For the past decade, the Mercedes-Benz CLA has been the car to lease for people who just got their first professional job and own anything with a Gucci logo on it. It’s historically been an affordable slice of an iconic brand, but that could be changing. The next-generation CLA is going both electric and upmarket, and Mercedes has released a concept version at IAA Mobility Munich to whet everyone’s appetites. Beneath the horrifically tacky concept car trappings, this Baby Benz might just be Stuttgart’s most important entry-level sedan since the 190E.
Let’s get the show car glitz and glamor out of the way first. There are some decent things about the CLA concept’s styling, many of which could make it to production. The wheels are stellar, the soft lower bodyside surfacing is refreshingly subtle, and when was the last time you saw a concept car with mirrors? However, there are also some not-so-great things about the concept’s styling. It has the down-the-road graphic of an annoyed bass, the Mercedes logo in the light fixtures should directly appeal to desperately aspirational wankers, and I shudder to think what ideas AliExpress vendors are conjuring up after seeing an illuminated rear emblem. Still, most of the really bad stuff probably won’t make production, so let’s put that aside for now.
On the inside, things get substantially more interesting. Each seat looks a bit like a hammerhead shark, the full-width finned HVAC vent is inspired, temperature displays the diameter of soup cans are intriguing, and the screen setup almost looks sensible. Sure, this latest variant of MBUX spans virtually the entire dashboard, but it looks tidier than what you’d get in an EQS or EQE. Mind you, most people won’t use at least one function of the infotainment system. According to the press release, “The MBUX Collectibles feature enables the creation of a private art gallery by connecting the customer’s personal NFT wallet and enabling them to browse an exhibition curated by Mercedes-Benz.” Um, gross.
Thankfully, the infotainment doesn’t manage to dominate the entire interior because everything’s so intricately detailed. We’re talking more shiny metal than your local jeweler has on deck, interesting textures and shapes, and a good whack of color. I wouldn’t expect everything in here to make production, but Mercedes-Benz is pursuing ornate cabins, so expect some of the craziness to stay. Right, flights of fancy over, let’s talk about the meat and potatoes.
The bones of this concept car make up an all-new, all-electric architecture called, erm, the Mercedes-Benz Modular Architecture, or MMA for short. It’s not the most imaginative name, but it is an imaginative platform. In the near future, MMA will expand to cover every entry-level product Mercedes-Benz sells, even if the three-pointed star is paring that number down to four. Teasers released during IAA Munich suggest the lineup will consist of the CLA, one boxy GLB-like crossover, one more mainstream crossover, and a wagon, the latter of which doesn’t seem poised for American sale, given how the current CLA Shooting Brake is mostly a European affair.
This all-electric concept car is the first A-Class variant to be rear-wheel-drive, and what a drive unit it is. Not only does it push out a respectable 235 horsepower, it does so while featuring an integrated two-speed gearbox like you get on a Porsche Taycan, up to 93 percent energy efficiency, and a total weight of 243 pounds. Of course, Mercedes-Benz also has a really imaginative name for this component — Mercedes-Benz Electric Drive Unit, or MB.EDU for short.
Mercedes-Benz hasn’t divulged full specs on the CLA concept’s drivetrain, but the brand has given us enough information to calculate things out. On the optimistic WLTP cycle, this thing should be capable of more than 466 miles on a charge and efficiency of 5.2 mi/kWh. With some simple math, that should give the next CLA a battery pack capacity of more than 89.6 kWh, a big pack for a vehicle this small. For context, the Tesla Model 3’s largest available battery pack clocks in at 82 kWh, matching the capacity of a long-range 2024 Polestar 2. So how will Mercedes-Benz fit that much energy into an entry-level car? It all comes down to packaging and chemistry.
While base CLAs will come with traditional lithium-ion battery chemistry, those flush with cash will be able to opt for silicon-oxide anodes for improved energy density. According to Mercedes-Benz battery partner ProLogium, cells with these silicon-oxide anodes 295-330 Wh/KG. Even if we use the conservative end of that spectrum as a theoretical baseline, that should mean 89.6 kWh worth of these cells would weigh just 670 pounds.
According to Mercedes-Benz, the CLA concept also uses cell-to-pack battery pack construction. Instead of traditional modules, expect all the cells to be bonded together to save space. We’ve seen cell-to-pack in certain variants of the Tesla Model Y, and so long as a sufficient chain of recyclability is established, I could see this method being used more in the future. Admittedly, it’s not great for serviceability, but improved chemistry can only go so far in meeting the desires of today’s drivers. Oh, and thanks to the MMA platform’s 800-volt architecture, the next CLA should juice up lickety-split, taking advantage of 250 kW or higher DC fast charging stations whenever available.
Pre-production models of the next Mercedes-Benz CLA have already been spied testing in zebra camouflage, which should signal a relatively swift arrival to market. Given how the first-generation car had a seven-year production cycle, we wouldn’t be surprised if the next-gen model is unveiled in 2025. Given the architecture-focused bent of this concept car, I’d say we have plenty to be excited about.
(Photo credits: Mercedes-Benz)
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