Electric Mercedes CLA to rival Tesla Model 3 from 2025

8 months, 1 week ago - 27 March 2023, autocar
Electric Mercedes CLA to rival Tesla Model 3 from 2025
Saloon to get electric and petrol power with lineup slimmed to four models under 'Electric first' strategy

Mercedes-Benz is preparing to take on the Tesla Model 3 with an all-new third-generation CLA that offers the choice of in-house-developed electric and mild-hybrid petrol drivetrains. 

The new four-door coupé-style saloon is set to be previewed in concept car guise at the Munich motor show in September prior to a planned start to UK sales in early 2025. 

As part of recent moves to simplify the naming of the German marque’s models, the new Mercedes-Benz CLA is expected to retain its traditional name in both pure-electric and combustion-engined forms, rather than adopt the EQ sub-branding given to electric models today. 

It is among four new ‘Entry Luxury’ models pencilled in for launch by Mercedes-Benz over the next three years as part of a comprehensive restructuring of its compact car line-up under its ‘Electric First’ strategy.

In a major shift in emphasis towards higher-positioned models, Mercedes-Benz says it will reduce the number of compact models from the seven it offers today to just four by the end of 2026. This move will result in the axing of the existing combustion-engined Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatchback, the standard-wheelbase A-Class saloon, the Chinese-built long-wheelbase A-Class saloon and the Mercedes-Benz B-Class MPV. 

In the revamped compact car line-up, the new CLA saloon will be joined by successors to the CLA Shooting Brake, the GLA/EQA crossover and the GLB/EQB SUV. All four models are set to be produced in both electric and petrol guises at Mercedes-Benz’s factories in Rastatt, Germany, and Kecskemét, Hungary. 

Detailing Mercedes-Benz’s compact car plans, CEO Ola Källenius said: “We will focus on the models that we believe are the most successful on a worldwide basis.” Underpinning the upcoming models is the new Mercedes Modular Architecture (MMA) platform, as previewed by the wind-cheating Vision EQXX concept car. 

Unlike the MB-EA platform – which, Mercedes-Benz confirms, will exclusively support pure-electric models and is destined for production in 2025 as the basis for upcoming electric versions of the C-Class and GLC – the MMA platform is being engineered for both pure-electric and combustion-engined models. Explaining the dual role of the new platform, Källenius said: “It is electric first. But that doesn’t mean it is electric only.” 

Key styling elements of the new CLA include a fresh grille set low in the front bumper along with angular headlights that are connected by a light band at the front. Another light band will also be placed across the bootlid. 

A longer wheelbase than that of today’s CLA is also claimed to provide improved access to both the front and rear of the cabin. 

When the new CLA arrives in 2025, it will be sold initially in electric form, with a mild-hybrid combustion option arriving six months later but only in selected markets. This indicates that AMG versions are also likely, although that has yet to be confirmed. 

In pure-electric form, the MMA supports an 800V architecture with charging at up to 350kW. This allows a 10-80% battery charge within 30 minutes on a high-powered DC system, says Mercedes-Benz. 

The skateboard-style structure has been conceived around a new lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery. It is based around a cell-to-pack production principle and is claimed to offer vastly improved efficiency over the lithium ion units used by the company today. 

Mercedes-Benz also plans to introduce a new silicon-anode battery developed in partnership with Sila in a long-range version of the new CLA saloon. Early testing is said to have yielded average energy consumption under 12kWh per 62 miles (5.2mpkWh). 

With a battery of a similar 100kWh capacity to that showcased by the Vision EQXX concept car, this would provide the new four-door model with a range of close to 530 miles. Both single-motor front-wheel-drive and dual-motor rear-drive versions of the new electric CLA saloon and its Mercedes-Benz compact car siblings are envisaged. 

The electric motors are described as being second-generation permanent magnet synchronous units and carry the internal name eATS2.0. They will be coupled with a newly developed silicon carbide inverter and provide drive through a two-speed gearbox. 

The four-cylinder engine to be offered in the new CLA saloon has been developed by Mercedes-Benz in Germany, but it will include peripheral components from Geely, which will also produce it at a newly established factory in China. 

“It is an all-new engine engineered for Euro 7 emission regulations,” said Markus Schäfer, head of R&D at Mercedes-Benz. This petrol unit is thought to retain elements of the M254 powerplant used by a wide range of existing Mercedes-Benz models.

Autocar can confirm it will be offered exclusively in mild-hybrid form with a 48V electric architecture and a gearbox-mounted integrated starter motor providing extra power and torque under acceleration as well as coasting properties. 

A plug-in hybrid powertrain will not be available, a source confirmed, adding: “In the future, the customer will be able to choose between pure electric or mild-hybrid petrol depending on the market.” Other developments set to be featured on the new CLA include Mercedes-Benz’s proprietary MB.OS operating system. 

Unveiled by Källenius at Mercedes-Benz’s Silicon Valley-based R&D centre, the new chip-to-cloud architecture has been developed to support third-party applications and will provide access to Google Maps and other new functions. Källenius added the new saloon will also receive level two-plus assisted driving functions.

Industry-wide shift to volume means Mercedes won't ditch the small car

It’s rare that a pricing confirmation should send shockwaves through the industry, but the announcement that the new Mercedes EQE SUV will command upwards of £90,000 felt like a bucket of cold water to the face. 

It’s a pretty glaring indicator of the way the industry is going – and not a promising one. But with the emergence of a new ‘Entry Luxury’ family comes a hint of reassurance that the three-pointed star hasn’t totally forgotten about the National League football players in its pursuit of the more lucrative Premier League market. 

In keeping with a wider industry shift towards profit over volumes, Mercedes is keen to enhance and promote the luxury appeal of its largest and most opulent offerings but isn’t ready to cut its smaller cars out entirely. We will soon watch the wraps come off another crucial Tesla Model 3 rival – only this one is dauntingly charged with drawing buyers away from Elon Musk’s ever-popular exec while also continuing to embody the aura of accessible opulence that has always made the smallest Mercedes models so successful. 

There’s no word on pricing yet, but the focus on maximising efficiency and range points to an awareness of the need to make this car a viable everyday proposition. Good news for those worried Merc’s luxury focus would make it all but unattainable.

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