The Mercedes-Benz Concept CLA Class unveiled at IAA Mobility 2023 in Munich, Germany, offers a close-to-production insight into the upcoming family of vehicles that stands at the gateway to the brand. At the cusp of a new electric and digital age, this represents the company's vision to elevate this important vehicle class, based on the long-term portfolio strategy. Designed on the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz Modular Architecture (MMA) platform, the exterior aesthetics of the Concept CLA Class stand for iconic design and dynamic performance. Meanwhile, its interior focuses on customer experience with exceptional comfort and convenience for an electric and digital future.

"The Concept CLA Class is the forerunner for an entirely new all-electric segment of entry-level vehicles at Mercedes-Benz. The range will comprise a total of four new models – a four-door coupe, a shooting brake and two stunning SUVs – each with significantly elevated product substance. 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. They also seek a sustainable choice that is a cut above the rest. This hypermiler is the one-liter car of the electric age, with a range of more than 750 kilometers (466 miles) in the WLTP and energy consumption of just 12 kWh/100 km (5.2 mi/kWh). Based on the MMA platform, it provides an insight into the first complete family of Mercedes-Benz electric cars developed from scratch to put our Ambition 2039 on the road, whereby we aim to achieve net carbon neutrality along the entire value chain in our fleet of new vehicles in 2039."

Ola Källenius, Chief Executive Officer, Mercedes-Benz Group AG


Design – iconic elements seen in a new light

The Concept CLA Class marks the start of a new era and the next step in the continuous evolution of the brand's unique design language of sensual purity. The vehicle has a distinctively dynamic appearance, incorporating design elements that have become icons in their own right – reimagined for the electric and digital age. The exciting contrast of intelligence and emotion pairs with the "x-factor" of unexpected and extraordinary details to create a new interpretation of desire.

The striking use of light in its exterior design represents the Mercedes-Benz aim to be the brightest star in the constellation. It expresses the combination of electrification and digitalization that unlocks a new elevated customer experience from the very first glance. Very-low-energy LED lighting, visible from all perspectives, is an integral part of the overall sculpture that enhances the proportions and brings added movement, life and functionality to the exterior. The long wheelbase, short overhangs, slender greenhouse and elongated bonnet convey the brand's design ethos in this new family of Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz designers applied the iconic three-pointed star as an emotional lighting motif throughout, re-affirming this symbol as the most enduring mark of automotive progress. This starts at the front end with the distinctive new face and continues along the flanks, with light strips above the front and rear wheel arches. Even the expansive glass roof marks a step up to a whole new level. Its illuminated and animated star pattern brings an added air of sophistication to the exterior sculpture, while evoking a spa-like elegance in the interior. Meanwhile, the distinctive Mercedes-Benz laurel wreath has been reinterpreted to create a striking new pattern for the interior upholstery.

Exterior design in detail

Emotionally charged expression of athletic power: The dynamic front end of the Concept CLA Class is characterized by the shark-nose design and the distinctive seamless "grille" panel. It forms a cohesive part of the overall sculpture and becomes a canvas for the illuminated animated star pattern as well as the central, iconic Mercedes-Benz star, likewise illuminated. The light bands that wrap around the front and rear add three-dimensionality to the light composition as well as anchoring the striking star-shaped headlamp clusters. These bands are made from an innovative material that has a stylish mirrored chrome look when unilluminated.

A range of animated lighting scenarios by day and night deliver an even greater sense of emotion and dynamism. They also offer an added dimension of personalization for the driver, such as welcome and goodbye scenarios. The sporty proportions of the Concept CLA Class are emphasized by its athletic shoulders extending from the front light band all the way to the powerful GT rear end. The sense of breadth front and rear is underscored by the flared wheel arches and wide track, which give the show car a confident and assertive stance.

The sleek glasshouse features chrome applications that complement the athletic proportions with timeless elegance. As befits the coupe design language, the visual center of gravity sits low down. The powerful wheel arches frame the striking 21-inch wheels displaying a distinctive star pattern. Precise joints and shut lines add detail and movement to the effortlessly sculptural surface design of the Concept CLA Class.

