Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Audi A6
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Clinical personality
- Steering feel
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|
Despite a determined bid for dominance by a growing stream of Q-badged SUVs, with zero-emission Es on the near horizon, Audi’s A-team of mainstream sedans, wagons, coupes, and cabriolets remains vitally important to the company’s product portfolio and bottom line.
But in recent years the Bavarian maker’s mid-size A6 has been hiding in the shadows, unable to lay a glove on its natural enemies, the BMW 5 Series and Merc’s E-Class, in terms of new car sales in Australia.
So, this sizeable piece of fresh metal is designed to push Audi up the leader board. It’s the all-new, fifth generation A6.
|Engine Type||3.0L 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.
The new Audi A6 is a composed, rapid, top-shelf luxury sedan. It’s comprehensively equipped, with safety tech a stand-out, and priced to chip away at BMW and Merc’s segment dominance.
But owners in this part of the market tend to be rusted on loyal to their preferred brand, and it will be interesting to see of this impressive newcomer can shake a few of them loose.
Pick of the bunch? Save 10 or $15K or dial down the repayments and go for the entry-level A6 45 TFSI, with all the safety tech on-board, plenty of performance, and most of the luxury features included in the more premium models.
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.
Revealed in Germany in early 2018, the new-gen A6 brings fresh engines, leading edge safety, upgraded media tech, and an evolution of the brand’s distinctive design language.
Always a subjective call, but to my eyes the A6’s exterior, while crisp and contemporary, is evolutionary rather than a game-changing step ahead.
The signature single frame grille is even bigger than before, to the point where it feels like Audi has entered an arms race with the current oversize grille superpower, BMW.
A strongly curved roofline accentuates the car’s steeply raked C-pillars, giving it a close to fastback style. Broad, sweeping surfaces are combined with harder defining edges and creases, while short overhangs accentuate the carefully sculpted, tightly wrapped look.
The A6 45 TFSI rides on 19-inch ‘5-twin-spoke’ design alloys which fill the wheelarches nicely, while the 45 and 55 S line run on similar design 20s.
The S line exterior package incorporates specific front and rear bumpers with honeycomb inserts, side air inlet grilles in ‘matt titanium black’ with inserts in ‘platinum grey’, rear diffuser in the same black, this time with chrome trim, side sill trims, and illuminated aluminium door sill trims with S logo at the front
The interior is a model of Teutonic restraint, the sleek dash and instrument cluster layout showcasing three digital screens covering instruments, media and other functions as well as heating and ventilation.
Long, horizontal vents are an Audi design favourite, the seats look and feel superb and the entire cabin reeks of quality and attention to detail.
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.
Room for the driver and front passenger is generous, with ample storage provided including dual (covered) cupholders in the centre console (also incorporating a 12-volt outlet and key holder slot), a decent glove box, and door bins allowing easy bottle storage.
The lidded storage box/armrest between the front seats is relatively shallow but includes a wireless Qi (chee) charging mat (for compatible devices), plus SIM and SD ports, as well as a pair of (Type-A) USB sockets.
The wheelbase has stretched 12mm in this new model, but Audi says it has eked out an extra 21mm of interior length, with 17 of those added to the rear section. And I’m able to sit behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position with heaps of head and legroom on offer. Three adults across the rear is definitely do-able for short to medium length trips.
In the rear, a fold-down centre armrest features a lidded storage tray and twin pop-out cupholders (the latter on S line models only). There are netted pockets here and the door bins are big enough for large drink bottles. There’s also climate control ventilation, USB ports, 12-volt power… the lot!
Boot capacity is around the average for the class at 530 litres, and the A6 swallows our three-piece hard suitcase set with masses of room to spare, as it does the jumbo size CarsGuide pram. In fact, it was able to take the largest case as well as the pram at the same time. Drop the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat to liberate even more volume.
There are pop-up tie-down anchors at each corner of the boot floor, a netted storage cavity behind the passenger side wheel tub, a 12-volt outlet on the driver’s side, a handy fold down shopping bag hook, an elasticised net is included on the S lines, and a space-saver spare sits under the boot floor.
Towing capacity is the same across the range – 2.0 tonnes for a braked trailer, and 750kg unbraked. The spare is a space saver on all models, 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 A6 launches with three models, the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-petrol 45 TFSI at $95,500, before on-road costs, the more premium 45 TFSI S line at $105,200, and the top-shelf 3.0-litre turbo-petrol V6 55 TFSI S line at $116,000.
