Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Alfa Romeo 4C
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
Alfa Romeo 4C
- Startling performance
- Superbly in tune with the road
- Addictive to drive
- Lacking gear
- Rich servicing costs
Mercedes has long been the leader in niche filling, and we’d argue that no other model encapsulates that more than the CLA four-door coupe.
Now in its second-generation form, the CLA is based on Mercedes’ MFA2 small car platform that also underpins the A-Class small car range, B-Class tallboy hatchback and GLA crossover, but is actually dimensionally longer than the one-size up C-Class.
However, while the C-Class might offer more conventional styling, Mercedes says the CLA is targeted towards a younger demographic that puts more weight on design and aesthetics.
The previous generation CLA was topped by a hardcore 45 version, which makes a return here, but new this time around is the less-potent, but still AMG-badged, 35 variant to plug the gap between mainstream grades and the range-topper.
After living with the car for a week, here are our thoughts on the new baby AMG CLA.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Alfa Romeo 4C
Nothing could’ve better prepared me for my drive in the 2019 Alfa Romeo 4C than a trip to Sydney’s Luna Park.
There’s a rollercoaster there called Wild Mouse - an old-school, single carriage coaster with no loop-the-loops, no high-tech trickery, and with each ride limited to just with two seats apiece.
The Wild Mouse throws you around with very little regard for your comfort, gently impinging your fear factor by making you consider the physics of what is happening underneath your backside.
It’s an unbridled adrenaline rush, and genuinely scary at times. You get off the ride thinking to yourself, “how the hell did I survive that?”.
The same can be said with this Italian sports car. It’s blisteringly quick, it’s superbly agile, it handles like it has rails attached to its underbody, and it could potentially do brown things to your underpants.
|Engine Type||1.7L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Is the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 the perfect choice in the sleek sedan’s line-up?
Well, if you are after outright performance, then the answer still clearly lies with the CLA 45. But for those that just want a little more pep compared to the standard CLA range, the 35 is undoubtedly the one to get.
It’s not without its flaws, though, commanding a $15,000 price premium over the CLA 250 and a tougher-than-we’d-like ride, but if you value a more engaging drive and a brisk 0-100km/h time, the CLA 35 should definitely be on your shopping list.
Alfa Romeo 4C7.1/10
People might wonder if there’s a reason to buy an Alfa Romeo 4C. It has some great dollar-for-dollar competitors - the Alpine A110 does most of the things the Alfa does, but in a more polished way. And then there’s the Porsche 718 Cayman, which is a considerably more, well, considered option.
But there is no doubt the 4C stands alone, a sort-of cut-price alternative to a Maserati or Ferrari, and nearly as rare to spot on the road as those cars, too. And just like the rollercoaster at Luna Park, it’s the sort of car that’ll leave you wanting another go.
Would you take the 4C over a Alpine A110? Let us know in the comments.
From the front, the CLA 35 exterior oozes style and luxury.
Up front, the sleek and slender headlights emphasise the width of the fascia, while the large Mercedes logo sits proudly front and centre of the CLA’s nose.
There are subtle hints to the CLA 35’s sportiness too, with a slightly bulging bonnet and chiselled lower chin.
The grille is also unique on the 35, with a dual-horizontal slat design instead of the non-AMG CLA’s diamond pattern or the CLA 45’s Panamericana grille.
To my eye, the front of the CLA 35 is actually a bit too tame in styling for an AMG model. I prefer the in-your-face aggression of the CLA 45’s widened track and front grille, while the CLA 35 opts for more subtle styling cues. To each their own, though.
The silver paintwork of our test car probably doesn’t help, and if it was my choice I'd pick 'Sun Yellow' or 'Denim Blue' to stand out a bit more from the sea of black, grey and white German cars out there.
Move to the rear of the car though, and a large rear diffuser, big dual-exhaust outlets and a bootlid spoiler are much more befitting an AMG model.
Step inside the CLA and you will see it adopts the same dashboard design as all new-generation Mercedes vehicles built on the MFA2 platform, with the 'MBUX' dual-screen layout, large air-vents and central touchpad.
Our car was specced out with red-leather interior, which is a bit too loud for my tastes, but a two-tone black leather/titanium grey combo can also be had at no extra cost.
Sitting inside the CLA 35, you can tell it’s a modern car thanks to the clean layout of all the controls, while the screen-heavy dashboard definitely makes it feel tech-focused.
Alfa Romeo 4C8/10
Slap a Ferrari badge on it, and people would think it was the real deal - a pint-sized performance hustler, with all the right angles to get plenty of glances.
In fact, I had dozens of punters nod, wave, mount ‘nice car mate’ and even a few rubber-neck moments - you know, when you drive past and someone on the footpath can’t help but forget they’re walking, and they stare so hard they might well collide with the upcoming lamp-post.
It really is a head-turner. So why does it only get an 8/10? Well, there are some elements of the design that make it less user-friendly than some of its rivals.
For instance, the step-in to the cabin is enormous, because the carbon-fibre tub sills are huge. And the cabin itself is pretty tight, especially for taller people. An Alpine A110 or Porsche Boxster are much more amenable for day-to-day driving… but hey, the 4C is markedly better than, say, a Lotus Elise for ingress and egress.
Also, as smart as it still looks, there are elements of Alfa Romeo design that have moved on since the 4C launched back in 2015. The headlights are the bit that I dislike most - I had a real thing for the spider-eyes lights of the launch edition model.
But even if it isn’t unmistakably Alfa Romeo, it’s unmistakably a 4C.
Measuring 4695mm long, 1834mm wide, 1399mm tall and with a 2729mm wheelbase, the CLA 35 is definitely a sizeable sedan in the metal.
This actually makes the CLA 35 slightly longer and wider than a non-AMG C-Class sedan that measures 4686 and 1810mm respectively, but don’t expect the same level of practical interior space.
With a heavily sloped roofline, rear-seat comfort takes a hit. My 183cm (6.0ft) frame could not sit upright behind my driving position without tilting my head, while legroom was also slightly lacking.
With such large C-pillars and a small rear window, the second-row can actually feel a little claustrophobic for full-sized adults, but will seat children quite comfortably.
Second-row amenities include air-vents, two USB-C ports, back-of-seat storage nets, bottle holders in the doors, and two cupholders in the fold-down arm rest.
Just like at a music concert though, the best seats in the CLA 35 are up front, with plenty of room for heads, shoulders and legs.
The cabin is also much more light-filled up front, making for a more pleasant experience.
The front seats are electronically adjustable, as is the steering column, but the headrests are fixed.
Storage options include sizeable door bins, a centre console cubby, glove box, two cupholders and a wireless smartphone charger.
Boot space is 460 litres, but can expand with the rear split-fold 40/20/40 rear seats stowed.
Though the boot looks small and shallow on the outside, the aperture is actually quite large, and can easily accommodate a large suitcase with plenty of room to spare.
Alfa Romeo 4C6/10
You can’t get into a car this small and expect a lot of space.
The dimensions of the 4C are tiny - it’s just 3989mm long, 1868mm wide and only 1185mm tall, and as you can see from the pictures, it’s a squat little thing. The Spider’s removable roof could be great for you if you’re tall.
I’m six-feet tall (182cm) and I found it to be cocoon-like in the cabin. You feel almost as though you’re tying yourself to the tub of the car when you get into the driver’s seat. And getting in and out? Just make sure you do some stretches beforehand. It’s not as bad as a Lotus for ingress and egress, but it’s still hard to look good clambering in and out of.
The cabin is a cramped space. There’s limited head room and leg room, and while there is reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel, the seat only has manual slide and backrest movement - no lumbar adjust, no height adjust… almost like a racing bucket. They’re hard like a race seat, too.
The ergonomics aren’t terrific - the controls for the air-con are hard to see at a glance, the buttons for the gear select take some learning, and the two centrally-mounted cup holders (one for your double-shot mocha latte, the other for a hazelnut piccolo) are inconveniently positioned exactly where you might want to put your elbow.
The media system is rubbish. It’d be the first thing to go, if I bought one of these, and in its place would be an aftermarket touchscreen which would: a) actually let you pair to Bluetooth; b) look like it was from sometime after 2004; and c) be more fitting for a car of this price tag. I’d upgrade the speakers, too, because they’re poor. But I can totally understand if those things don’t matter, because it’s the engine you want to hear.
The materials - aside from the red leather seats - aren’t great. The plastics used are similar in look and feel to what you find in second-hand Fiats, but the sheer volume of exposed carbon-fibre does help you forget those details. And the leather pull straps to close the doors are nice, too.
The visibility from the driver’s seat is decent - for this type of car. It’s low, and the rear window is small, so you can’t expect to see everything around you at all times, but the mirrors are good and the forward vision is excellent.
Price and features
Priced at $85,500 before on-road costs, the CLA 35 sits $15,300 upstream of the CLA 250 but is $25,700 cheaper than the $111,200 CLA 45.
Standard equipment includes leather interior, dual-zone climate control, electronically adjustable front seats with heating and memory function, keyless entry and push-button start, 64-colour ambient lighting, and a wireless smartphone charger.
AMG specific appointments include 19-inch wheels, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, sports exhaust, high-performance brakes with silver-painted calipers, blacked-out exterior highlights, sports suspension, a racy bodykit and speed-sensitive steering.
Instrumentation is displayed on a 10.25-inch screen, which can be customised and features AMG readouts.
The multimedia system, which includes satellite navigation, digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, is also outputted to a 10.25-inch screen, with inputs including touch, voice commands, centre touch pad or steering wheel controls.
Our test car also came with a ‘Mojave Silver Metallic’ paint finish and 'Vision Package', adding $1190 and $990 to the bottom line each.
The Vision Package adds LED headlights with adaptive high beams, a panoramic glass sunroof and surround-view monitor.
Though the CLA 35 features a long list of equipment, it is still a sizeable chunk of coin, costing more than the C300 sedan and Volvo S60 T8 PHEV, the latter boasting higher engine outputs.
Alfa Romeo 4C6/10
Look, no-one considering an Italian sports car is likely to be wearing their common sense hat, but even so, the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is an indulgent purchase.
With a list price of $99,000 plus on-road costs, it isn’t affordable. Not considering what you get for your money.
Standard inclusions consist of air conditioning, remote central locking, heated electric door mirrors, leather sports seats with manual adjustment, a leather-lined steering wheel, and a four-speaker stereo system with USB connectivity and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. It’s not a touchscreen, so there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and there’s no sat nav… but the thing about this car is going the fun way home, so forget maps and GPS. And there’s a digital instrument cluster with a digital speedometer - believe me, you’ll need it.
The standard wheels are a staggered set - 17-inch at the front and 18-inch at the rear. All 4C models have bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lights and dual exhaust tips.
Of course, being the Spider model, you also get a removable soft top and you know what’s neat? You get a car cover included as standard, but you’d want to put it in the shed, as it takes up a bit of boot room!
Our car was even further up the pay scale, with an as-tested price of $118,000 before on-roads - it had a few option boxes ticked.
First there’s that beautiful Basalt Grey metallic paint ($2000), and those contrasting red brake calipers ($1000).
Plus there’s the Carbon & Leather package - with carbon-fibre mirror caps, interior bezels, and a stitched leather instrument cover panel. It’s a $4000 option.
And finally, the Racing Package ($12,000), which includes a staggered set of 18-inch and 19-inch wheels with a dark paint finish, and those wheels are fitted with model specific Pirelli P Zero tyres (205/40/18 up front, 235/35/19 at the rear). Plus theres the sports racing exhaust system, which is awesome, and a racing suspension setup.
Engine & trans
Powered by a 2.0-litre, turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine, the CLA 35 punches out 225kW/400Nm.
Drive is sent through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions to the road via Mercedes’ '4Matic' all-wheel-drive system, enabling a 0-100km/h sprint in the 1603kg sedan in just 4.7 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h.
Though I didn’t get a chance to test the latter, the former certainly feels accurate when taking off from a freeway on ramp, however, there is some hesitation from the turbo in getting on boost.
Peak power comes in at 5800rpm, while maximum torque is available from 3000-4000rpm.
Alfa Romeo 4C8/10
The Alfa Romeo 4C is powered by a 1.7-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine, which produces 177kW of power at 6000rpm and 350Nm of torque from 2200-4250rpm.
The motor is mounted amidships, and it is rear-wheel drive. It uses a six-speed dual-clutch (TCT) automatic with launch control.
Alfa Romeo claims a 0-100km/h time of 4.5 seconds, which makes it one of the quickest cars at this price point.
Officially, the CLA 35 sips 7.5 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, but we managed a 9.9L/100km figure in our week with the car.
The majority of our driving was done in inner-city environments, with the two trips down the freeway to seek out twisty country rounds.
Minimum fuel grade in the CLA 35 is 98 RON.
Alfa Romeo 4C8/10
Claimed fuel consumption for the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider is rated at 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres, so it’s no miser.
But, impressively, I saw real-world fuel economy of 8.1L/100km, over a loop that included urban, highway and ‘spirited’ driving on twisty roads.
The CLA 35 might not offer the outright thrills or breadth of capability of the CLA 45, but don’t think the cut-price AMG offers up a cut-rate driving experience.
From the driver’s seat, one of the cool things about the CLA 35 is that it doesn’t actually look any different from its more expensive sibling.
The drive-mode selector that is now embedded on the steering wheel is fantastic, a feature first seen on the Mercedes-AMG GT 4-door, and makes changing the driving dynamics on the fly an absolute breeze.
In fact, we think all cars where you can select drive modes should have a selector on the steering wheel like this, which lets you quickly and easily dial it up or down while keeping your hands on the wheel.
'Comfort', 'Sport', 'Sport+' and 'Individual' modes are available, while the transmission can also be put into manual mode independently for those that prefer to use the flappy paddles.
Suspension settings can also be tweaked regardless of which drive mode you are in, and it’s this level of customisability that we appreciate.
You want loud exhaust pops and the engine in full attack with manual shifting and the softest suspension? Sure, that’s doable here in the CLA 35. And toning it down to its most comfortable settings is just a flick of the wrist away.
The steering feels a little numb on centre and at slower speeds, though feedback picks right up with speed and is communicative enough when the road starts to get twisty.
Fitted with wide and sticky Michelin rubber, as well as the aforementioned all-wheel drive system, the CLA 35 is certainly not lacking in grip.
The suspension does an okay job of absorbing bumps, but uneven surfaces, like Melbourne’s tram tracks, can send uncomfortable jolts into the cabin if travelling quickly.
In fact, we think the ride comfort of the CLA 35 is probably its weakest aspect, offering not enough variability in its Comfort and Sport settings, and instead settling somewhere in between, regardless of drive mode.
The CLA 35 is ultimately still a fun and engaging sports sedan, though there are some sacrifices made to get it there.
Alfa Romeo 4C9/10
I said that it’s like a rollercoaster, and it really, truly is. The air doesn’t quite rush through your hair as much, sure - but with the roof off, the windows down and the speedometer constantly edging towards licence suspension, it’s a real hoot of an experience.
It just feels so tight - the carbon-fibre monocoque chassis is rigid and super stiff. You hit a cats-eye and its all so sensitive, you could mistake it for having hit an actual cat.
Alfa Romeo’s DNA drive modes - the letters stand for Dynamic, Natural, All Weather - is one of those proper examples of this type of system done well. There’s a marked difference between how these different settings operate, where some other drive modes out there are more sedate in their adjustments. There’s a fourth mode - Alfa Race - which I didn’t dare sample on public roads. Dynamic was enough to test my mettle.
The steering in Natural mode is lovely - there’s great weighting and feedback, super direct and incredibly in touch with the surface below you, and the engine isn’t quite as zesty, but still offers tremendous response on the move.
The ride is firm but composed and compliant in any of the drive modes, and it doesn’t have adaptive suspension. It is a stiffer suspension setup, and though the damping doesn’t change in Dynamic mode, if the surface is anything but perfect you will tram-track and twitch all over the place, because the steering feels even more dialled in.
In Dynamic mode the engine offers amazing response when you’re at pace, building speed incredibly and before you know it, you’re in licence loss zone.
The brake pedal requires some firm footwork - just like in a race car - but it pulls up strongly when you need it to. You’ve just gotta get used to the pedal feel.
The transmission is a good thing at speed in manual mode. It won’t overrule you if you want to find the redline, and it sounds tremendous. The exhaust is exhilarating!
With roof on and windows up there’s very noticeable noise intrusion - lots of tyre roar and engine noise. But remove the roof and drop the windows and you get the full effect of the drive experience - you’ll even get some "sut-tu-tu” wastegate flutter. It doesn’t even matter that much that the stereo system is so rubbish.
At normal speeds in normal driving you do need to be considerate of the powertrain because it is finnicky and slow to react at times. There’s notable lag if you’re gentle on the throttle, both from engine and transmission, and the fact peak torque doesn’t come on song until 2200rpm means there’s lag to contend with.
It’ll be a difficult choice between this and Alpine A110 and a Porsche Cayman – each of these vehicles has a very different character. But for me, this is the most go-kart like and it is, undeniably incredibly involving to drive.
The CLA 35 has not been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but the standard CLA range was awarded a five-star rating in September 2019.
Standard safety equipment in the CLA 35 includes autonomous emergency braking, automatic high beams, nine airbags, drive attention alert, blind-spot monitoring with exit warning, lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition and tyre pressure monitoring.
The standard CLA also comes with these features, and was awarded 96 and 92 per cent respectively in ANCAP adult occupant and child occupant protection tests.
For the vulnerable road user and safety assist examinations, the standard CLA scored 91 and 76 per cent respectively.
ANCAP says the AEB system works from seven-200km/h.
Of note, adaptive cruise control is not standard in the CLA 35 like it is in the CLA 45. Instead, buyers will have to tick the 'Driving Assistance Package' box for the feature, which also comes bundled with cross-traffic alert and lane change assist.
Alfa Romeo 4C6/10
You’re in the wrong spot if you want the latest in safety technology. Sure, it’s at the cutting edge because it has an ultra strong carbon-fibre design, but there’s not much else happening here.
The 4C has dual front airbags, rear parking sensors and an alarm with tow-away protection, plus - of course - electronic stability control.
But there are no side airbags or curtain airbags, there’s no reversing camera, there’s no auto emergency braking (AEB) or lane keep assist, no lane departure warning or blind spot detection. Admittedly - there are a few other sports cars in the segment which lack safety smarts, too, but
The 4C has never been crash tested, so there’s no ANCAP or Euro NCAP safety score available.
As with all new Mercedes-Benz models, the CLA 35 comes with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is one of the best assurance periods offered by a premium carmaker.
It also comes with five years of roadside assist.
Scheduled service intervals are every 25,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.
A three-year service plan is available for $2150 for new CLA 35 buyers, saving $500 when priced individually.
Four- and five-year plans are also available, and are priced at $4200 and $4950 respectively.
Alfa Romeo 4C6/10
If you’re hoping that a ‘simple’ car like the 4C will mean low ownership costs, you might be disappointed in this section.
The Alfa Romeo website service calculator suggests that over 60 months or 75,000km (with service intervals set every 12 months/15,000km), you will have to fork out $6625 total. For a breakdown, the services cost $895, $1445, $895, $2495, $895.
I mean, that’s what you get when you buy an Italian sports car, I suppose. But consider you can get a Jaguar F-Type with five years of free servicing, and the Alfa looks like a rip-off.