Lexus GS VS Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
- Super-smooth V6
- Lots of interesting tech
- Lovely (if old-fashioned) interior
- Media system
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Angry sound
- Confused nav
- Modest rear headroom
- So-so warranty
Ah, yes, the Lexus GS. Toyota's luxury off-shoot had high hopes for the new big boy when I first saw it a few years ago. Not thousands-of-sales high hopes, but the company thought a rear-wheel drive luxury sedan stacked with gear you didn't even know you wanted would be a dead-set winner.
And to be fair, they were right. I ran a GS as a long-termer and it was impeccably-mannered. In hybrid form. It wasn't sparkling, but my goodness, it used barely any fuel; especially impressive given its size.
|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.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Weirdly, given all the good things I've had to say about the GS F Sport, it doesn't quite hang together. It's missing that certain something the Europeans have in their chassis, particularly the BMW 5 Series, and with ageing interior tech, it's struggling to keep up.
It's a car built for specific tastes, and they're more California than Straya. And that's perfectly okay, but unfortunately, that doesn't translate to a stampede of buyers. Having said that, none of its German rivals (or its beleaguered Japanese counterpart, Infiniti) could claim wild sales success either.
The GS is a terrific car, underrated but also just not quite there for my taste. The GS F, though, that's another thing altogether.
Does Lexus even register on your big luxury sedan radar? If it does, what stops you from taking the plunge?
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 GS is ageing well, but it's still a bit heavy-handed around the headlights and a little on the slabby side along the flanks. It doesn't look poised for action, even with the F Sport additions, but nor does it look frumpy, mostly due to the whopping blacked-out spindle grille, a Lexus signature.
The rear end is good looking but a bit bluff, again neither surprising or delighting.
Little has changed inside, but it's still a very nice cabin, and always will be apart from a couple of clangers (the gear shifter looks super-cheap).
What's more, it's welcoming, lots of very nice materials, comfortable, seats - it's exactly what it needs to be. Whatever you might think of the looks, one thing is absolutely certain - if anyone builds cars better than Lexus, it's a very, very short list.
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.
Being a big car, there's plenty of room inside. Four passengers will be very comfortable although rear legroom was a bit on the skinny side given the car's size.
The cabin contains a good-sized console bin, four cupholders and each door pocket into which you could conceivably slot a bottle.
The 520-litre boot is a useful shape, with a sensible load height and a space-saver spare under the floor. The 5 Series and E Class both best the Lexus by 10 litres, so the GS isn't far off the norm.
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
We had the pleasure of the GS 350 F Sport for the week, which is well over $10,000 cheaper than the Luxury and is therefore the 'default. If you're not sure what F Sport means, it's Lexus' answer to an M Sport or AMG pack, without all the high-powered engine shenanigans to go with it. If that's what you're after, the V8-powered Lexus GS F is definitely for you.
Starting at $95,300, the F Sport has a spectacular standard features list - 17-speaker stereo, 19-inch alloys, variable-geared four-wheel steer (!), adaptive suspension, dual-zone climate control (with moisturising function), hectares of leather trim, head-up display, electrically-operated heated and ventilated front seats, rear sunshade, F Sport instrument screen, auto LED headlights, keyless entry and start, sat nav, front and rear parking sensors with around-view cameras and a space-saver spare.
The media system is run from Lexus' 12.3-inch screen embedded in the dashboard and controlled from an infuriating console-mounted mouse-clicker with a couple of shortcut buttons. It really is spectacularly irritating and made worse by the rotary dial stationed next to it that acts as the drive mode selector. Why not use that instead?
As ever, the system is mildly baffling to use and hard to look at, but the sound is absolutely lovely from the Mark Levinson-branded speakers. Lexus is persisting with a DVD player but it also has DAB+.
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
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.
A real world 13.7L/100km is a solid miss of the claimed 9.3L/100km, which itself is hardly earth-shattering. It's a big heavy car and that's the penalty. It drinks fuel fast, so the 66-litre fuel tank does drain quickly and it's worth knowing you have to fill it with the 95 RON or better.
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.
There are things you expect in a Lexus. Quietness. Composure. Smoothness. The GS delivers all three of those things effortlessly. But it has a few extra things in its bag that I can't say I was expecting.
For a start, the 3.5-litre V6 moves the car without any carry-on and in doing so, I was constantly amazed at how quickly the speed in the head-up display reached the posted limit. It just doesn't feel or sound like a six second car, but there you are. The transmission is virtually faultless, the engine sound distant and refined, the power impressive.
It's a heavy car, no question, but two things work to make it feel much lighter. First - and it doesn't matter which mode you choose - the adaptive suspension somehow knocks about 200kg out of how heavy the car feels. The brakes, while a little soft on pedal feel when you first step on them, are very effective and again help to make the car feel lighter than it is.
The four driving modes are quite distinct. As usual, Eco makes everything soft and doughy or as I prefer to say, unpleasant. Normal is great for every day, with just the right throttle response and steering weight.
Moving to sport ups the aggro slightly while Sport+, while never harsh, firms everything up to the point where it starts to feel like a different car. Sport+ makes the car feel race-car pointy, the suspension holds the body in check and the power seems readily available without jerky progression
The all-wheel steer is a big part of the change in feel. It's is especially sharp in Sport+ mode. The steering's gearing changes up quite a bit, meaning a lot less steering lock required for your favourite hairpin bend. Of course, at real speed it all calms down because neither you nor Lexus are fond of sneezy lane-changes or Armco-swiping. At first I thought it just made the big car feel a bit too nervous but as I got used to it (and was able to dial it down by switching back into a less racy mode) I found it fun but a little bit out of character with the car itself.
And just because it's the F Sport, that doesn't mean it can't do all the things you'd expect from a Lexus. You can still waft, you can still creep up on people and it's really very comfortable when you're cruising or stuck in traffic.
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 GS scores 10 airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward AEB, active cruise, auto high beams and lane departure warning with lane keep assist.
The GS doesn't have an ANCAP or Euro NCAP rating while the USA's IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) rating is good for each key crash-worthiness measure. The IIHS suite of tests is quite rigorous but differ from our ANCAP/Euro NCAP standards.
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.
There's one area where Lexus smashes the Germans and that's after-sales. While the warranty is hardly ground-breaking at four years/100,000km and service intervals are reasonable at 12 months/15,000km, it's how it all comes together.
For the duration of the warranty, when the car needs a service, Lexus will either come and get it then return it to you, or give you a loan car. Anecdotal evidence suggests this continues long after the warranty runs out. Like, 10 years after the warranty runs out.
This is a small thing, but if there's one thing I hate about car ownership, it's the servicing experience. If I was a betting man, I'd dare you to find someone who genuinely has a problem with Lexus after-sales care.
On top of that, you get a generous roadside assist package for four years.
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.