA-class that came out in 2013, though, didn’t take any risks at all, really. It was just a compact FWD four-door sedan, though Mercedes liked to show off how little they cared about what words actually mean, and called it a “Coupé.”
There was also a wagon version, which I think is less meh because it’s a wagon, and I tend to give those some meh-passes, and also the AMG version, because that engine is actually pretty impressive and the car becomes a good bit more fun. So let’s focus the meh-ness on the mainstream CLAs.
The fundamental problem with the CLA is that it’s a car that was built starting with the badge first, and then everything just sort of filled in behind it. It’s a car that’s really not any better than many other less expensive cars out there, but because it’s wearing that famous three-pronged boomerang in the circle, there will be people who will be suckered into buying it.
Aside from being an effective means to transport a set of Mercedes badges, there just wasn’t that much that the CLA was really good at. It was kind of cramped inside, it wasn’t really all that engaging to drive, it wasn’t particularly efficient or well-equipped, and while its looks weren’t bad, the back end of it looked like someone parked it next to an active volcano for a bit too long, melting it.
The CLA became our first Mercedes-Benz meh car because when you drag it to the Great Court of Mehness, put it on the stand, and ask it “what’s your point?” the CLA stammers and covers the mic with a tire and whispers into its lawyer’s ear a lot before stammering out “I’m a Mercedes?”
That’s not enough. For the money this car sold for—around $35,000—you have so many other more interesting options. Audis, Acuras, Hondas, Volvos, even BMWs, wagons, better sedans, actual sports cars, actual family cars, all kinds of things—there’s just not really a good reason why you’d choose a CLA.
The CLA isn’t terrible, of course, but, really, who gives a shit about these? If it was badged as, say, a really up-market Smart (I know that’s weird, but it’s Mercedes-Benz’ only downmarket brand, really) it would have been gone long ago.
Really, there shouldn’t be any comparison between a Mercedes and a Civic, right? The Mercedes should be clearly the more desirable car, no question. But in the case of the CLA, all you really get over the more pedestrian car is worse reliability, higher repair bills, and that badge.
Commercials for the CLA found the whole reason the car existed, and focused on that:
It’s a Mercedes you can own, for relatively cheap. That’s pretty much it.
Of course, earlier in the CLA’s life, they were a little more bold, giving William Dafoe the chance to play Satan and showing a guy who would have sold his soul for an entry-level Mercedes until he happened to see an entire billboard:
Seriously, if you’re going to sell your soul, at least do the fucking research, buddy. Get a C-Class, at least.
If you’re bothered by all the CLA bashing, though, you’re in luck: the new CLA just leaked, and it looks like it’s much better. So remember that as you write your angry emails telling me what a moron I am.