You’re not really thinking about buying a Mercedes-Benz CLA, are you? Seriously?
In this report: one owner speaks out on what it’s really like to own the Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Shooting Brake. Incredible. Such a gap between the promise in the marketing and the reality of ownership.
I’m John Cadogan, the founder of Autoexpert.com.au - the place where Aussie new car buyers save thousands on their next new cars. Hit me up via the website if you’re in the market (in Australia) - I’ll insulate you from the lemons, the entrenched car dealer ripoffs, and I’ll help you drive the price down. To get the ball rolling on that, click here >>
MEET THE LEMON CLA
John Vanderzee is that unhappy owner … let’s call him ‘Mr Zee’ henceforth. He won’t mind. His e-mail to me was, seemingly, 100 feet long. Trust me - 100-foot-long e-mails are never glowing fonts of feel-good-ness. We’ll get to that.
Read John Vanderzee's original e-mail here >>
Let’s detain ourselves momentarily with the vast emotional gymnastics here. The ‘about-face’ between the elation buying a $75,000 Benz, and the cascade of unsatisfactory events that lead to writing a horrible bastard like me a 100-foot email under the rubric of ‘gross dissatisfaction’. See if you think this represents the bipolar opposite of post-purchase euphoria:
“The car has spent at least two month at the dealer’s workshop out of the 10 months that we have had it and still no end to the saga. If we had known about the trouble that we have had to endure, we would never have bought the car. Do you know what the best thing we can do? Are they any lemon laws that can help us?”
WHAT MERCEDES ALLEGES ABOUT THE CLA
Buying a Benz is - for many people - the ultimate automotive aspiration. Mercedes-Benz even bills itself as: “the best, or nothing”.
(There’s definitely no collective insecurity lurking behind the three-pointed star.)
Mercedes-Benz describes the CLA as: “singular” and “unconforming”. The company says the interior is a: “VIP area”. Mercedes further glowingly alleges (cue the vomit bag): “Even Mother Nature is applauding”.
I guess Mother Nature ratcheted herself up to ‘standing ovation’ before ripping her seat out of the grandstand and setting the stadium on fire when she learned Mr Zee’s CLA was off the road for two of the 10 months he’s owned it. It’s hard to imagine a greener automotive outcome than that. Emissions slashed by 20 per cent...
ALMOST A YEAR OF CLA HELL - AND COUNTING
Mr Zee alleges that the problems with his CLA began before delivery. A snafu with the run-flats - like, not actually getting them - and the wrong towbar - Mr Zee says he specified and paid for the hitch-receiver towbar, but he got the cheaper, permanent kind. The one that looks like crap and allows you to belt your shin 100 times, before negative feedback ‘learns’ you better.
And, he says, they didn’t even fit the towbar professionally, so water got in and caused a rolling series of complex electrical malfunctions. Ultimately, the car gets towed, and initial estimates are two to three months wait until the parts can be supplied. Because they’re in a warehouse on an island, in the Sea of Tranquility. On the fucking Moon. Obviously.
Adding insult to injury, when they tow the car, using Mercedes-Benz Assist: in the process of decanting the CLA from the tow truck, they manage to crash it into the tow truck (that’s professional) and this ruins the Distronic Plus radar unit. And that’s all replaced under consumer law, free of charge, except for the opportunity cost of all this stuffing around in the name of owning the best or nothing.
Mr Zee says they told him they fixed all that, and shortly thereafter he says he narrowly avoided an epic crash into a car that stopped ahead, because the Distronic just didn’t work. So, he takes it back. (At least he’s on first-name terms with the service department.) The dealership does - I dunno, something, maybe - and tells him, allegedly, that it’s fixed - AOK. Copacetic. Good to go. Like new, mate.
Mr Zee says, two kays after leaving the dealership this time - two friggin’ kays - forgive me for finding this amusing, but the CLA’s slogan is (quote) “challenge the norm”. And, let’s be realistic, the norm, in a Hyundai, a Kia, a Mazda or a Lexus, is just driving around reliably. So, you cannot allege Mercedes-Benz is not delivering exactly as promised here… Challenging those norms like a bastard. Anyway, two kays down the road, the Distronic failed ... again.
FROM HAPPY CUSTOMER TO ANTI-AMBASSADOR
That’s the executive summary - painted on a canvas decorated with a rolling series of moderate to serious additional malfunctions, which apparently still exist, and enhanced by these Keystone Cops service interactions. There’s a lot more soul-destroying detail, which I will spare you.
