Audi A3 VS Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
- Sedan styling looks superb
- Quattro all-wheel drive on highest grade
- AEB on all grades
- Plain standard interior
- Limited rear legroom
- Low on standard features
- Angry sound
- Confused nav
- Modest rear headroom
- So-so warranty
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.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
If you're after a hot hatch with a boot, you can't have one because it wouldn't be a hatch anymore.
Packing 300kW – that's just over 420hp – and 500Nm its 2.0-litre engine is claimed to be the most powerful series production turbo four ever made.
And Australian deliveries are scheduled for early 2020, with a likely price tag in the mid-$90k bracket.
Mercedes-AMG invited us to the car's global launch in Madrid, Spain, where we got behind the wheel on road and track.
|Fuel Type||98 Ron Petrol|
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.
The Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S is more glorious madness from the hot-rodders in Affalterbach. A design and engineering master-class putting a slightly more mature spin on the fast and furious small AMG formula. But only slightly. It's brilliantly outrageous.
Is the CLA 45 S your kind of 'under the radar' performance four-door? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
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.
Claimed to blaze from 0-100km/h in 4.0 seconds the second-generation CLA 45 has the performance credentials of a mid-engine supercar, wrapped in a relatively unassuming three-box body. And while it might look mild-mannered from a distance, this devil's differences are in the detail.
Like it's A 45 sibling the CLA 45 S features AMG's now signature Panamericana grille with 12 vertical louvres, a winged front spoiler treatment, extra aero bits around the front air intakes and 'Power Dome' bumps in the bonnet.
The side skirts are wider, and the 19-inch twin five-spoke rims are standard. While at the back the diffuser treatment is more pronounced than the hatch, but the fat 90mm exhaust pipes are the same, and the lip spoiler is on the boot lid rather than the roof.
The interior is virtually identical to the hatch, the biggest difference being the four-door coupe's frameless doors.
A combination of Merc's 'Artico' faux leather and 'Dinamica' microfibre trim is accented with racy yellow highlights, with a nappa leather and Dinamica AMG Performance wheel and sports pedals completing the picture.
And the twin widescreen MBUX instrument and media display boasts AMG-specific read-outs on everything from gear selection, warm-up menu, car set-up, a G-metre, race timer and engine data. The standard 'Track Pack' even includes specific circuit layouts and data.
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.
At just under 4.7m long (248mm longer than the A 45 S hatch), a bit under 1.9m wide, and fraction over 1.4m tall the A 45 S in the dimensional bullseye for a compact four-door.
The CLA A 45 S driver is presented with the same sleek 'MBUX' widescreen display found in the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and storage runs to two cupholders in the centre console, a lidded bin/armrest between the seats (including twin USB ports), decent door pockets with room for bottles and a medium-size glove box.
In a swap to the rear, sitting behind the driver's seat set to my (183cm) position, I enjoyed adequate knee and foot room, although headroom isn't as generous.
A centre fold-down armrest incorporates two cupholders, again there are generous pockets in the doors with room for bottles, and adjustable ventilation outlets are set into the back of the front centre console is a welcome inclusion. No map pockets on the racy, hard shell sports front seats, though.
There are three belted positions across the rear, but the adults using them for anything other than short journeys will have to be good friends and flexible. Best for two grown-ups, and three kids will be fine.
Boot volume is a healthy 460 litres (VDA), expanding further with the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat down. There are tie-down hooks, a 12-volt outlet and elasticised storage pockets either side of the load space to further enhance useability. But beware, the Merc-AMG CLA 45 S is a no-tow zone.
Price and features
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'.
The new CLA 45 is launching in the premium S variant only (a 'base' non-S version is offered in other markets). The outgoing model was tagged at $93,800, before on-road costs, prior to its discontinuation in January this year, and Mercedes-Benz Australia has hinted strongly that a price increase is likely. So, expect a list price in the mid-$90k range.
We'll cover active and passive safety tech in the safety section, and although final Australian specification is yet to be confirmed you can expect the stand ard features list to include the 19-inch alloys, 'Artico' faux leather and 'Dinamica' microfibre trim upholstery, the 'MBUX' widescreen cockpit display (two 10.25-inch digital screens) and 'MercedesMe' voice recognition, heated and electrically-adjustable sports front seats, auto adaptive LED headlights, LED tail-lights and DRLs, keyless entry and start, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, dual-zone climate-control, sat-nav, multi-function sports steering wheel, active cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, Active Parking Assist' (with ultrasonic proximity sensors front and rear), rear privacy glass, plus premium audio with digital radio, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Engine & trans
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.
The A 45 S's all-new 2.0-litre (M139) engine is claimed to be the most powerful series production turbo four ever made, pumping out 310kW at 6750rpm and a monumental 500Nm, peaking between 5000-5250rpm. . That's up from an already impressive 280kW/470Nm on the out-going model.
It's an all-alloy, closed deck design fed by a combined direct and port fuel-injection system, with a single, twin-scroll turbo featuring low-friction roller bearings for quick spool up.
It's transversely mounted, but compared to the previous model has been spun 1 80-degrees on its vertical axis so the turbo's near the firewall and the intake system sits at the front to simplify and shorten ducting on the intake and exhaust sides.