Included on the A6 45 TFSI are 19-inch alloy wheels, matrix LED headlights with LED DRLs, dynamic cornering lights, automatic-dynamic headlight range control and rear dynamic indicators (the Matrix beam detects and blanks out oncoming vehicles or vehicles in front, but continues to fully illuminate other areas), keyless entry and start including a sensor controlled (leg swish) boot release, electric heated sports seats for the driver and front passenger (including memories for the driver), ‘leather appointed’ seat upholstery, three-zone climate control air, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, ‘aluminium fragment’ interior inlays, ambient lighting, and aluminium front door sill trims.
Plus, ‘Audi Drive Select’ allows the selection of various driving modes, there’s Audi’s smartphone interface providing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, ’Qi’ wireless charging, 10-speaker/180-watt audio driven by a six-channel amp and featuring digital radio, the 12.3-inch configurable ‘Audi Virtual Cockpit’ digital instrument cluster, 10.1-inch high-res colour media touchscreen, ‘Navigation Plus’ (with 3D map display including places of interest and city models), and a third 8.6-inch colour display for the climate control system (with handwriting recognition and a favourites list).
The recently introduced ‘myAudi’ app also allows you to connect to the car and access real-time info on everything from how much fuel’s in the tank, to maintenance milestones, and service warnings. You can remotely lock and unlock the car, plan journeys (at home) and send destinations and routes directly to the car.
Then the 45 and 55 TFSI S Line models add ‘Valcona’ leather trim (seat centre panels, seat side bolsters, head restraints and centre armrest, and door trim inserts in Alcantara faux suede), a flat-bottom leather-trimmed sports steering wheel, a head-up display (colour, with speed, nav and assistance info), illuminated front door sill trims, 20-inch alloy wheels, and electronically controlled adaption of the dampers.
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.
The 45 TFSI is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo four, and the 55 TFSI by a 3.0-litre turbo V6, both featuring a mild-hybrid system recovering braking energy to enable coasting at higher speeds and in the latter case power the stop-start system.
The VW Group (EA888) engine used in the A6 45 TFSI is an iron block/alloy head single turbo unit featuring direct-injection and variable valve timing on the inlet side. It produces peak power of 180kW from 5000-6000rpm, and maximum torque of 370Nm from 1600-4500rpm.
The (EA839) engine used in the A6 55 TFSI is a 90-degree 3.0-litre, all-alloy, single (twin-scroll) turbo V6 featuring direct-injection, variable camshaft adjustment (intake and exhaust side) and variable valve timing on the inlet side. It produces 250kW from 5000-6400rpm, and 500Nm between 1370rpm and 4500rpm.
The 55’s 48-volt mild hybrid electrical system recovers regenerative braking energy to power the stop/start system and enable coasting (for up to 40 seconds) between 55-160km/h. It consists of a 10 Ah lithium-ion battery under the boot floor, a water-cooled belt alternator starter (BAS) mounted to the engine’s front end, with a V-belt connecting it to the crankshaft.
As is increasingly the norm with Vee engines from the ‘Big Three’ German brands this one has its single, twin-scroll turbo located in the V6’s ‘hot V’ to shorten gas paths from the exhaust to the turbo, and from the turbo into the inlet side for better throttle response (as in, minimal turbo lag).
Drive goes to all four wheels via the latest gen version of Audi’s quattro system and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission.
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.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle hovers all the way from 7.2L/100km for the 45 TFSI, to 7.3L/100km for the 45 TFSI S line, and back to 7.2L/100km for the 55 TFSI S line.
CO2 emissions sit in a similarly narrow band, the 45 TFSI producing 165g/km, the 45 TFSI S line 166g/km, and the 55 TFSI S line 164g/km.
Stop/start is standard on all models, minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 73 litres of it to fill the tank (on all models).
The local A6 launch drive program ran to the south of Adelaide in South Australia, with some freeway running followed by the twisting rural B-roads running through the McLaren Vale wine growing area. Spending most time in the 45 TFSI S line (because we’d previously driven the 55 TFSI S line) we saw a real-world average of 9.1L/100km, courtesy of the on-board computer.
In our previous review of the 55 TFSI, over five days of city, suburban and freeway running we recorded a figure of 8.8L/100km. Both numbers impressive for a close to 1.8-tonne luxury sedan.
