Sometimes it seems car manufacturers are rolling backwards when it comes to usability and driver friendliness.
Despite – or maybe because of – things like touch screen controls, continuously variable transmissions (CVT), driver-vehicle interface, climate control, etc., etc., some cars are nowhere as driveable as they used to be.
No argument, automobiles are more sophisticated than ever, with impressive technology. But more and more, I find myself behind the wheel of cars I get almost no pleasure from driving. I’m fighting with multi-step switchgear and ergonomics, and pining for simpler times when I could understand the car’s controls.
Case in point: the 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250, which, according to the company, is a coupe. That would make it something of a rarity.
The CLA 250 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that develops some 221 horsepower. It’s mated to a seven-speed 4Matic gearbox and has all-wheel-drive. This last point also makes it kind of unique – all-wheel-drive and coupe aren’t words we usually find in the same sentence.
But despite its uniqueness, I found this car to be kind of annoying.
For starters, I just couldn’t get comfortable. Despite it having multi-adjustable seats, I couldn’t find the right combination and, quite honestly, couldn’t wait to get out of this car. And I still think Mercedes’ patented door-located seat adjustment controls are counter-intuitive.
The instrumentation is cheap and out of place for a car with this price tag. It looks like something you’d find in a colouring book – a nasty little slab of dials kind of glued to the dashboard in front of the driver.
What happened to the lovely bevelled gauges Mercedes once used?
True, this feature doesn’t affect the car’s driveability, but it looks tacky.
My biggest gripe is with the transmission. It just doesn’t seem to like low-speed manoeuvres like parking or inching along in rush hour traffic. It kind of lurches into gear when it’s shifted from reverse and takes its sweet time about it. Once underway, no problem, but there’s more to driving a car than being in perpetual motion.
I also think Mercedes’ toilet-lever shifter is silly but I got used to it eventually.
And that brings me to the touch control pad. This controls everything – radio, heating, air conditioning, ventilation, ambient lighting, seats, navigation system, etc. It’s far too sensitive and really takes your attention away from the most important thing about this car: driving it.
Fortunately, there are redundant controls elsewhere for just about everything and those are what I used. The stationary mouse touch pad is fraught with problems and I ignored it. Mercedes isn’t the only company that uses these; Lexus has them as well and they’re not much better.
I was also beset with incessant beeping and chiming noises from the car. Get too close to the drive-through? Beep beep! Pass a truck on the highway? Beep beep! Back up too close to the shrubbery? Beep beep! It seemed endless and drove me bonkers.
I don’t want a car that’s always chastising me and if there was a way to disable all this junk, I’d do it.
I do like the look of this car. The CLA is a tasty-styled automobile and reminded me of the E-class, which in turn reminds me of the Volkswagen Passat CC. And the interior is tastefully done and a nice place to spend time – as long as you don’t touch anything.
And I have no arguments with the drive train, once you get underway. This is one of the smoothest two-litre engines on the market and power delivery is seamless and abundant.
Mercedes hasn’t offered any official fuel economy figures but I would expect it to be in the 8.0 litres/100 km neighbourhood. Mercedes also claims a zero-to-100 km/h time of 6.3 seconds for the CLA 250, which is respectable.
2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250
Engine: 2.o-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: seven-speed automatic
Horsepower: 221 at 5,500 rpm
Torque: 258 foot pounds at 1,800 to 4,000 rpm
Base price: $43,000
Fuel economy: n/a, premium gas
Some alternatives: Acura ILX, Audi A3, Volvo S60, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50, Cadillac CT4.
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).