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2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA vs BMW 3 Series

Once upon a time, the BMW 3 Series pretty much dominated the compact luxury sedan and coupe segments. The 3 Series was the car executives saw as a mark of status, and nothing else would really do.

But then Mercedes challenged their market domination with the C-Class, and now the CLA. Can the BMW 3 Series hold its ground against an aspiring Mercedes-Benz CLA?

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA in grey

Styling

The CLA was already one of the most attractive luxury compact sedans in the market, but a cosmetic refresh this year elevated it even further. Sleek and aerodynamic lines combine with an imposing strength that tells buyers that this car means business. Yes, sedans may be less popular than the ever-dominant crossover segment, but we'd bet sedans would dominate the market if they were all as sleek, sporty, and desirable as the CLA. We can use words such as classy and elegant to describe the exterior of the 3 Series, but words such as tired and mundane may also spring to mind. That's especially true now that the attractive coupe has earned its spot as a model in its own right, the 4 Series. Obviously, the BMW isn't unattractive, but it also doesn't have the wow factor that it used to have either.

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA driving through the city

Power & Performance

The vast majority of CLA models will have a direct-injected 2.0-liter inline-four under the hood that develops a useful 208 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Its power is sent to the front or all-four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, with 60 mph coming up in just under seven seconds. Don't forget about the AMG® CLA 45, though, which has a handcrafted version of that engine, producing the 375 horsepower that gets the CLA to 60 mph in as little as 4.1 seconds. The standard four-cylinder turbo in the 3 Series only develops 180 horsepower, which while smooth and fuel efficient, isn't as good as the standard unit in the CLA. BMW offers more engine options and power, but as the majority of buyers are likely to opt for the standard engine, the Mercedes has the edge again.

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA driving downtown

Features & Equipment

You won't find anything missing that you'd expect to find standard in a car like the CLA, even at the entry level. Standard equipment includes: dual-zone climate control, a multi-function leather-covered steering wheel, ambient lighting, rain-sensing wipers, automatic light-sensing headlights, an 8-inch high-resolution central screen, Bluetooth® audio streaming and hands-free connectivity, and plenty more besides. Standard features for the BMW in its base 320i form includes the likes of: 17-inch alloys, leatherette upholstery, Bluetooth® connectivity, automatic headlights, dual-zone climate control, and a 6.5-inch display for BMW's iDrive infotainment system. That's good, but not as impressive as the CLA, so the Mercedes takes the honors once again.

2017 BMW 3-Series driving downtown

Interior

You do pay a price in terms of interior comfort for the sporty lines of the CLA, especially if you are sitting in the back seats and even more so if you're on the tall side. Getting in and out can also be a less-than elegant experience as the CLA sits pretty low and the rear door openings are fairly small. Despite being the gateway model to the Mercedes range, the quality of the CLA's interior is mostly impressive, with only a couple of surfaces slightly veering from luxury. This model is actually the biggest version of the 3 Series yet, but that doesn't mean it's cavernous inside by any means. Even so, it beats the CLA hands down for front and rear leg room, and as the style and quality of the interior is at least a match for the Mercedes. BMW takes the honors here.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA is definitely a better car than the aging BMW 3 Series. Although the interior of the 3 Series has the advantage over the CLA, the Mercedes is a more attractive model and offers more power and features for a smaller price tag. *Bluetooth is a registered trademark of Bluetooth® SIG, Inc.

Learn More About the Mercedes-Benz Lineup:

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class