DETROIT – Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche introduces the new Mercedes CLA-Class at the North American International Auto Show here, a small sporty sedan that will be slotted beneath the auto maker’s current entry-level C-Class sedan.

The CLA-Class is designed to resemble a downsized version of the auto maker’s successful CLS luxury car, which had sales of 35,000 units globally in 2012, 8,000 of them in the U.S. Mercedes claims the car has the lowest coefficient of drag of any car in production.

“Our goal is to repeat the success story of the CLS in a new segment,” says Joachim Schmidt, head of sales and marketing for Mercedes cars.

Pricing will be announced in several weeks when the auto maker plans to make a big splash during the Super Bowl, but stickers will be below the current C-Class, which now starts at about $35,000.

The CLA-Class is aimed at winning over young Gen Y buyers, who comprise 75 million people in the U.S. and now are reaching car-buying age, but are not aspiring to buy a Mercedes.

“We’re giving this model a new look and feel that sends out a clear message, ‘I’m a real Mercedes, but not as you know it,’” says Schmidt.

The new car has four doors, but like the CLS it features a highly curved roof that makes it look more like a coupe. Exterior surfaces are highly sculpted, but Thomas Weber, head of research and development for Mercedes cars, says it is the most aerodynamic production car in the world.

“Our new CLA is not only the aero champion within the Mercedes model lineup, or within its segment. With its 0.22 drag coefficient, our new CLA sets the new aerodynamic benchmark among all series production cars,” Weber claims. The Chevrolet Volt electric car has a coefficient of drag of 0.28.

The superior aerodynamics are achieved by specially designed A-pillars, a uniquely shaped muffler and other features, Weber says.

The CLA is powered by a turbocharged 211-hp 4-cyl. gasoline engine equipped with a stop/start system and coupled with a 7-speed automatic dual-clutch transmission.

It also will be the first front-wheel-drive Mercedes equipped with a new lightweight all-wheel- drive system that is the lightest such system in the segment. The AWD system soon will migrate to all front-wheel-drive Mercedes cars, Weber says.

dwinter@wardsauto.com