I can imagine Mr Zee driving off that first day, bit disappointed with the towbar, but, still broadly elated. Fast forward after 10 months of this shit: Surely he’d be excused for meeting with the Sons of Anarchy to discuss the acquisition of an unofficial Glock 23, to assist with the resolution. (That’s not advice.)
THE DISAPPEARING DEALER PRINCIPAL
So Mr Zee tells me he attempts, reasonably enough, to meet with the dealer principal - minus the Glock - to have one of those ‘I’ve had enough’ conversations. Except the dealer principal, allegedly, will not meet with, nor speak with him. And I find that utterly distasteful. Like an ostrich wearing bad Armani.
This is a car that, apparently, cannot be fixed. And consumer law is pretty clear about what happens in these cases - if you can afford to go to court, which is something I believe Mercedes-Benz and its dealers routinely capitalise on. They’ve made consumer law optional - except for the rich.
Mr Zee ultimately locates me, here in the online sewer - where I do my best work - and I have to say, off the bat, there’s the sniff of authenticity about his correspondence. So I ask for the VIN code and the rego number, and I offer to reach out to Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific for him - because they’re always so happy to hear from me, and I’m a feel-good guy, ultimately.
On behalf of Mr Zee, I wrote to David McCarthy, the Senior Manager for Public Relations, Product and Corporate Communications. I said:
“This chap below (see VIN code and reg., below) is a CLA 250 Shooting Brake owner, and he alleges numerous serious problems, including unprofessional service quality and a dealer principal who doesn’t have the time of day (apparently) to speak with him. If you’d like to comment on this, please let me know your position. Perhaps there are mitigating circumstances of which I am unaware. You might of course wish to take some action internally to restore Mr Vanderzee’s faith in the product, if this is possible. If I don’t hear from you by COB Monday I’ll assume you wish to decline to comment. Best regards, and enjoy the weekend.”
I wasn’t exactly expecting a bunch of roses, and a dinner invitation by way of response, but here’s what I got:
We have passed on Mr and Mrs Vanderzee’s email to our customer assistance team to follow up.
Any and all future customer concerns should be directed to our customer assistance team on 1300 730 200.”
- David McCarthy,
Senior Manager, Public Relations, Product and Corporate Communications
Seriously. My message to Mr McCarthy was primarily a request for comment for this story. That’s pretty clear. And they’re not commenting, which is OK. But, I have to say that I routinely approach carmakers on behalf of disgruntled owners - and this response is frankly extraordinary.
If I were in PR I would: a) kill myself, and b) do a bit more than that, in an attempt to prevent this story from running. Because last time I looked, that’s a solid strategy in this situation.
What usually occurs is - I get a call or an e-mail back from some PR dude or dude-ess, especially if there are mitigating circumstances, such as: If the customer’s a nut, or an unreasonable nut. Because that happens quite a bit. Some customers are perversely disinclined to satisfaction, even if there’s nothing to complain about.
In my experience, when the company’s already had a fair crack at resolution, and the customer is being unreasonable, ‘no comment’ is generally not the default response. Because in PR, if you can at this point, you generally get on it, in the hope of sinking the story by disappearing the issues, and winning back the customer’s trust.
I infer from Mr McCarthy’s correspondence, and it’s only a guess, that there are no mitigating factors, and to me, this adds significant credibility to Mr Zee’s allegations. Because if there was more to this story than meets the eye, there was a clear opportunity here, to balance up the ledger.
More than that, though, the tone just seems arrogant, at least to me. This is just my opinion. It’s dismissive, like: ‘Don’t bother me with this crap in future. Call the customer care line.’ Reading between the lines, I pick up a strong vibe of ‘not interested; go away’.
This is just my opinion - and I could be wrong. Perhaps you should form your own view. Furthermore, I make no comment whatsoever here about Mr McCarthy. I presume he’s just a conduit, putting forward the company’s position. That’s the job, surely.
COMPARISON WITH BMW
I had a similar customer complaint - almost a carbon copy, but not as bad - with a BMW just a couple of weeks ago. I approached the Bavarian Money Waster’s PR Manager in Australia, Lenore Fletcher, on that, and frankly, she did a textbook job turning that problem around.
In that case, the dealer was a bit of a dick, and the customer was being a bit unreasonable as well. So there were bilateral mitigating circumstances - which turned it into a non-story, which is why I never reported it, and you never heard about it. Chalk and cheese, on the landscape of interaction. Much less hubris, I think, at BMW.
