The rumors are true: You can buy a brand-new Mercedes-Benz for less than $30,000. The physical manifestation of this impossible dream is the brand-new 2014 CLA-Class — a front-wheel-drive luxury sedan built to compete with the BMW 3 Series and undercut the C-Class as MB’s entry-level vehicle.

The CLA-Class boasts nearly all the trappings of the German manufacturer’s larger cars. It’s actually slightly larger than the C-Class, which is likely to grow in 2015, and the styling, power and AMG configuration could never be mistaken for a lesser brand. The OEM claims manufacturing efficiencies are responsible for the low sticker price, but some compromises are evident.

Specs for the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class.

Specs for the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class.

After all, it is the first front-wheel drive Mercedes to reach the North American market. Adding not-yet-available all-wheel drive to the base CLA250 — along with multiple, crucial options packages — drives the price up to $40,000 and beyond.

The currently available CLA45 AMG does include all-wheel drive, as well as a bigger engine: The AMG’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger is good for 355 horsepower (hp) at 332 pound-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque, a significant improvement over the 250’s still-impressive 208 hp (also delivered by a turbo I-4).

Critics have praised the 250’s power, handling and braking and deducted points for mild torque steer and outside engine noise. The AMG’s performance exhaust suppresses the noise but comes with a switch that allows drivers to re-amplify it.

There is no debate over the CLA’s exterior styling. Simply put, it looks just as good as any other new Benz. The interior is less inspiring but luxurious nonetheless. The eye wanders invariably toward the CLA’s 5.8-inch infotainment screen, which was designed to look like an iPad. The screen is mounted on a stand atop the center console and can be swapped out for a larger version.

Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels on the CLA250 and 18-inchers on the AMG, a CD player, Bluetooth connectivity and the “mbrace2” connectivity interface.

Available upgrade packages include must-haves such as iPod connectivity, a Harman/Kardon stereo, rearview camera and heated seats; the Driver Assistance package includes uptown safety features such as lane-keeping and blind-spot assist.

The CLA250 and CLA45 AMG are available now and start at $29,900 and $48,375, respectively. The all-wheel drive CLA250 is due in showrooms in spring 2014; pricing is not yet available.

Originally posted on Business Fleet