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Audi A3


Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

Summary

Audi A3

Audi’s A3 is one of the most affordable ways into this prestige German brand. But like some amusement park mirror maze you’ll find with so many A3 variations there are numerous, seemingly identical ways into the model. 

Which one do you choose? There’s a sedan, a hatch, and a convertible with four different engines, not to mention front- or all-wheel drive.
 
That’s why this range review is here – to guide you through the A3 hall of mirrors, and identify the right model for you.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency5.8L/100km
Seating5 seats

Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

The CLA class has been the smash-hit for Mercedes in the same way the A3 sedan has been for Audi. It's found plenty of buyers and sits perfectly alongside the A-Class hatch for those who prefer a boot.

The CLA 250 Sport is a slightly curious animal – it's got the hot-hatch power and unusually, all-wheel drive. It's got a lot of styling. It's also significantly more expensive than offerings from VW and Audi so it would have to have something a bit extra – wouldn't it?

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.6L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Audi A37.5/10

The Audi A3 is now five years into this current generation and it’s beginning to show its age in terms of tech and styling in the cabin, despite updates adding new equipment. It’s expensive compared to most small cars but is spot-on for a prestige vehicle. 

The Sedan is, in my view, the best looking small sedan on the planet and offers the biggest boot space in the A3 range. The Sportback, however, is arguably more practical, with better legroom, headroom and cargo carrying ability (with the rear seats down). The Cabriolet has the same perfect proportions as the sedan, but like all good convertibles doesn’t make practicality a priority. 

The sweet spot of the range would have to be the Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line with its $50,000 list price making it the most affordable but most 'specced up' A3 in the entire range.

You have $50,000. Do you buy an entry-grade Audi A3 Cabriolet, a 2.0 TFSI Sport Sedan or a Volkswagen Golf R? Tell us what you think in the comments below.


Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class7/10

The CLA 250 Sport is really only let down by the rugged ride and some hard plastics and interior detailing. The ride is a matter of choice but some of the half-hearted plastics, especially on the seat controls, mar an otherwise excellent car.

If you want to stand out from the crowd in the looks department, the CLA is the most dramatic and not at all displeasing to the eye. The drive is certainly no let-down, but the BMW will eat it for breakfast and the Audi is faster while being $5000 cheaper.

But above all, the CLA is a Mercedes so is topped by that very desirable three-pointed star.

Design

Audi A38/10

The A3 comes in three body styles: a five-door hatch, which Audi calls the Sportback; the four-door Sedan, and a two-door convertible which it refers to as the Cabriolet. It may not surprise you to learn they're all different sizes, too.

The Sportback doesn’t look like the shortest of the three but at 4313mm end-to-end it’s 145mm shy of the Sedan and 110mm shorter than the Cabriolet. But those exterior dimensions don’t tell the whole story on interior space. So, which one is more practical? We’ll get to that.

But first, the looks. The Sportback has a wagon-like appearance with its large (for a hatch) rear quarter windows. If you think it looks longer than a regular hatchback, you’re right: a Volkswagen Golf is 50mm shorter even though it shares the same platform as the A3.

However, unlike the Golf, there’s something about the Sportback’s proportions which doesn’t seem balanced.

Then there’s the A3 sedan. Now this is a perfectly proportioned car. Looking like a miniature version of the A8 limo, the A3 is one of the only tiny sedans on the planet that looks fantastic.

The Cabriolet is based on the Sedan, and it too looks beautifully proportioned. Soft tops, when they’re up, never do much for a car’s profile. Be it a Bentley or an A3, they always look better down. When the roof is down the A3 appears lower, sleeker, and tougher.

While all A3’s have the same grille and headlight design the rear treatment of the Sedan and Cabriolet is more refined with their blade-like tail-lights and boot lid lip, than the Sportback, even if it does have a roof-top spoiler.

Interiors are identical across each A3 grade, the cabin benefiting from excellent fit and finish and the use of high-quality materials. But if you like bling-tastic cockpits, maybe you should be looking at a Benz A-Class because even the fanciest A3 money can buy, the RS3, comes with a small display screen and a rather low-key interior design. 

As for rivals, the new A-Class (which I’ve just reviewed) is a glitzy competitor in hatch form, with a soon-to-arrive sedan going head-to-head with the little Audi as well.

Or there’s BMW’s 1 Series hatch and 2 Series Coupe. The 1 Series hatch is seriously ugly, the 2 Series is stunning and looks fast standing still.


Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class7/10

The CLA looks terrific – short, squat and pulled low down over the 18-inch alloys, it looks ready to rumble. The detailing in the head and tail lights, most obvious at night, gives the car a strong presence and unmistakeable Mercedes air, something buyers at this level probably appreciate – a base model CLA-Class almost feels like biggest-brother S-Class.

Inside are rich materials, with leather (some real, some not) covering the dashboard, doors, seats and the steering wheel. But, once the centre stack meets the console however, the plastics suddenly go decidedly grainy and low-rent. The fit is typically excellent but the feel is at odds with the rest of the cabin.

The darkness of the materials is offset by the gigantic sunroof (and the perforated, rather than solid blind) letting in a ton of light to really set off the bright red seat-belts.

Front seat passengers will find it easy to get comfortable but if that requires putting the seat back, rear passengers will fare badly – there isn't a lot of leg room and that diving roofline robs much of the A Class' headroom. Three small kids across the back will work, but otherwise two shortish adults.

The boot is huge, with some extra space beneath the floor where you will also find the goo pump for tyre mishaps. There's a reasonable amount of storage around the cabin, too.

Practicality

Audi A37/10

The Sportback and Sedan have five seats, while the Cabriolet has four. Leg and headroom in the back row for all body styles is limited. The Sportback will give you the most rear legroom, while the sedan has a few millimetres more space for your knees than the Cabriolet. 

At 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position in the Sportback with a pinkie finger’s space, while my knees brush the seatback in the Sedan, and the Cabriolet won’t accommodate my long legs back there at all.
  
Rear headroom in the Sportback isn’t bad with enough room for my big head to clear the ceiling thanks to that tall(-ish) flat roofline while the sedan is a tighter fit but I just make it under. The Cabriolet’s low fabric roof means only small adults or kids will be able to sit up straight back there – unless the top is down and then you have literally unlimited headroom.

Boot space varies obviously depending on the body style. The Sedan has biggest cargo capacity with 425 litres, the Sportback offers up 340 litres, but fold those rear seats down and you have 1180 litres at your disposal, plus a bigger aperture to fit stuff in. The Cabriolet’s folding roof eats into the boot space, but you’re still left with 320 litres even when it’s down.

The folding roof is automatic and can be raised or lowered at up to 50km/h, but it’s slow - I’ve timed it and it takes about 20 seconds to open or shut.

Storage throughout the cabin is limited, too. There are two cupholders up front in all cars, while the Cabriolet is the only A3 to have two cupholders in the back (they’re between the rear seats). If you want cupholders in the rear of the Sedan and Sportback you’ll have to option the $450 fold-down armrest which houses them.

All grades above the 1.0 TFSI come with storage nets in the seatback and front passenger footwell, 12-volt sockets in the rear centre console and boot, plus cargo nets back there, too. There’s a USB jack in the centre console of all A3s.


Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class/10

Price and features

Audi A37/10

The A3 isn’t great value for a small car, generally speaking, because while you are getting a high-quality prestige vehicle, it doesn’t come with a mountain of equipment that you might find on a more affordable little hatch or sedan.
 
Look at it this way: take $40 into a fish and chip shop and you’ll walk out with your arms full of food, take the same amount into a Michelin-starred restaurant and you’ll be lucky to get an entrée. Same with buying a prestige car – and the A3 really is a starter on the Audi menu.
 
Coming standard on the entry-grade $36,200 1.0 TFSI Sportback are xenon headlights with LED running lights, cloth upholstery, dual-zone climate control, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with sat nav, reversing camera, multimedia system with voice control, eight-speaker stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, CD player, front and rear parking sensors, rear view camera and 16-inch alloy wheels.

Only the Sportback comes in this 1.0 TFSI grade. The rest of the body styles start with the 1.4 TFSI ($40,300 for the Sportback; $41,900 for Sedan; $49,400 for Cabriolet) which comes with the 1.0 TFSI’s equipment but swaps the cloth seats for leather upholstery and adds paddles shifters, aluminium-look interior elements and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Stepping up to the 2.0 TFSI Sport ($46,400 for Sportback; $48,000 for Sedan; $55,500 for the Cabriolet) adds leather sports front seats, aluminium door sills, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and 17-inch alloys with a different design.

The 2.0 TFSI quattro S line ($50,000 for the Sportback; $51,600 for Sedan and $59,100 for the Cabriolet) brings in lowered sports suspension, 18-inch alloys and LED headlights.

Each grade also attains more safety equipment, which we’ll cover further on.

I’ve also reviewed Mercedes-Benz’s new A200, which is a good model comparison for the A3. At a list price of $48,200 the 1.3-litre four-cylinder A200 is pricier than the 1.4 TFSI, but offers better value than the A3 2.0TFSI with more equipment, including two 10.25-inch display screens.