I have some sympathy for Mr McCarthy, though. Because, like him, I’m a conduit, too. I’m a conduit to 1.2 million people just like you, every month. Again I make no comment about Mr McCarthy other than the basic presumption that he faithfully represents Mercedes-Benz’s position on this, to you, through me.
RISK MANAGEMENT AND BUYING A BENZ
If I were you, Mercedes-Benz’s apparent position on this (ie, not really that interested, from the dealership up) added to Mr Zee’s cascading, unresolved issues would strongly inform my decision about buying a Mercedes-Benz, and in particular, a cheap, shitty, hairdresser’s Benz like the CLA.
(I have no need of hairdressers…)
In my view, buying a car is in part a risk-management exercise, and there is simply too much evidence of poor quality, terrible service, and - worse - a disinclination to care sufficiently about you, once you’ve parted with the big bucks. Not caring after purchase appears to be baked into that Mercedes-Benz’s DNA. It’s like: ‘You’ve got the star now; what more do you want?’
I touched on this in my recent report on that S-Class owner who was, in my opinion, bent over just outside the warranty. Watch it here >> It’s had 35,000 views - but what’s interesting is the ratio of likes to dislikes: One thousand six hundred likes; 70 dislikes. If these reports were just gratuitous slagging sessions, I’d suggest things would be different.
My Mercedes-Benz Myths report - 265,000 views, likes outnumbering dislikes by 30 per cent. Deafening silence from the company - and I would listen and act appropriately if I got anything wrong. I would.
You could buy a very nice Lexus IS200t F Sport for exactly the same cash. Statistically, I never get complaints from Lexus owners. Lexus looks after its customers, overwhelmingly. And my experience is I get very few complaints about BMW, and when I do, shit happens. A frown turns upside-down. That’s not the case with Mercedes.
WHAT OTHERS SAID ABOUT CLA
On the CLA - fundamentally, it’s got everything you want in a premium Mercedes-Benz … such as being made in Hungary, and being front-wheel drive. According to Consumer Reports in the US, when it was released, the CLA was: “actually 140 per cent worse than the average car” - that’s in relation to its reliability, and it accounted for one of the main reasons why Mercedes-Benz plummeted to 24th spot from 14th in Consumer Reports’ reliability survey in that year.
Consumer Reports Deputy Auto Editor Jon Linkov - and I’ll bet he’s off the Christmas list - said this:
“The CLA is not a great vehicle. It’s small, cramped, and with a front-wheel drive chassis is also missing some Mercedes-Benz DNA.”
In its first drive of the CLA, Consumer Reports, auto engineer Tom Mutchler said, in part:
“The cabin’s tight. The back seat’s a joke. You load the trunk through a mail slot, and visibility sucks. You would need to have the restraint of a Bhuddist monk to get out of the showroom for US$30 grand.”
How disappointing - and here was me believing the cabin was a: “VIP area”. Only in Lilliput, apparently. But wait: there’s more.
“If [you] haven’t driven a Mercedes sedan before [you] also aren’t gonna know that the CLA falls short of the ride and handling standards we’ve come to expect from Mercedes.”
Sounds like the CLA was a deadset ‘norm challenger’ from the get-go. And by ‘norm challenger’ I mean ‘badly supported, unreliable Hungarian shitbox, with third-rate design fundamentals’. But apart from that, all good.
GOOD BIAS VERSUS BAD BIAS
People accuse me - routinely - of being biased against Mercedes-Benz. I repudiate that claim unreservedly. But I am very biased. I’m strenuously anti-shitbox, emphatically against poor customer support, pathologically opposed to bullshit, and, being an engineer, I’m appalled by bad design. If I don’t recommend a particular brand or car, that bias is informed by these fundamentals - not the brand.
Here’s what John Zee told me about his CLA:
“The car is unsafe, unreliable, and devalued as a result of their incompetence with a bad service history. It was bought as a promotional vehicle but it has been a letdown. We had to meet clients on the day it had to be towed away. It has been an embarrassment to potential clients who were with us when we had to wait 2 hours for a tow truck to arrive. Business is suffering as a result. It is not fit for the purpose it was purchased for.”
THE WONDERBRA CROSSROADS
Mr Zee is somewhat angry because his $75,000 CLA is an unreliable shitheap. He’s also somewhat angry because of the ongoing incompetence in the service department. But the majority of his opprobrium is fuelled not because of these two factors, but because these things are occurring - and the car is a Mercedes-Benz.
