The Myth of the Sub-$30k Luxury Car

Heard of the Mercedes-Benz CLA? I’m guessing, if you watch TV or have an Internet connection, you have. M-B has been very aggressively marketing its new “four-door coupe” entry-level vehicle. The alleged magic of the CLA? It can be yours for less than $30,000!

Well, not really.

The $30,000 mark has become a kind of threshold for the auto industry. There are buyers for sub-$30k cars, and there are buyers for plus-$30k cars. And never the twain shall meet, pretty much. So, the thinking goes, if a premium brand like Mercedes or BMW can somehow sneak one of their cars in under the $30k dividing line, it will open up a significant new market and/or be a great marketing ploy. BMW tried it with the 1-series coupe, and here comes Mercedes with the CLA.

This concept is all well and good and, admittedly, the number $29,900 (the starting price for the CLA, which M-B has plastered all over its advertising) looks a lot better than, say, $31,000. If you’re like me, you look at $29,900 and think, hmm, maybe that’s affordable, in an aspirational sort of way. I should investigate this car further!

So I did.

First, the MSRP is not REALLY $29,900. Don’t forget to add in the $925 transportation charge. That brings your grand total (with no options) to $30,825. This is your total without tax, title and license (TTL). Add those in, and you’re upwards of $32,000, I bet.

Now, that is not to say that a base CLA 250 with no options is a bad value at $32k. I haven’t had a chance to drive it yet, so I won’t pass judgment. According to the Mercedes-Benz website, the CLA’s standard features include sport seats with memory,  a 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder engine making 208 horsepower, a 7-speed automatic transmission and ECO Start/Stop (shuts the engine off at idle). That’s not bad.

But that doesn’t include many of the features I want. And I guaran-flippin’-tee you that you will not find an option-less CLA sitting on a dealer lot. If you truly want a $30,825+TTL Mercedes, you will probably have to order it.

I built my own CLA 250 on Mercedes’ website (I LOVE car configurators!). Here are my selections, and the cost for each.


Color – Jupiter Red $0 (note: if you want a color other than red, black or white, prepare to shell out $720 for metallic paint)

Sport Package $2,200 (this package, which includes 18-inch AMG wheels, gives the CLA a much sportier and more desirable look; I wouldn’t buy a CLA without it, and I’m sure the majority of CLAs on dealer lots will have this package)

Panorama roof $1,480 (most people like sunroofs; bet you will see a lot of these)

Bi-Xenon headlamps $850 (many people may not care about this one, but I love xenons)

Rear spoiler $300 (at this rate, $300 seems a pittance for a little extra sportiness)


Beige M-B Tex (that’s leather-ishness) with Anthracite trim $0 (Want leather? Better upgrade to the $1,500 Interior Package.)


Premium Package $2,300 (this includes all the good stuff, like heated seats, harman/kardon sound, satellite radio, climate control, etc.; you’ll be hard-pressed to find a CLA without this package)

GRAND TOTAL: $37,955 (incl. destination) +TTL

Please note: if you want navigation, a rearview camera and/or a 6-disc CD changer, better cough up $2,370 for the Multimedia Package (the dealers are going to order a lot of these). Care for all of Mercedes’ safety bells and whistles? That’ll be $2,500 for the Driver Assistance Package. Now we’re approaching $45,000!

I’m not trying to be a hater. I actually think the CLA looks great, and I hope it’s a huge success for Mercedes. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking you can get a new Mercedes or BMW for less than $30k. It doesn’t matter what the sticker says, it won’t happen!

P.S. I also built a BMW 128i with the equivalent options. Starting from an MSRP of $31,200, I quickly got that bad boy up to $41,100 +TTL. Zoinks!