The Honda Accord, or the Mercedes-Benz CLA 200?


In August we sent you an e-mail asking your opinion on the new VTiL Honda and you very kindly phoned my husband to discuss this along with some other options.

We still haven't made a decision re the choice of new car but yesterday had a look (not a drive yet) at the new Mercedes-Benz CLA 200. A report in Saturday's Daily Telegraph was most complimentary and we do like the look of it.

Is the poverty pack CLA a better bet than Japanese?

Is the poverty pack CLA a better bet than Japanese?

What is your opinion, or do you know someone my husband could speak to about the car, e.g. road noise, frameless windows etc.

Many thanks again in anticipation.

Robin and Dianne


Hi Robin & Dianne,

Short version:

Buying the Mercedes-Benz CLA 200 is a bad, bad idea. Buy it if you want, but you will be making a significant mistake, as well as wasting your money on an inferior product.

Why not buy one of these instead (mad if you don't): 

Best option in this price range: a fully loaded Mazda6

Best option in this price range: a fully loaded Mazda6

Longer version:

Post-launch reports in newspapers are generally very complimentary because car companies fly journalists business class here and there for launches, they put them up in five-star accommodation, and treat them like gods. At least, they do this until a journalist is too critical.

(When that happens, they discontinue to invite journalists who are critical of the products to launches, so there's an inbuilt, systematic, selective bias towards positivity in post-launch road test reports. In other words, take them with a grain of salt - the poor bastard writing the report is always quite worried that the car company will pull its advertising revenue of the report is too critical. Some are also concerned about not being invited to the next launch in Europe or the Frankfurt Motor Show. Motoring journalists also know they won't be able to borrow test cars if they get a car company offside - and many are obsessed with swanning about the place in unaffordable cars. Sad, but true.)

Mercedes-Benz doesn't offer really good value until you spend about $100-$120k. This car you're looking at is an absolute poverty pack M-B - so a Japanese car for the same price will be a) better built, b) more reliable, c) better equipped at the same price point, and d) far cheaper to own. It will also go better, be cheaper to run, depreciate less, and be nicer to drive. (But it won't have the unbeatable snob-value of the three-pointed star up the pointy end.)

I wouldn't buy a brand-new model of any new car for at least 6-12 months after debut, until all the running bug fixes are in place. And I wouldn't buy that CLA in particular, even if my life depended on it.

If you can't afford at least a C 350 CDI, I'd scratch Mercedes-Benz (and Audi and BMW) from my shopping portfolio.

 (Regarding the A 45 AMG or CLA 45 AMG - you could perhaps make half a case for owning those.)

I strenuously advise you, however, to buy a fully loaded Mazda6 - best car in that price range. It will be so much better in every quantifiable respect than a poverty-pack Mercedes-Benz CLA. It'll cost you the same and be the absolute range-topping premium offering.

I know you're making a mistake in your approach. Please don't be offended, but it seems to me you're looking for reasons to justify buying this car. Discussing the merits of frameless windows (versus framed) et cetera, is such a flawed way to look at buying a new car, that I almost can't respond rationally to it. How about we just assume that all the detail design is fundamentally robust, after the multi-millions spent in R&D? Also, your husband does not really need to discuss road noise with anyone when he can just test-drive the car on roads he knows, and use his ears. As for liking the look of it - there are dozens of nice looking cars, so that's a bit of a dodgy way to arrive at a decision too. (But I agree with you; it's a very nice-looking car.)

How about you do this instead. Say: 'We've got $X to spend. It's a significant purchase. Which brands offer the best value at this price point? Which have the best reliability? The best build quality? Which are highly focussed on servicing the needs of customers like us?' (In other words, let's form part of a particular car company's core business, rather than a little incremental fluffy profit on the side.) 

Answer: The Japanese. Especially Mazda - which has rapidly become the market's premium Japanese offering.

The German premium brands are all trying to squeeze the Japanese by offering cars that compete on price, for people who erroneously presume discount-rack German (built on the cheap) is better than Japanese premium. Essentially it's snob-value marketing, because the three-pointed star beats most other brands on cachet. You're a fool, however, if you get sucked into it. If you can afford to spend $120k (or more) on a car this year, and $120k again in 2016, repeat, then buy a Mercedes-Benz. If not, you won't be able to jump over the repair bills once the warranty runs out, and Mercedes-Benz will for ever regard you as a 'junior burger' kind of customer … but that won't stop them gouging you every time you set foot in the dealership.

(For example: In the driveway price calculator those rip-off merchants at Mercedes-Benz have a staggeringly unjustifiable recommended dealer delivery price of $2270. It actually costs a lot less than $500 to 'deliver' a car - which is a bare-faced lie anyway because you collect it. That's a price gouge of six per cent of the manufacturer's list price right there. Read more on the dealer delivery rip-off.) 

For comparison:

Mazda6 petrol: 138kW/250Nm/6sp Auto

Mercedes-Benz CLA 200: 115kW/250Nm/7sp DSG (not as smooth as a proper auto - rough downshifts.)

This is from road testers: "If the engine is better described as 'serviceable' rather than 'a highlight', the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is also less than outstanding. It suffered from a few jolting downshifts in the CLA 250 we drove, which Benz put down to an untested software patch, but was otherwise a little less crisp than we've found in other versions."

A fully-loaded Mazda6 petrol is roughly the same price as a poverty-pack Mercedes-Benz CLA 200.

The CLA is also more cramped in the rear and the low roofline means it's hard to get in and out of the rear, as well as claustrophobic in the rear.

Also, time to face facts about the Mercedes-Benz car range: the CLA is just a re-bodied A Class - and you can have one of those with the same engine for almost $10k less, driveaway.

I hope this has put it in some kind of perspective. Sorry to be blunt, but you're on the cusp of wasting your money.



PS: Buy the Mazda6.

PPS: The Mazda6. Every time.  

PPPS: Every time.