The car may be the best vehicle in Detroit that won't actually be shown at the North American International Auto. Mercedes unveiled the car at the swanky Book-Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit, and is whisking it away to Berlin's Fashion Week later this month. It will go on display for consumers at the Geneva Auto Show in March.
All of this intrique is part of the automaker's attempt to hype how hip the new CLA250 is, calling it "the style rebel." Mercedes is also emphasizing safety, making an accident avoidance system standard on the car, and promising that drivers will be able to integrate their smartphones with the car's entertainment system.
The price, car size and styling all play into one major goal for the automaker: Attracting younger buyers. The average Mercedes customer is around 53 years old, and although those buyers tend to be wealthy and loyal, it's never good for any brand to keep playing toward an aging base. Otherwise they face the curse of being considered an old man's car, and once that reputation settles in, it's very hard to shake. (See Buick and Lincoln for examples.)
Mercedes hopes the CLA will appeal to people in their 30s and 40s. When it goes on sale later in September, it's expected to go for around $30,000, about $5,000 less than the C-class, which is currently Mercedes' cheapest car segment sold in the U.S.
"We aim to reach new target groups with the CLA – including those who never wanted to drive a Mercedes," said Joachim Schmidt, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Mercedes.
At the sneak peak in Detroit Sunday night, Mercedes brought out pop star Karmin to sing her hit song "Brokenhearted" to a room full of 40- and 50-somethings who had to Google her on their phones to figure out how to spell her name. Karmin, like the CLA, isn't for their age group. Schmidt said the company wants to tap into Gen Y, which is 75 million strong in the U.S.
"The car sends out a clear message -- I am a real Mercedes, but not as you know it," he said. "That's why we think the CLA will win over buyers who never thought of buying a Mercedes before."
The CLA comes with an inline four-cylinder turbocharged engine pumping out 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It comes with collision prevention assist as a standard feature. The safety system uses radar to warn drivers of obstacles, and anticipates how much braking force will be needed once drivers step on the brakes.
The car is almost an exact replica of the concept car shown in Beijing last year – which is a feat. Most automakers show off fancy concepts and later produce disappointing production cars.
Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the board of management of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz cars, said the company worked diligently to copy the concept car's styling into the production car in an attempt to make the car stand out.
"The response to the concept style coupe was overwhelming," Zetsche said. "The most frequent comment by far was, 'Please put this car into series production.' That's precisely what we are doing now."