Mercedes Concept CLA previews next gen EV saloons

A new platform, new look and new interior for Merc's smallest four door – the future's coming fast

By Matt Bird / Monday, 4 September 2023 / Loading comments

We should have predicted this, really. Of course a Mercedes Concept CLA has followed the Vision Neue Klasse; there was no way Benz would let BMW gain any kind of advantage when it came to cars as important as upcoming EV compact saloons. Just as 2 Series and CLA (and all the cars related to them) are crucial for their manufacturers right now, so the upcoming electric generation will be as well. So expect to hear plenty more about both as they edge closer to production.

Something very much like this CLA will be in showrooms within a couple of years, too. Mercedes Chairman Ola Kallenius described this show car as “the forerunner for an entirely new all-electric segment of entry-level vehicles at Mercedes-Benz”; there’s going to be a CLA like this, a shooting brake and another pair of SUVs, he says. “This new model family is inspired by a generation of car buyers who want that unmistakable Mercedes-Benz feel, with more features, even greater comfort and safety and the most advanced technology.”

There’s certainly a whole to get your head around, even at the concept stage. Companies like Mercedes don’t really do concepts for the sake of it, and you only need look at the interior here (which looks set for the showroom already, if not coffee stains) or how beautifully assembled it seems to know how serious Mercedes is here. Like the Neue Klasse for BMW, this is the future for compact Mercs.

MMA is the important acronym, or Mercedes Modular Architecture. It’s going to underpin these new EVs, with rear-drive and four-wheel drive applications, and is promising significant strides forward in EV efficiency. Taking learnings from the stunning Vision EQXX, Mercedes says the Concept CLA should boast energy consumption of 5.2 miles per kilowatt hour, which would be remarkable given most are currently around 3mi/kWh. A range of more than 466 miles is being promised as well, so someone better at maths than us can work out the battery size that hasn’t yet been released. The Mercedes Benz Electric Drive Unit brings together a 235hp motor and two-speed transmission; probably of more relevance is the light weight (of less than 110kg, in part thanks to using adhesive rather than screws to keep cell modules together) and efficiency ‘of up to 93 per cent from battery to wheel in long distance driving’, which again looks a fairly startling claim. But then the numbers suggested for the EQXX looked wild, right up until Mercedes bettered them…

As ground up, brand new EV architecture, everything has been thrown at MMA to make it class leading. It employs an 800V electrical system, for example, permitting up to 250kW of charging and lower cooling requirements. Vehicle-to-Grid and Vehicle-to-Home charging, otherwise known as bi-directional charging, will be possible. Buyers will be offered the choice of two different cell chemistries for the CLA, too, which sounds pretty futuristic even in the world of EVs. Ordinary models will use lithium iron phosphate, and more powerful models will have an anode design with silicon oxide content. Makes CLA200 to CLA250 a bit more than just a different badge and some more kit. Finally, it’s said that the motor here uses ‘close to 0 per cent’ heavy rare earth metals, and the batteries are made in a net carbon neutral way.

But let’s be honest – in a Mercedes showroom in 2026, it’s going to be how the CLA and looks inside and out that matters rather than cell chemistry. And it’s easy to imagine this being received well, even if it’ll be toned down a little for production. The shark nose, evoking classic Mercs from the 50s and 60s, is something new, but far from the least controversial EV front end you’ve ever seen. And three pointed stars just about everywhere means even with a new design identity it’s most definitely a Benz. From a practical perspective, a longer wheelbase should mean more room inside than we’re use to with small ICE Mercedes

Alongside MMA, MB.OS is something else we’ll need to get familiar with. That’s Mercedes Benz Operating System, described as nothing less than ‘the digital foundation for Mercedes-Benz’. Incorporated into the MMA platform, the new OS means every car underpinned by it will come with a supercomputer onboard ‘integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning’. No wonder Mercedes says its future models redefine the car. The important development for MB.OS is the separating out of hardware and software, making development of the latter faster and keeping the cars up to date over the air more easily. Though benefitting from outside collaboration, MB.OS is a proprietary system, and surely nobody needs reminding of how important the interior tech is going to be over the coming years. If Mercedes can get a step ahead, it’ll make a huge difference.

Get this for how Mercedes sees the future, for MMA cars and beyond: ‘It becomes an entertainment and gaming centre, a productivity zone, a private oasis, even part of a server farm and the energy grid – an integral part of life.’ Far more than just a new CLA, this thing almost represents a whole new digital, connected era, a new way of thinking about personal transport for Mercedes Benz. We’re now living in a world where the MBUX Superscreen can be personalised through MBUX Collectibles, allowing customers to browse an exhibition curated by Mercedes and buy artwork for the screen. It’s really like nothing else. Naturally, assisted and automated driving will be a big part of the MMA cars.

As will sustainable materials, of course, as Mercedes continues with its Ambition2039 initiative, which aims to reach carbon neutrality along the entire vehicle chain by 2039. So this Concept CLA, and presumably the real thing as well, uses paper trim – it’s made up of 50 per cent recycled cellulose and 50 per cent hemp, and is produced using renewable energies. Leather will still be around, now sustainably produced in line with various animal welfare requirements and using renewable raw materials – like coffee bean husks – for tanning. There’s vegan silk, bamboo fibre floor mats, a recycled PET floating centre armrest… what not so long ago seemed like science fiction really isn’t far off a small production Mercedes saloon. Things are changing, and changing very fast indeed.

Mercedes’ CTO and board member Markus Schafer added of the Concept CLA: “The technology that provides the foundation for the Concept CLA Class represents an entirely new approach for Mercedes-Benz and incorporates many learnings from our groundbreaking Vision EQXX technology programme. For instance, our engineers have maximised efficiency by driving down losses in its 800 V electric-drive system. It also features innovative battery cell chemistry as well as a high level of integration enabling excellent energy density. I am certain that our MMA platform will enable us to offer our customers in this market segment a class-defining combination of performance, sustainability, safety and comfort paired with an outstanding digital experience.” As we said, expect to hear an awful lot more about MMA as the months and years progress – the future of mainstream Mercedes Benz starts right here.

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