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Benchmade’s Best Knife of 2023: CLA MagnaCut Automatic Review

Not only is the CLA MagnaCut Benchmade's best knife this year, it also may be one of the best EDCs today.

Benchmade CLA with MagnaCut(Photo/Nick LeFort)
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Benchmade decided to make 2023 the year of upgrades. From color schemes to blade steel, the brand’s 2023 catalog was an expanded array of Bugouts, Bailouts, Barrages, and beyond. And the brand also came out with some new knives, like the Immunity lineup and the soon-to-be-classic Narrows.

For me, though, one knife stood out above the rest (and not just because of its DLC Battlewash blade and OD green G10 handles): the CLA.

When it first launched, the CLA (Composite Lite Auto) was Benchmade’s first nonmetallic-handled automatic. Previously, Benchmade was known for stellar, but bulky, automatic knives with aluminum handles. The CLA marked a successful attempt to create an automatic that was equally well-built but used composite handles to bring down the weight and bulk.

And over the last 8 years, the CLA made its way into the pockets and hearts of folks looking for a workhorse EDC. It had G10 handles and a 154cm drop point blade — materials that assured buyers that the CLA was premium, practical, and ready for abuse above and beyond the regular needs of a knife owner.

Life couldn’t get much better until, in February, Benchmade announced it would upgrade the CLA steel to MagnaCut with a DLC Battlewash finish. It would also add about $130 to the price tag. People were not surprised, nor were they deterred.

So, I had to experience it firsthand.

In short: After almost 5 months of testing, I am convinced the new Benchmade CLA with MagnaCut steel is perhaps the best EDC knife of 2023. And it is unquestionably Benchmade’s best offering this year.

Benchmade CLA With MagnaCut


  • OAL 7.85”
  • Blade length 3.40”
  • Blade steel MagnaCut
  • Blade shape Drop point
  • Grind Flat
  • Hardness 58-60 HRC
  • Lock type Button lock
  • Carry Right or left hand, tip-up, deep carry
  • Weight 3.47 oz.
  • Price $400


  • Great balance between size and weight
  • MagnaCut Steel
  • DLC Battlewash Blade Finish
  • OD Green + Coyote Tan = Epic


  • No indicator on the blade lock
  • People are going to freak out over the price

Benchmade CLA With MagnaCut Steel: Review

Benchmade CLA with MagnaCut - Design
(Photo/Nick LeFort)

Design and Features

With an overall length under 7.85 inches and a closed length of 4.45 inches, the new CLA lives within the sweet spot of EDC length. It’s not too long, it’s not short — it’s just right for your paw to wrap around with a blade that isn’t obtuse.

The CLA has G10 handle scales and a DLC Battlewash MagnaCut drop-point blade. The pivot is reinforced to compensate for the auto opening, but otherwise, the G10 scales create the framework for the knife.

Benchmade CLA with MagnaCut - Battlewash finish
(Photo/Nick LeFort)

Additionally, this knife carries some Benchmade standards: a button lock, blade lock, and a deep carry pocket clip.

On the CLA, button side, there is a steel plate that extends back from the pivot 1½ inches. On the lock side, there is a tapered plate that extends back about 3 inches. Neither of these provides as much structure for the knife as they do the action itself. This is the right move, as the automatic action on this knife is impressive, if not initially intimidating.

Aside from the upgrade to MagnaCut, the 2023 CLA comes in either OD Green G10 or Ivory G10. Both configurations support Benchmade’s EDC and Tactical classifications for the CLA. I’m a fan of the OD Green, which is complemented with both Coyote Tan and Black accents, but the Ivory version is something to admire.

First Impressions

At January’s SHOT show, David C. Andersen of KnifeCenter fame posted a video that gave us all a first look at a handful of the new knives coming from Benchmade this year. Toward the end of the video, he gives a quick look at the new CLA.

I had an email out to Benchmade asking to test it before the video was even over. The brand emailed back within 24 hours, and we got the ball rolling.

The CLA landed with the Redoubt on February 1. Both knives are stellar in their own regard, but it took a lot of effort for me to ignore the CLA while I focused on reviewing the Redoubt. Thank goodness for self-control.

