Compact cars used to be extremely popular, with a plethora of entries from just about every manufacturer.
With the latest craze being crossovers, the segment is slowly shrinking. However, two of Germany’s most well-respected luxury automakers introduced models this year as entry-points into the brand, for the buyer that doesn’t want a crossover. We compared the 2020 BMW 228i Gran Coupe and 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4MATIC, two seemingly popular choices with the younger crowd, to see what these new examples have to offer.
Let’s start with the styling of the 2020 BMW 228i Gran Coupe and 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4MATIC. The first-generation CLA (reviewed here) was aggressively styled, but the frumpy roofline and rear did not age well. The second generation is all new for 2020, and we think the proportions are much more elegant. The lines are simpler and flow with the current Mercedes-Benz styling language, and this bodes well for the four-door coupé. The BMW, on the other hand, looks great from the front to the B-pillar. After that, the design appears to be little more than an afterthought. It’s reminiscent of the Kia Forte or theoutgoing Nissan Sentra, which is probably not what BMW was going for.
Both cars are powered by 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines. BMW’s version, known as the “B48”, edges ahead in responsiveness and overall punch. Its 228 horsepower comes on at 6,000RPM, and torque is 258 lb-ft. at a low 1,450RPM. It moves off the line with urgency, and the eight-speed automatic, while not as crisp as the ZF eight-speed in rear-based applications, is fairly good. The Mercedes is down eight horsepower, while torque is also 258 lb-ft., and the seven-speed dual-clutch isn’t exactly performance focused. It feels a touch slower and more comfort-focused, and this is evidenced by a 0-100km/h acceleration time of nearly half a second behind the BMW.
The CLA 250 handles with ease, and the steering is extremely light with minimal feedback. For the average commuter with a more highway-focused routine, it makes the most sense. Body control is well sorted, though the rear suspension bounces a little more than we’d like over road imperfections. The BMW on the other hand, despite being nose-heavy, is more lively and responsive to inputs. However, the 3,500-pound 228i Gran Coupe has nearly 60% of its weight on the front axle, which is uncharacteristic for BMW. It’s more prone to understeer and while the steering is better weighted than the Mercedes, the 228i doesn’t feel quite as confident. Between the 2020 BMW 228i Gran Coupe and 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4MATIC, the points here go to the Mercedes.
We typically expect BMWs to handle well and exhibit ride quality on the firmer side, especially when compared to non-AMG models from Mercedes. In this case, the 228i Gran Coupe rides remarkably well, even on the run-flat tires equipped from the factory. We recommend buyers swap out when convenient for a good set of all-seasons, and this will improve even more. As mentioned previously, the CLA 250’s rear end is a bit jittery over the gnarly potholes of Toronto. Aside from this, the ride is sublime and as always, one of the better aspects of this Mercedes sedan. The ride quality category comes in with a tie between the two cars.
Regardless of which segment we’re playing in, the current crop of models from Mercedes-Benz absolutely wins the interior game. Their layouts are beautiful, with high quality materials throughout. The new MBUX infotainment system has some quirks to it, but the large 10.3-inch screens are brilliant and the voice control works very well. Additionally, the configurable ambient lighting is best in class, and punches above its weight. The BMW’s interior is also extremely well designed, with the latest application of iDrive combined with the digital instrument cluster. It’s worth mentioning that the BMW does not offer Android Auto, while the Mercedes offers both. Materials are top-notch, and between the two cars, space is also very similar. One nuisance – despite being called a “Gran Coupe”, the 228i does not have a hatchback; it’s a regular sedan with a trunklid.
Despite its lack of a liftgate, the BMW has slightly more cargo space, at 425 liters. The Mercedes is behind at 340-liters. Both vehicles have folding rear seats that help with practicality and transporting large objects. The BMW’s trunklid has a small opening, so this makes for awkward loading of anything bigger than a carry-on suitcase. Interior space for both vehicles is virtually identical, and the Mercedes’ sloped roofline means that taller rear passengers will be more at home in the BMW 228i Gran Coupe.
The CLA 250’s 51-liter fuel tank seems small, but the car’s overall average makes for a very reasonable driving range, especially on longer trips. We observed 8.4L/100km in the Mercedes, running on premium grade fuel. The BMW’s engine wasn’t even broken in, but showing an average of 8.0L/100km. If past experience is any indication, it shouldn’t be hard at all to achieve numbers in the sub-7L/100km range with the 228i Gran Coupe, especially on the highway. Points go to the BMW here.
Mercedes prices the 2020 CLA 250 at $43,000 to start, above the new A-Class (reviewed here). Our test vehicle was pretty jammed with all of the available options, including active safety through the Intelligent Drive Package, Burmester audio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and more, coming in at $54,275. The 228i Gran Coupe starts at a slightly lower $42,500, however our tester was also fully loaded in this case, and came in at $53,395 before taxes and destination. The pricing for these two vehicles is within $1,000 of each other when similarly equipped, so while the Mercedes is a smidge cheaper, it does boil down to buyer preference at the end of the day.
As it stands, both of these vehicles are built to a price point. The 2020 BMW 228i Gran Coupe and 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4MATIC are targeted at the entry-level luxury buyer who is shopping on a budget but wants something with a badge. They both have all-wheel-drive and thus are adequately capable in inclement weather, but both are front-based systems and not quite as refined as the systems their larger, rear-drive based siblings offer. While the BMW does deliver slightly more engagement, the Mercedes-Benz offers more refinement and edges ahead in the comfort department. They’re both exceptional choices, but the winner here is the 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4MATIC.