The crisp GT line and proportions of the rear serve to elongate the silhouette, while offering rear-seat passengers increased headroom relative to the previous generation. Likewise, the longer wheelbase affords more knee room for those riding in the rear. From the three-quarter view of the rear towards the rear, the design continues the theme of light and shade transported into the digital age. The wrap-around light band frames the rear light clusters that repeat the signature star design. The Mercedes-Benz star on the rear is likewise illuminated, creating a distinctive sign-off for anyone following behind.

Interior design in detail

Blend of analogue and digital brings fresh definition to the segment: Inside the spacious and airy interior of the Concept CLA Class, the aesthetic theme is one of utmost modernity. This is simply yet powerfully expressed through the considered application of a few iconic elements. The overall effect exudes a tech-infused minimalist elegance that takes sculptural automotive design into an exciting digital future and sets the tone in this segment. Finely crafted innovative materials such as paper trim and nappa leather, processed by using vegetable-based tanning agents, contrast with high-gloss surfaces to offer a visual and tactile finish that is both stylish and unexpected. By day, it is bathed in natural light from the expansive glass roof and accented by carefully orchestrated, discreet LED lighting. The color palette of gleaming silver and crystal white enhances the futuristic atmosphere, while detailing in cool blue and sensual violet adds a hint of exclusivity.

User interface

Inspired by the very latest consumer electronic devices: Mercedes-Benz sets a very clear benchmark in the segment with the user interface in the Concept CLA Class. Dominating the full width of the cockpit is the slender continuous sweep of the MBUX Superscreen, featuring the high-efficiency mini-LED technology and immersive 3D graphics pioneered in the VISION EQXX. Its proportions emphasize the width of the interior, while adding to the sense of lightness by appearing to float in front of the driver and front-seat passenger. Furthermore, with its razor-sharp high-definition graphics paired with class-leading digital features, the MBUX Superscreen becomes a dynamic and individualized feature of the interior design.

Meanwhile, the unibody aluminum housing reflects the design of a state-of-the-art high-end device. Digitally visualized on the far left and right of the screen are iconic turbine-like virtual air vents. This unique and eye-catching fusion of analogue and digital represents the next evolutionary step, known as hyper-analogue. The familiar iconic form has been reinterpreted as a climate-control interface. Displayed on the fixed inner ring is the cabin temperature setting. The outer analogue ring emerges smoothly from the glass surface to serve as the control. The precision-machined ring can be turned to adjust the settings thus creating a seamless transition from the digital to analogue user experience. The physical air vents are positioned discreetly behind the screen and designed to convey the impression of cooling ribs – an ingenious configuration that doubles as a source of ambient lighting. This design motif in combination with illumination is a recurring theme throughout the interior.

From paper to processors

A sense of space, freedom and intelligence enhanced by surprising details: The front bucket seats take the iconic form of purist mono-swing shells derived from a spherical whole, endowing them with an enveloping sense of safety and protection. Each sculptural outer shell gives way to a soft enveloping interior, carefully designed in layers that combine the seat cushion, backrest and side cushions in a unified whole. The lateral supports emerge from the base layer in smooth, three-dimensional S-curves. Inspired by winglets, they create an extremely pure yet sculptural form. Providing a more opulent contrast, the height-adjustable headrests are seemingly suspended in a cut-out. This serves to open up the design, while at the same time maintaining the seats' integrated look. The seats are upholstered in sustainably produced and processed nappa leather that contrasts shimmering silver with crystal white embossed with a modern reinterpretation of the iconic Mercedes-Benz laurel-wreath pattern. The color combination further emphasizes the apparent weightlessness of the overall design.

Appearing to float between the driver and front-seat passenger in front of the cantilevered armrest, the high positioning of the center console emphasizes the minimalist sporty elegance of the interior. Its proportions and dynamic orientation towards the MBUX Superscreen create a fresh sense of space and openness. In a first for Mercedes-Benz, the visually striking trim element incorporates an illuminated transparent surface for inductive charging of a smartphone as well as a cup holder featuring the illuminated cooling-rib motif. This aesthetic quality dispenses with the need for a cover. The same design theme is also visible beneath the console in a sweeping, illuminated aluminum curve that draws the eye towards a glass showcase offering a glimpse into the digital brain of the Concept CLA Class, the new Mercedes-Benz Operating System (MB.OS). The bands of ambient light are metaphors for nerves carrying signals to the water-cooled processor, which, in turn, represents the vehicle's class-defining intelligence. The overall composition interprets the flow of data that forms part of the bond between car and occupants.

