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2013 Detroit Auto Show: Mercedes-Benz’s compact CLA-Class “four door coupe” finally breaks cover in Detroit

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 low perspective viewMercedes-Benz calls its new CLA-Class a “style rebel,” and it seems to be rebelling against the company’s own design conventions. Radical styling first seen on the Concept Style Coupe cloaks a chassis most people don’t associate with the three-pointed star. This rebellious Benz was unveiled at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show and goes on sale later this year.

Mercedes says the CLA-Class is a “four-door coupe,” part of a category the company invented a few years ago with the CLS. As such, the CLA has a practical amount of doors, but the sloping roofline of a coupe. That’s not much of a rebellion, though.

What really makes the CLA stand out is how it ditches the formal look of other Mercedes cars. It’s design is just as overwrought as an SL or E-Class, but a curvy silhouette makes it look bold and distinctive.

We got a peek at the CLA’s winning looks in December, but the car’s Detroit unveiling gives us a better idea of what it will be like to drive.

The CLA is based on the Mercedes A-Class which means that, unlike most Mercedes, it is front-wheel drive. In the United States, it will be sold as a CLA250 only, with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

The engine features an eco-friendly start/stop function, and is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive will be available beginning in the Spring of 2014.

The CLA will also get Mercedes’ mbrace2 cloud-based infotainment system, displayed on a 5.8-inch screen. The Multimedia package adds a seven-inch screen and Mercedes’ COMAND, which balances out the software with hardware. Buyers can load their CLAs up with: a hard drive-based navigation, voice control, 10GB of music storage, an SD card slot, iPod connector, six-disc CD/DVD changer, and rearview camera.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 overhead motion viewAll of that infotainment may seem like a distraction, but there are plenty of smart safety features to pick up the slack. Collision Prevention Assist with Adaptive Braking Assist uses radar to identify the distance between the car and an obstacle, and modulates braking force to slow the car in the safest way possible.

The optional Driver Assistance package adds Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, and Parktronic autonomous parking. With Parktronic, the CLA can back itself into perpendicular or parallel spaces.

With the 2014 CLA-Class, Mercedes tried to redefine what an entry-level luxury car can be, but it could end up redefining what a Mercedes can be. Packing the tech of bigger Benzes into a stylish front- and all-wheel drive chassis is definitely unusual. We’ll see if it works out this fall, when the CLA250 goes on sale.