That’s the credibility gap - between the promise and the delivery. It’s the Wonderbra effect … ultimately there’s a flop, and you just feel deflated. Mercedes-Benz is at the Wonderbra crossroads.
When you dare to scrawl the words ‘the best or nothing’ under your logo, the product and the way you support it sure as shit had better be the best. Because it’s a long way down from that pinnacle.
Full report: Top 10 Merc Myths >>
If that slogan is just bullshit - empty rhetoric - owners will quickly become anti-ambassadors. And anti-ambassadors inevitably reach out to people like me, here in the sewer. And then I’m going to reach out to 1.2 million people like you, every month. Because you need to know, and Mercedes-Benz needs to have its dirty laundry oxygenated.
If I were you, John Zee’s experience would serve as a warning, just in case you were thinking about striding purposefully towards the nearest Benz dealer, and intending to slap $75 grand of your own money on the counter any time soon.
I’d hate you to end up in Mr Zee’s shoes. To be fair, you could forgive any one or two of these snafus: a delay in the parts, and unfortunate incident with the tow truck - whatever. But a sustained attack of incompetence and indifference over 10 months - that’s a different animal altogether.
The conclusion is simple. Buy a BMW, or a Lexus, or even a Mazda instead, and your sanity might be the ultimate winner. I’m John Cadogan. Don’t buy the CLA. Thanks for watching.
JOHN VANDERZEE'S ORIGINAL COMPLAINT
Dear John Cadogan,
We have watched your youtube videos and would like some advise with our car issues we have with our Mercedes Benz CLA250 4matic Shooting Brake. We have been very unfortunate with our car that we purchased from MB Brighton (MBB) on 29th April 2017. It has been nothing short of a comedy of errors.
We are requesting a replacement or refund for this car which has been damaged by the dealer and as a result, it has been very unreliable with bad history which started from day one.
In summary, these are the chain of events to date:
- Requested tow bar that has removable ball. Confirmed by technicians with salesman. Car to be supplied with Runflats. Confirmed by Salesperson several times including last week.
- Received wrong tow bar on delivery
- Tow Bar installation not done properly. Not sealed.
- Water seeped in due to unsealed tow bar damaging computer system in car.
- Car started malfunctioning until it became unsafe to drive, with every electronic function no longer operational including unable to select gears inluding brakes etc.
- Car towed away
- Parts would take 2 to 3 months to arrive from Germany
- After several weeks, requested part to be taken from a new car.
- Many issues started occuring including suspension system, sound system subwoofer not on, mode selection, not taking off smoothly, car not starting fist time, sticking brake not releasing immediately, rattles. These issues were at times intermittent.
- Many trips to car yard to resolve issues several still exist to date.
- Car had bad puncture rendering it undrivable. Warning sign on car "Check Tyre Pressure" came on.
- Upon parking the car after being unloaded from tow truck, car rolled forward and tapped tow truck. Broke dictronic disc and damaged front panel slightly. Incidence witnessed by MB Road Side Assist tow truck driver.
- Discovered car not supplied with run flat tyres. Wheel damaged as well. Service advisor informed us the tyres are Run Flats but later admitted they were not. Salesman was very surprised that we had not been supplied with run flats since no spare tyre was supplied.
- Wheel, tyre and front grille replaced out of goodwill. Car calibrated and informed to have it picked up. MBB reported brake has NO Malfunction. However, service technician admitted that brake will roll if only put in P for park and engine turned off. However, we were taught by technicians and salesman and drivers on drive day that when you put it in P and turn engine off, that will engage the electronic park brake and this was also stated in owners manual.
- Distronic malfunctioned. Car did not slow down and started accelerating behind a another car that was stopped at lights. Near miss crash
- Returned to dealer workshop. Checked by technician who said there was nothing wrong with it. Technician took us on a test drive. Observed that the car did not slow down behind stationary car. Technician said there is nothing wrong with it.
- Drove off again and this time warning sign came on " Collision Prevention Assist Plus Inoperative" less than 2 km after leaving dealership. This time, Distronic and Cruise control also not responsive.
- Returned to dealer workshop. Error message now noted and agreed that it was not operational. Car to be left at dealership as instructed by service manager.
- Dealer reported that "Collision Prevention Assist Plus Inoperative" occurred due to the previous impact to the front grill in which the sensor sits behind. The impact caused the sensor buffer to dislodge and therefore causing the sensor to vibrate and bring on the warning light whilst driving.
- Repeated requests to speak to or meet the dealer principle has been ignored. Contacted MB Australia who passed on message to have the matter resolved. All issues raised in correspondence ignored to have car replaced with a new one or refunded.
We have a lemon now thanks to the incompetencies of the poor workmanship of the dealer and as a result this car has a bad history which have caused us lost time and lost income, and we have an unreliable and devalued car as a result.
We have made numerous phone calls to the Dealer Principal who have not returned our calls or made any effort to speak or meet us.
We have contacted Mercedes Benz Australia customer service who has urgently left messages as well to try and get the dealer to address these issues. The car has spent at least 2 month at the dealers workshop out of the 10 months that we have had it and still no end to the saga.
If we had known about the trouble that we have to endure, we would never have bought the car.
Do you know what the best thing we can do? Are they any lemon laws that can help us?
John and Adelina Vanderzee
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WHAT MERCEDES-BENZ CUSTOMERS SAID:
Just watched your CLA video and couldn’t agree more. I bought an A45 AMG from a dealer in Melbourne about 2 years ago. This was my first Benz (after several BMWs) and boy it certainly will be my last.
- Made an appointment with the marketing manager of the dealer for myself and a colleague to test drive two A45s (both of us are white collar professionals and indicated we were serious to buy)
- Arrive for the test drive and the sales person says we need to “sign a purchase contract FIRST before we can test drive”….it’s to show “we are serious buyers” apparently. I totally refused and he claimed it’s to “stop non serious buyers”
- Prepared to walk away he realised he would lose 2 sales and finally agreed to test drive.
- A few days latter when they agreed to our price we both purchased a car each. We were promised 3-4 months until delivery and I had them put this in writing on the contract. 6 months went by with no word. No communication from them and any phone calls were met with “we don’t know when it’s coming”. 12 months later (!!) we threatened we could cancel contract and walk away and only then did they finally give us an expected date of another 4-6 weeks (nearly 14months wait from order).
- In the mean time another colleague purchased an A45 with identical specs on a Monday and had it on the Friday. It appears what Mercedes dealers would do is bypass the queue of waiting orders and sell the cars to new customers who were prepared to buy only if the car would arrive quickly…so the suckers on the waiting list just ended up waiting longer..based on what I read on the forums, this was a commonly done trick.
- After MANY examples of this Mercedes Head office decided to give out a free iPad mini to all owners waiting more than 6 months. Magically I never received one despite my colleague who ordered the same car on same day while sitting next to me got one. When I contacted the dealer about this they fobbed me off to Mercedes head office…who then palmed me back to the dealer. Dealer said it had nothing to do with them and when I refused to pick up the car unless this was resolved (out of principle, I didn’t need a new iPad) they gave me a mini iPad…..which upon inspection was used, over 2 year older model and even had the emails and photos in it of the previous owner!!!
- The car has had a number of faults since then with several visits to the dealer. Each time I become more and more aware of how poor their servicing and after purchase attitude is and no doubt this will be my last Mercedes.
PS: Wonder what happened to that sales rep who refused test drives until contract is signed? Well, he was promoted to sales manager in the dealership 6 months later!! Yep I guess that’s the sort of attitude Mercedes rewards..
Keep up the good work…
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I was very interested in your comments on the Mercedes-Benz CLA having recently bought a V Class.
I was very disappointed to hear the PR Manager's response. Having been in PR for 15 years myself, your thoughts and recommendations were spot on and BMW certainly had the textbook approach.
I too have been disappointed with Mercedes-Benz, not the car, it has been fantastic having had a VW Multivan for seven years with a number of reliability issues, so I thought I'd give the V Class a go.
My disappointment has been that it took almost 18 months to get it when the mag wheel manufacturer went bust and it took a long time for Aussie orders to catch up.
In that time I contacted Mercedes-Benz twice who made me feel like I shouldn't be contacting them, but should be going back through the dealer. However I was ringing Mercedes because the dealer wasn't keeping me informed. I guess I thought when I ordered the car I was going to have a certain customer experience in mind. I'd get a photo as it rolled off the production line and just like a parcel is tracked I would be able to monitor its delivery to Australia every step of the way. I would be called by Mercedes to say thanks for the order and so on. But nothing after ordering the vehicle and not yet since taking delivery a few weeks ago go.
I also think that the dealers think they have the dealership for life and so I agree there seems to be an arrogance at both ends.
Anyway for what it's worth I will write to Mercedes in Australia and Germany to provide feedback and customer service recommendations, as you say the hype provided by their marketing team is not supported by their communications and customer service team.
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