Generally speaking, whenever a vehicle is offered in both internal-combustion and all-electric variants, the EV version can be a bit compromised. Mercedes-Benz is flipping the script, however, with the Concept CLA-Class, revealed in Munich at IAA 2023 to preview the company’s new, electric-first compact car platform.
Based on the Mercedes-Benz Modular Architecture (MMA), the Concept CLA-Class boasts slippery styling, sustainable interior materials, and a company-estimated range of 466 miles on the optimistic WLTP scale. And although powertrain and battery details are scarce, the automaker says the CLA takes inspiration from the Vision EQXX concept for both its electric motors and dash-spanning Superscreen infotainment system.
Gallery: Mercedes-Benz Concept CLA-Class
Crisp, Clean, And Classy
The CLA concept takes a familiar swoopy sedan ("four-door coupe") shape that’s been a hallmark of the nameplate since its arrival for the 2014 model year. However, designers tweaked the look with a longer hood and shorter rear deck for sportier proportions, enhanced by the resplendent Pomegranate Red coat of paint. Further differentiating the Concept CLA from its predecessors is a much bolder grille element, cribbing its bottom-feeding shape from the Mercedes-AMG SL roadster and GT sports car. Rising from the body-color grille panel are a galaxy of three-dimensional, illuminated stars, giving the concept a jewelry-like appearance up close.
Mercedes’ corporate Sensual Purity design language is plainly apparent in the Concept CLA’s sleek bodysides and curved rear end, but it has been revised slightly with flared fenders appearing under a crisp strip of chrome that blends seamlessly into the front and rear lights. Speaking of, the head- and taillamps both boast full-width LED lighting and three-pointed daytime running lights, recessed within a relief instead of appearing underneath a sheet of glass or plastic. That gives the CLA a stepped-nose appearance up front in combination with the grille shape, which might be the car’s only styling misstep.
Inside, the Concept CLA borrows a lot from the Vision EQXX, including sustainable materials and a high-tech Superscreen display. The silver and white seat upholstery is done up in Nappa leather that’s been tanned using coffee husks, an otherwise unusable byproduct of the drink industry, and the shimmering purple accent fabric is made from recycled PET plastic. Strips of lab-grown silk appear inside the door pockets, the floor mats are made from bamboo, and the satin silver door pulls and armrest trim are actually made from recyclable paper. Fun styling elements include the classic Benz laurel wreath, upsized and embroidered into the seats.
Most obviously, the Mercedes-Benz Concept CLA-Class features a huge, dash-spanning Superscreen infotainment system comprising three separate displays: an instrument cluster and touchscreens in the center and in front of the passenger seat. What look like Mercedes-signature turbine HVAC vents are actually dials for the dual-zone climate control, with airflow actually coming from strakes behind the floating Superscreen. Running the infotainment system is MB.OS, the automaker’s new operating system that features a liquid-cooled processor – displayed proudly on the firewall – for faster operation, crisper graphics, and improved functionality.
Since it’s still a concept and not a running, driving prototype, the CLA show car’s “specifications” are less literal and more a guesstimate of what we can expect from the series-production model slated to hit the market by the end of 2024. Yet those theoretical specs still offer plenty of promise. Although its water-cooled battery is distinct from the EQXX’s air-cooled unit, the Concept CLA boasts a number of efficiency and sustainability tweaks.
Two different battery types will be offered: entry-level, cost-effective lithium-ion phosphate chemistry and flagship silicon-oxide anodes for higher energy density. The battery cells are also held in place using adhesive instead of screws, saving weight, materials, and money while offering even better structural integrity. And although Benz wouldn’t cop to battery size, it did estimate that aforementioned 466 miles of range and energy consumption of 5.2 miles per kilowatt-hour. Do some math and you’ll come to a battery with 89.6 kWh of usable capacity.
The 800-volt electrical architecture gives the Concept CLA-Class 250-kilowatt DC fast charging capability, allowing it to add an estimated 248 miles of range in 15 minutes. Once on the road, the CLA’s battery sends power to a compact Mercedes-Benz Electric Drive Unit (MB.EDU), which integrates the electric motor, two-speed transmission, and associated inverters and electronics. Each unit weighs 243 pounds and puts out 235 horsepower, and the use of rare-earth metals in the MB.EDU is far less than in previous Mercedes motors for better sustainability.
On the Concept CLA, that drive unit is mounted on the rear axle, and the MMA platform is also capable of dual-motor power, meaning the production CLA should offer electrified all-wheel drive. Mercedes wouldn’t confirm whether the gasoline-powered version would be rear- or front-wheel drive in base form.
Speaking of all-wheel drive, the MMA platform will spawn at least three variants besides the CLA – two crossovers and a station wagon. As on the four-door, the other cars will likely also offer internal combustion powertrains, though the EV variant should arrive first. Other details as to the MMA cars have yet to be determined, though we expect the CLA shooting brake, GLA, and GLB to make their debuts soon after the CLA.
Clearly, pricing for these products is far off, but Mercedes has been frank in the past that it will likely be a while before EVs achieve cost parity with internal combustion automobiles. We’ll certainly have more information before the production CLA hits European roads by the end of next year, though until then, Mercedes-Benz’s Munich concept will give us plenty to dream about.
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