Either side of driver and front-seat passenger, the doors present a further highlight of the interior design. The subtle concave form of the underlying structure sets the stage for the brand-new iconic design of the center panels. Seemingly suspended in front of the door body, their long proportions provide yet another sporty and dynamic visual cue. Like elegant sails, their surface flows smoothly around the geometric profile of the door handle, fusing with it to form a natural armrest. The center door panels are finished in the same crystal-white nappa leather as the seat cushions, further enhancing their lightweight look-and-feel, and feature the Mercedes-signature laurel-wreath pattern. This defining Mercedes-Benz element, endowed with exquisite hand-finished craftsmanship, forms a strong visual bond between the brand's unique heritage and the tech-luxury of the future. At the base of the door, the discreet pocket is edged in a high-strength, biotechnology-based and certified-vegan silk-like fabric.

Technology transfer from VISION EQXX to Concept CLA Class

By implementing the vision for the future of Mercedes-Benz in this segment, engineers continue to draw on many valuable findings from the original Mercedes-Benz electric hypermiler, the VISION EQXX, which continues to set the technology benchmark for this vehicle class. In addition to the mini-LED MBUX Superscreen with thousands of local dimming zones, these range from electric-drive and thermal efficiency measures to lightweight design through bionic optimization to the application of sustainable materials.

The VISION EQXX technology program was conceived to push boundaries and exercise immediate influence on series development. Hence, the next-generation electric drive unit (comprising the electric motor, transmission and power electronics) is directly derived from the highly efficient unit in the VISION EQXX and features a new generation of silicon carbides in the power electronics. Likewise, the high-voltage battery uses the same principles of functional integration and cell packaging to achieve an exceptionally high energy density. Another innovation transfer is the further developed heat pump, which already impressively demonstrated its effectiveness in the VISION EQXX program. In a marked improvement over existing automotive heat pumps on the market, it extracts heat not only from the drivetrain but also from the ambient outside air – even at sub-zero temperatures – to heat the cabin of the Concept CLA Class. Together with an intelligent operating strategy, the heat pump can contribute significantly to electric range during cold winter weather by minimizing the use of additional heating.

Bionic engineering was a substantive feature of the VISION EQXX development program. The Mercedes-Benz BioniCast name applies to structural castings engineered according to the principles of nature. This pioneering digital approach has already garnered Mercedes-Benz prestigious industry awards as the company rolls out its implementation in series production. A number of components in the MMA platform have been optimized using these techniques. Specific examples include the rear-axle console, battery console and suspension components.

The use of digital engineering techniques was a key element in the speed and efficiency of the VISION EQXX development program. The Mercedes-Benz World of Digital Twins is a far-reaching strategy to transition to a "physical follows digital" approach across all aspects of development and beyond. The Concept CLA Class and MMA platform are engineered in accordance with that strategy. This helped to facilitate the radical "inside-out development" applied to the Concept CLA Class. Virtual simulation techniques allowed designers and engineers to focus even more on the customer perspective in a feedback loop of continuous improvement.

MB.OS – the digital foundation for Mercedes-Benz

The vision for the Mercedes-Benz of tomorrow redefines the car itself, elevating it beyond its role as a mode of transportation, assistant or companion. It becomes an entertainment and gaming center, a productivity zone, a private oasis, even part of a server farm and the energy grid – an integral part of life. To achieve this vision by leveraging the full potential of current and future software-driven innovation, Mercedes-Benz is developing its own operating system MB.OS. This proprietary chip-to-cloud architecture represents a completely new approach for the company and will be a largely hidden yet defining aspect of all its future vehicles. The core of MB.OS is to decouple hardware and software and to make software development faster and more adaptable. This facilitates the constant follow of innovation into vehicles, resulting in a better product for customers. A proprietary system developed in-house in close collaboration with strong partners provides the company with the freedom and flexibility to innovate as well as the ability to act fast and efficiently.