Out of the box, the CLA just felt right. It fits my wide hand really well and had a really good balance to it. The button lock was a bit sticky, but I lubed it up and have been impressed ever since.

Benchmade CLA with MagnaCut Blade - G10
(Photo/Nick LeFort)

I love the fact that more and more knife companies are starting to embrace the strength and durability of G10 on their own. Steel subframes have been synonymous with G10 handle scales seemingly forever. But there’s really no need for them.

The color combination on the CLA is really fantastic in person. OD Green and Black will always work, but the addition of Coyote Brown throws a little heat into the mix and makes the knife visually appealing.

I can wax on for days about how that’s only amplified by the DLC Battlewash finish on the blade. But if I had to sum it up, I would say that it gives the knife a broken-in finish that makes it easier to actually break in without breaking your heart.

Red Means Run, Son

On the Claymore, Benchmade uses a red dot to indicate that the blade is unlocked and ready for action. This, of course, is an homage to the safeties found on firearms, but it’s also a nice indication the blade is unlocked.

You won’t find this on the CLA. Maybe Benchmade thought that was too tactical on this blade, but I think it would have been nice.

If there was more room in the cutout for the lock, I would drill into it and add a dab of paint. But alas, for anyone who plans on picking up this CLA, or any Benchmade auto that doesn’t feature a red dot, when it’s switched to the back position, it is unlocked.

In the Field

Benchmade CLA with MagnaCut - Pocket clip
(Photo/Nick LeFort)

Unlike most tests that only last a couple of weeks, the CLA has been my ride-or-die for almost 5 months. The G10’s handles have smoothed out, and dust and debris have settled in around the standoffs between the handle scales here and there.

The CLA is sized in such a way that I can close it with one hand. And now, I find myself firing it open and closed while out hiking, or taking it out and using it to carve an apple or whittle a stick.

I’m not the biggest fan of automatic knives, as they seem to generally complicate things. But I did not pick up that vibe with the CLA. I am fairly certain that if this knife were to fail in the field, I could fix it on the spot. That said, I also don’t see the CLA coming apart on me unless it’s attacked by a Triceratops — and, it is my understanding they are extinct.

Benchmade CLA with MagnaCut - blade sharpness
(Photo/Nick LeFort)

I had to resharpen the CLA once last month, after doing a lot of work with twine and rope out in the yard and day-to-day tasks. You’ll never hear me say that I sat in my workshop slicing up cardboard to test the edge — I test through real-life experiences.

But in 5 months, you will cut a fair share of cardboard. So, normal wear and tear necessitated that I restore the edge on the blade. That came easily with a few swipes on a ceramic plate and a leather strop.

For good measure, I proceeded to cut my hand open, slicing some fiddleheads off their stalk on the trail. It was small, but deep, so not a lot of blood. But wow! It was fast and precise. I barely noticed.

Benchmade CLA: Conclusion & Price

Because I test a lot of knives, a lot of knives come and go from my back pocket. But the CLA was the one knife that kept finding its way into my daily rotation. I even misplaced the CLA a couple of times — and it really bugged me.

I could have easily grabbed one of the other knives I was testing and thrown it in my pocket. But I was especially bothered about not being able to use the CLA. That says something about the merits of this knife.

In both form and function, the CLA is a top-notch EDC with a lot of potential for everyone — whatever they’re doing. I like its balance and size, the way it looks, and its ability to do everything effectively.

As a knife and gear tester, I catch flak from friends and family about having so many things given to me and being able to easily replace them. That’s not the case with the CLA. This knife and I have a bit of a bond going on.

I should take a minute to bring up the price of the CLA. I really don’t want to, because at this point you should expect to pay a little more for a Benchmade knife, and a little more on top of that for MagnaCut. But, you work hard for your money and it’s worth considering that $400 is a lot of money. Think of the price as less as a purchase and more as an investment. It’s the EDC you carry for years and years before you pass it on.

Can other knives do the same? Maybe, sure. But I know that a Benchmade knife will. It’s a guarantee, backed by a lifetime warranty, and that makes me feel a little better when I need to spend all that cheddar.

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