As for paint colours, only 'Brilliant Black' and 'Ibis White' won't cost you a cent more. Optional colours include 'Cosmos Blue', 'Tango Red' and 'Monsoon Grey'.


Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class7/10

The CLA 250 Sport is the last stop before the bonkers, $88,400 CLA 45 AMG, the booted version of the all-wheel drive A45.

In its basic form, the price kicks off at the same point as the six-cylinder BMW M135i, $64,900 and almost $5000 more than an Audi S3. It's also $14,000 more than the CLA 200 base model.

Standard on the 250 Sport are (deep breath): 18-inch alloy wheels, six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, nine airbags, alarm with motion and tow-away sensors, forward collision warning, blind spot sensor, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, cruise control, drilled front brakes with red calipers, electric memory sports front seats, fatigue detection, dark tinted windows, sat-nav, bi-xenon headlights, auto headlights and wipers, leather seats and steering wheel, auto park assist, power windows and mirrors and a massive glass sunroof.

Added to our car was $1173 metallic paint, the $2264 COMAND package and the similarly-priced Driving Assistance package.

The COMAND upgrade ups the speaker count to 12, adds DAB+ digital radio, a hard drive and voice control. Driving Assistance adds adaptive cruise and lane departure warning.

All up, we were driving around in a $70,601 car.

The COMAND system is more useable in the CLA Class than in the larger C and E, doing without the silly scratchpad. The upgraded sound in our car was excellent, with simple phone integration and streaming, along with a USB.

The twelve speakers fill the cabin with a clear sound, with good bass and mid-range in particular. The satnav had traffic warning and was easy to use. The screen was bright and clear and had a good resolution in the menus and on the reversing camera.

Engine & trans

Audi A37/10

Now on to the engines. Yes, I’m doing this in what may seem a strange order, but trust me, it’s to guide you safely through the A3 range without anybody getting lost. We don’t leave anybody behind here, not on my watch.

The grades indicate the engines in the A3 line-up – the higher the grade, the more powerful the engine. So, the range starts with the 1.0 TFSI which has a 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, and steps up to the 1.4 TFSI which has a 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder with cylinder on demand (COD) letting it run on two cylinders when not under load). Both are front-wheel drive (FWD) cars.

Next rung up is the 2.0 TFSI Sport and that has a 2.0-litre four making 140kW/320Nm with drive going to the front wheels. The top of the range is the 2.0 TFSI quattro S line which has the same engine but is all-wheel drive (AWD).

Those are all turbo-petrol engines – yes, no diesels and no manual gearbox option either. All have a seven-speed dual-clutch automatics shifting the gears. 

If you’re after something more hardcore in the same package, there are two halo ‘models’ that sit above the A3 range: the S3 with a 213kW/380Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four and the RS3 with its 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol making 294kW/480Nm. 

Given they are almost stand-alone models, the S3 and RS3 aren't included in this review, but you can read about them separately by clicking those links.


Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class7/10

An eye-opening 6.6 second dash to 100km/h comes courtesy of a 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder developing 155kW and 350Nm of torque. All four wheels are driven by a seven-speed twin-clutch transmission with paddle shifters.

Mercedes claims a combined cycle figure of 6.0L/100km, but given the willingness of the 2.0-litre to rev and the sweet-shifting transmission, you're unlikely to see less than 11.0L/100km. We certainly didn't, but it spent most of its time in Sport mode for the engine and transmission, which meant the stop-start was off. The weather was also disgustingly humid so we kept the engine running to keep the air-con pumping.

Fuel consumption

Audi A38/10

Fuel usage depends on the engine and body style, with weights varying across the range. The most fuel-efficient engine is the 1.0-litre which is only offered on the Sportback, and Audi says over a combination of urban and open roads you should see it use 4.8L/100km.
 
The 1.4 TFSI Sportback uses 5.0L/100km, while the Sedan uses 4.9L/100km, but the heavier Cabriolet drinks more at 5.1L/100km.

My most recent A3 test car was a 1.4 TFSI Sportback and the trip computer reported 7.6L/100km over a mix of city and country kays - not bad.

The 2.0 TFSI Sport Sportback uses 5.9L/100km, the Sedan needs 5.8L/100km, the Cabriolet a bit more at 6.0L/100km.

The 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line Sportback uses 6.2L/100km, while the Sedan will go through 6.1L/100km and the Cabriolet again is highest with 6.4L/100km.

That raises the question of how much more does the Cabriolet weigh? About 170kg more than the Sedan and  Sportback thanks to the extra reinforcement needed to strengthen the body to compensate for the rigidity it loses by not having a fixed metal roof.


Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class/10

Driving

Audi A38/10

I’ve driven all A3 variants from the 1.0 TFSI to the 2.0 TFSI quattro S Line, plus the S3 and RS3, but most recently I tested the 1.4 TFSI Sportback, which I’ll focus on here.

Our car was fitted with two optional packages – the 'Style Package' which adds LED headlights, 18-inch alloys and sports suspension, and the 'Technik Package' which brings a virtual instrument cluster, an 8.3-inch display and sports steering wheel.

Those larger 18-inch alloys wearing low profile 225/40 Hankook Ventus S1 Evo2 tyres look great, but like thin-soled shoes you’ll feel every imperfection on the road giving a harsher texture to the ride, plus they can be noisy on course-chip bitumen. 

I’d stick to the standard 16-inch wheels. Sure, they don’t look as racy, but the ride from those, on 55 profile tyres, is a lot more cushioned.

Despite that grittier feel from the tyres the sports suspension is excellent and manages to soften bigger bumps well. Handling is good too, thanks to that suspension keeping the body well controlled.

Good visibility, steering that’s light but offers decent feel, and a comfortable seating position make the A4 pleasant to pilot,  but not hugely engaging. If you're after more of a driver’s car, the S3 and RS3 will deliver – trust me.

Acceleration isn’t bad from the 1.4-litre, with 0-100km/h claimed to be 8.2 seconds. That dual-clutch transmission is a quick shifter and smooth even in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but only if you turn off the stop-start engine system (jerky and hard to tolerate). 

I’m also not a fan of the way the stop-start system switches the engine off as you coast to a stop at traffic lights and intersections. For me, that borders on a safety issue, particularly when needing to turn on an amber only to find you momentarily lack steering or power.

As mentioned in the engine/transmission section, the 1.4 TFSI Sportback is a FWD car. Put it on a steep hill, as I did on our test incline, and even in dry conditions it’ll lose traction under hard acceleration. Traction control reins the slippage in, but AWD 'quattro' cars won’t struggle for traction in the same circumstances. 


Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class7/10

The 250 is basically a hot hatch with a boot – its power figures are well below the (cheaper) all-wheel drive Audi S3 and rear wheel drive M135i. The numbers are much closer to VW's Golf GTi.

That aside, the CLA is an excellent car – quiet and for the most part very refined, it's a real urban warrior. The wheel feels positive in the hand and you can sling it in and out of corners with great confidence - the all-wheel drive grip is tenacious and drama-free.

While the engine isn't a high revving unit, it does rev willingly and smoothly, with the transmission shifting like the ticking of a clock. In Sport mode the ticking is accompanied by an exuberant crackle from the exhaust.

A downside is the ride – with the sport suspension of the Sport designation, it is one rocky rider. Naturally on a good surface it will behave much better, but when the rains come and the roads fall to pieces, potholes become a mortal enemy, particularly for rear seat passengers.

The ride does mean that it is less liveable than you might otherwise imagine. You'd be mad to upgrade to the 19-inch wheels unless you had excellent chiropractic cover.

When you fire up the Merc CLA, you're always in the most economical mode. It takes two separate buttons to get to maximum attack and those buttons are in a place you might not expect. When you've sussed it out there the steering adds weight and reduces its lock to lock, giving you a heavy but responsive feel.

The brakes are excellent and resisted the pounding we gave them, while the engine's light theatrics on the up and downshift kept us giggling.

Safety

Audi A38/10

The A3 has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating from its 2013 crash test, which applies to the Sportback, Sedan and Cabriolet.

While the Sedan and Sportback have seven airbags, the Cabriolet has just five, missing out on the head-level curtain bags.

The amount of advanced safety equipment increases as you step up through the grades, but AEB is standard across the range. Lane keeping assistance, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert becomes standard from the 2.0 TFSI Sport upwards, while the lower grades can attain these with the optional $1500 'Assistance Package'.

For child seats there are two ISOFIX mounts and two top tether anchor points across the back seats in the Sedan, Sportback and Cabriolet.


Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class7/10

Nine airbags, ABS, brake assists, forward collision detection, fatigue detection, crash avoidance with braking, traction and stability control.

This lengthy list, plus a crash test, adds up to five stars from ANCAP.

Ownership

Audi A37/10

The A3 is covered by Audi’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended at 15,000km/12-month intervals. A three-year/45,000km service plan is available and costs $1680.


Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class/10