The forthcoming MMA platform will be the first to run fully on MB.OS. The Concept CLA Class offers a taste of what this will mean for customers. To stress the central role played by MB.OS in shaping the customer experience, the interior of the show car offers a striking visualization of it. The complex multi-faceted architecture is represented here by one of its many hardware components, the high-performance water-cooled chip from collaboration partner NVIDIA. This powerful partnership will help equip every vehicle built on the MMA platform with a supercomputer. MB.OS uses artificial intelligence and machine learning powered by the latest-generation chips and system-on-chips (SoCs) and is supported by highly advanced sensors and the Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Cloud.

Advanced MBUX Superscreen delivers new level of personalization leveraged with real-time graphics

MB.OS elevates the family of vehicles at the gateway to the Mercedes-Benz brand through software and artificial intelligence (AI): One example is a unique UI/UX tailored not only to the car but also the customer's individual preferences. It pairs the advanced three-display MBUX Superscreen in the Concept CLA Class with ambient light and sound to provide an immersive luxury experience for driver and passenger previously unheard of in this class of vehicle. Ambient styles with a range of themes for all three screens offer a further level of customization, while the virtual assistant is on hand to support users with information and suggestions.

The MBUX Superscreen comes to life with advanced real-time graphics powered by game engine technology, as in the VISION EQXX. The instrument cluster adapts to user needs, including the level of driver assistance. In so doing, the intelligent system communicates with more than just data, incorporating shapes and light into an intuitive dialogue. This ensures the driver has a clear overview of all relevant information without overload. From the dynamic virtual cockpit that helps optimize driving style for maximum range to the 3D navigation with integrated information on points of interest, they have everything they need when they need it.

Users can also create their own personal space with beautifully depicted immersive worlds. Extensive adaptation options through dynamic digital skinning enable them to individualize their experience and self-expression in an instant. Crystal-clear resolution and vibrant color rendering result in an overall effect that takes the MBUX Superscreen beyond in-car display to create a multi-media experience. Entertainment is provided courtesy of extensive integration of top-quality third-party apps. Beyond this, the MBUX Collectibles feature enables the creation of a private art gallery by connecting the customer's personal NFT wallet and enabling them to browse an exhibition curated by Mercedes-Benz. MB.OS also brings class-leading passenger entertainment into this new vehicle family with a range of third-party video streaming options available only to the passenger while the car is traveling. Numerous layers of safety, including eye-tracking technology, ensure the driver is not distracted.

Concept CLA Class with enhanced SAE Level 2 performance thanks to LiDAR

As with all technical innovations, the company measures those in the Concept CLA Class by the contribution they make to the Mercedes-Benz vision of accident-free driving. The extensive driver assistance and safety systems under development for the MMA platform make it possible, for example, to drive partially automated (SAE Level 2) on virtually all types of roads, to aid the driver when changing lanes on multi-lane roads, to automatically maneuver into and out of tight parking spaces, and to prevent or reduce the severity of collisions in an increasing number of situations.

Automated driving systems in vehicles based on the MMA platform will offer best-in-class driver assistance. The MMA platform heralds an extensive sensor set that maintains Mercedes-Benz's leading position in this field. In addition to multiple cameras facilitating surround, wide and tele views, the base set also includes a full range of radar and ultrasonic sensors.

Future SAE Level 2 applications are also prepared for the use of LiDAR-supplemented sensing technology to meet the high operational complexities and safety demands of urban traffic. In this segment, these powerful sensors will enable customers to equip their vehicle with a wide range of SAE Level 2 features. It will be possible to enhance these via over-the-air updates, even after vehicle purchase. This also means that Mercedes-Benz will be able to continually improve existing systems and make them available to customers (taking account of local legislative frameworks), thereby ensuring their cars remain at the very forefront of innovation in the segment. The MB.OS software and its computing power is generally ready for an SAE Level 3 system upgrade for vehicles equipped with a comprehensive sensor set including a LiDAR sensor and redundancies for vital vehicle systems.

MB.OS – the road ahead

The digital possibilities presented by MB.OS are considerable and far-reaching: For vehicles based on the MMA platform, they promise a level of individualization, seamless interaction and infotainment previously unheard-of in this segment. It will help the brand with the three-pointed star elevate the digital experience with an even more intense focus on the customer. The Concept CLA Class offers a glimpse of that, with more to come in the near future.



CES 2024