The cylinder linings are treated with Merc's patented 'Nanoslide' coating, which delivers an ultra-hard, mirror-like surface for less friction and greater durability. And 'Camtronic' variable valve control sits on the exhaust side.
Drive goes to all four wheels via an eight-speed 'AMG Speedshift DCT 8G' dual-clutch auto, with manual shift paddles attached to the steering wheel.
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.
Claimed fuel economy to the combined cycle NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) standard is 8.1L/100km, the engine emitting 186g/km of CO2 in the process. Figures for the Australian (ADR 81/02) standard will be issued at the time of the car's local launch in early 2020.
Stop-start is standard, minimum fuel requirement is 98 RON premium unleaded, and you'll need 51 litres of it to fill the tank.
Our combination of furious hot-lapping on the circuit and relatively enthusiastic open road driving on the launch program means we'll wait until we test the car on home soil to log a real world average.
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-AMG invited us to the Jarama race circuit just outside Madrid in Central Spain, and the twisting B-roads nearby, to sample its latest pride and joy.
In the AMG tradition the engine is assembled by hand, by one technician. And hats off to the spanner twirlers, they do a great job. It's a spectacular unit. Torque delivery is shaped to mimic a naturally aspirated engine, with the maximum figure arriving between 5000-5250rpm.
But that's not to say it's hollow in the mid-range. Around 90 per cent of that peak number is available from below 3000rpm and low-end throttle response is brilliantly crisp and linear, helped in no small part by roller bearings on the turbo for a quicker spool up.
Merc-AMG claims 4.0 seconds for the sprint from 0-100km/h, which is supercar fast and with drive going to all four wheels entertainment is the name of the game.
The eight-speed dual-clutch auto is positive and sharp, especially in manual mode where shifts flick through in much less than the blink of an eye.
And as the A 45 S beefs up the A-Class on the outside, it's the same underneath the skin with body reinforcement including an alloy sheering plate under the engine, a front strut tower brace, extra reinforcement between side members and A-pillars, and diagonal struts on the front and rear of the underbody.
So, the strut front, four-link rear suspension has an extra stiff platform to hang from, and the three-mode 'Ride Control' active damping can transform the ride from soft and compliant to tightly buttoned down.
The speed-sensitive, electromechanical steering is specifically tuned for this car, and it points accurately with good road feel and pleasantly firm weight in Sport and Sport+ modes.
Rubber is Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S, and it grips hard. On the fast and technical Jarama circuit they performed flawlessly, helping the A 45 S transform its prodigious power into maximum forward velocity without fuss.
The icing on the dynamic cake is 'AMG Dynamic Select' with six modes from 'Comfort' to 'Race' adjusting the engine, transmission, steering, suspension, and exhaust.
On top of that 'AMG Dynamics' uses the ESP and torque vectoring (by braking) to vary the level of stability and slip through four levels from 'Basic' up to 'Master'.
We played with all the toys including 'Race Start' and a 'Drift Mode' made possible by a new rear axle featuring two multi-disc clutches - one for each rear wheel.
Torque is split variably between front and rear axles with a default setting of 50/50 rising to around 70 per cent to the rear when pushing hard. Drive is also continuously managed across the rear axle, and like a swan gliding across the lake all the action happens seamlessly out of sight, turning you into a track hero in the process.
The first-gen A45's exhaust was a mass of pops, bangs and crackles, while this car's more rasping and rorty exhaust note is controlled by a flap in the system adjusted by engine speed and load. It's also amplified by the 'AMG Real Performance Sound' system, which puts some actual engine and exhaust noise (nothing is synthesised) through the speakers.
Open road ride comfort in the softest setting is surprisingly good, with rough surfaces unsettling the car only slightly despite the big 19s and high-performance rubber. Body control is S and S+ settings is spot-on, the car feeling planted, predictable and ultra-responsive on tight, twisting backroads.
Braking power is professional grade with six-piston calipers at the front and single piston rear, on vented and perforated rotors all around. Even following session after session on the track there wasn't a hint of fade.
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.
Although final Australian spec is yet to be finalised, you can expect a host of active safety tech including ABS, BA, EBD, stability and traction controls, a reversing camera (with dynamic guidelines), 'Active Brake Assist' (Merc-speak fo AEB), 'Adaptive Brake', 'Attention Assist', 'Blind Spot Assist', 'Cross-wind Assist', 'Lane Keep Assist', a tyre pressure warning system, the 'Pre-Safe' accident anticipatory system, 'Traffic Sign Assist' and 'Adaptive Highbeam Assist'.
If all that fails to prevent an impact you'll be protected by nine airbags (front, pelvis and window for driver and front passenger, side airbags for rear seat occupants and a driver's knee bag), and the 'Active Bonnet' automatically tilts to minimise pedestrian injuries. A first-aid kit and hi-vis vests in the boot are thoughtful additions.
The A-Class was awarded a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2018, and for smaller occupants there are three child restraint/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with isofix anchors on the two outer positions.
The Mercedes-AMG range is covered by a three year/unlimited km warranty, which, like Audi and BMW lags behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz Road Care assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is likely to be scheduled (as per the out-going CLA 45) for 12 months/20,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an 'Up-front' or 'Pay-as-you-go' basis.
For the first-gen CLA 45 pre-payment delivers a $500 saving with the first three services set at a total of $2950, compared to $3650 PAYG. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase.