Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Audi A5
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Sharp looks
- Sophisticated cabin
- No shortage of equipment
- Drive experience can lack excitement
- Tight backseat in Coupe body style
- Three-year warranties are too short
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|
Yes, yes, beauty is in the eye of beholder. But I challenge any eye to behold the refreshed Audi A5 and find it anything but beautiful.
In a world in which car design seems to be getting fussier and busier with every new model, the A5 remains a monument to simple lines and sophisticated shapes, both inside and out.
Looks are only part of the story, of course. So the big question is, does the rest of the package stand up? Or is the beauty only skin deep here?
Let's find out, shall we?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
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.
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.
It's gorgeous, the A5. There's simply no disputing it. It's elegant, sophisticated, and above all, restrained. There's no look-at-me chintz here, just clean lines, sharp creases and a shapely figure.
Like its A4 sibling, the A5 has been tickled at the front, with a new-look grille, along with a new headlight cluster with redesigned DRLs, and Matrix LED headlights.
The four sharp bonnet creases that fan out from the grille lend the A5 a sense of speed, even when stationary, and we love the way the 19-inch alloys fill the wheel arches. It looks polished, premium and athletic.
Inside, Audi's interior treatment is on-point, from the figure-hugging leather seats to the material choices that span the dash. The big news in the cabin is the inclusion of Audi's new 10.1-inch touchscreen perched above the dash, which isn't just easier to use (in my opinion, at least), but also removes the traditional controls from the centre console.
It means Audi's already fuss-free cabin is even less cluttered, and it's definitely a change for the better.
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.
It very much depends on the model you've opted for, with the Coupe compromising backseat space for exterior style.
The Sportback is easily the most practical of the trio, what with its four doors, comfortable backseat and dimensions that stretch 4757mm in length, 1843mm in width and 1386mm in height, and its 480 litres of boot space.
The Coupe, then, is a two-door design, stretching 4697mm x 1846mm x 1371mm, with 450 litres of luggage space at the rear. It's long, the Coupe, but most of that space is absorbed by the front half of the cabin, wth the backseat reserved for kids.
Finally, the Cabriolet (which we're yet to test) stretches 4697mm x 1846mm x 1384mm, and will deliver the lowest luggage capacity of the lot, at 375 litres.
Elsewhere, though, the A5 range delivers two cupholders up front, with another two in the centre armrest that can deploy to divide the rear seat. Rear-seat riders also get air vents with their own temp controls, USB charge points (joining the two up front) and bottle holders in the doors.
For parents, you'll find a pair of ISOFIX attachment points in the backseat, too.
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.
The cheapest way into an A5 remains the Sportback or Coupe body styles, which will set you back $71,900 with the 40 TFSI engine choice. You can upgrade to the 45 TFSI quattro engine, but doing so will also up the entry point to $79,900. The Audi A5 Cabriolet sits atop the pile, costing $85,400 for the 40 TFSI, and $93,400 for the 45 TFSI quattro.
Happily, all A5s get the S line style treatment, gifting each a sportier look, with a new-look grille and venting adding to the performance-spec style up front.
You also get 19-inch alloys, Audi drive select with five drive modes, three-zone climate (and neck-level heating in the Cabriolet), leather trim, matrix LED headlights, as well as tech-heavy interior highlighted by a new 10.1-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash that controls the cars key audio, navigation and driving settings.
Speaking of the Cabriolet, the three-layer acoustic roof opens in just 15 seconds at speeds of up to 50km/h, with a wind deflector also deployed to help with cabin ambience.
Audi's very cool Virtual Cockpit (a 12.3-inch digital display that replaces the traditional driver's binnacle) is also standard, as is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Audi says the new model offers 10x the computing power of the outgoing model, owing mostly to connected car features including live traffic, weather reports and fuel pricing, as well as the ability to remote unlock or lock you car from your phone, or pre-plan destinations and send them to the vehicle's nav.
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.
Two choices here, the slightly tongue-twisting 40 TFSI and and 45 TFSI quattro, both of which make use of a 2.0-litre turbo engine tuned for different outputs.
The 45, on the other hand, will give you 183kW and 370Nm, pairing with the same auto gearbox, but this time sending power to all four wheels thanks to the quattro system. The 100km/h sprint drops to 5.8 seconds at its fastest.
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.
Audi reckons the 40 TFSI engine will return 6.5L/100km on the combined cycle, and emit 148g/km of C02. The bigger engine increases fuel use to 7.1L/100km, but lowers the C02 output to 163g/km. Both those fuel numbers are taken from the Sportback.
Both engines also get a new 12V mild-hybrid system said to drop fuel use by up to 0.3L/100km.
Fun tank capacity is either 54 litres or 58 litres, depending on the model.
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.
You'd describe the A5's drive experience as evolved, rather than revolutionary, but to be honest, in a vehicle this competent, that's no small thing.
The hybrid tech is unnoticeable, and so the A5 delivers an on-the-road feel that isn't far away at all from the car it replaces. None are truly fire-breathing, but it feels comfortable and sophisticated, the outside world largely banished from the interior (though the firm-ish ride can send road imperfections into the cabin).
Audi has done a stellar job of making the A5 feel connected to the road below it, and the world around it, without dialling down the comfort factor. The steering, light in its normal setting but firming up as you cycle through the drive modes, is direct, but not twitchy, the ride is firm, but not uncomfortable, the engine (at least, the 45 TFSI we drove on launch) is capable without being ridiculous.
The end result is a predictably competent drive experience, with the A5 delivering in the areas it should, largely before you even notice.
The only downside to all of that, though, is that the experience is so predictable, that there are few surprises, positive or negative, thrown in. It can leave you feeling slightly disconnected from the experience, rather than truly engaged.
Now, a disclaimer, we spent limited time in the A5 on launch, so we'll wait until we get it in the CarsGuide garage before making a final verdict. But I'd be surprised if we liked it any less over a longer period.
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.
Standard safety kit includes eight airbags, parking sensors front and rear, a 360-degree parking camera, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, rear cross-traffic alert, exit warning, and lane keep assist and lane change assist, along with a bevy of airbags, with the A5 range still wearing a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
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.