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.
Audi claims the 45 will sprint from 0-100km/h in six seconds, and the 55 in just over five. So, quick, and very quick.
Both are super responsive in the mid-range with peak torque available from just 1600rpm in the 45 and less than 1400 in the 55.
As is increasingly the norm with Vee engines from the ‘Big Three’ German brands the 55 TFSI’s single, twin-scroll turbo is located in the V6’s ‘hot V’ to shorten gas paths from the exhaust to the turbo, and from the turbo into the inlet side.
The aim is to sharpen throttle response and deliver power in a smooth, linear flow. And with maximum torque available from so low down in the rev range, that’s exactly the way it feels.
Select Sport mode, squeeze the right-hand pedal, and the 55’s V6 delivers a firm, consistent shove in the back. The 45 is less urgent in terms of acceleration, but more than adequate for easy highway cruising and confident overtaking.
Both are quietly quick, thanks in part to low-noise acoustic glass and comprehensive use of sound absorption materials around the cabin, remaining composed and relatively subdued as speed rises.
The seven-speed dual-clutch delivers ultra-smooth shifts at around-town speeds and crisp, positive changes in manual mode.
In normal, suburban-style conditions the quattro system decouples the rear axle and sticks with front-wheel drive economy. If all-wheel drive is required, a tricky clutch instantly activates it, in certain situations predicatively.
On top of that, in aggressive cornering torque vectoring by braking (Audi calls it ‘Wheel-Selective Torque Control’) retards the near-side wheels before they slip.
Suspension is a five-link set-up front and rear, with much of the hardware made from aluminium to fine tune response and reduce unsprung weight.
Electronically controlled adaptive dampers are standard on the S line models, with the switch between dynamic and comfort settings swift and pronounced.
Rims are 19-inch on the 45 and 20s on the 45 S line and 55 S line, but all variants are comfortable. Never floaty or unwieldy, just refined and well damped.
The electromechanically assisted steering points accurately but the assistance is overdone and road feel isn’t one of the A6’s strongest suits.
Brakes are 375mm ventilated discs at the front, clamped by six-piston alloy calipers, with 350mm rotors at the rear. They inspire confidence, with progressive feel and more than enough to confidently arrest the 1.8-tonne A6's progress.
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.
Safety is literally five star, the A6 scoring ANCAP’s maximum rating when the car was tested in 2018, and active and passive tech is amazing.
The usual active safety suspects are all present and accounted for, namely ESC (with electronic wheel-selective torque control), ABS, ASR, EDL and ‘Brake Assist’.
But from there the list of standard tech reads like a who’s who of recent innovations, including ‘Adaptive Drive Assist’ (adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop&Go’, distance indicator, traffic jam assist and lane guidance assist), AEB (5.0km/h to 85km/h for pedestrians and cyclists, and up to 250 km/h for vehicles), ‘Collision Avoidance Assist’ (additional steering torque in critical evasive situations), rear cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, and lane departure warning.
The 360-degree camera set-up includes a kerb view function, with four wide-angle cameras covering the entire area immediately around the vehicle for improved visibility during low speed maneuveres.
There’s also an exit warning system (detects vehicles and cyclists when opening doors, triggering a warning light and delaying door opening), ‘Attention Assist’, tyre pressure monitoring, ‘Audi Parking System Plus’ (front and rear with visual display), and ‘Intersection Crossing Assist’.
That last one operates at speeds up to 30km/h, monitoring the area in front and at the side of the car, detecting “oncoming objects” at junctions and exit roads. If the situation is critical the system triggers a visual and acoustic warning as well as a quick jolt on the brakes (at speeds up to 10km/h).
But it’s not over yet, with auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers and ‘Turn Assist’ included. Turn Assist monitors oncoming traffic when you’re turning right at speeds up to 10km/h and applies the brakes if necessary.
If all those measures aren’t enough to avoid an impact passive safety leads off with front airbags for driver and passenger, side airbags for front and rear side passengers, plus curtain airbags covering both rows.
Also included is ‘Audi Pre-Sense Rear’ (tensioning of front seat belts, closing of windows and sunroof and flashing hazards on detection of an impending rear collision), the standard active bonnet helps to minimise pedestrian impact injuries and there’s a first-aid kit as well as a warning triangle and high-vis vests in the boot.
No surprise the new A6 scored a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, the assessment done in 2018 and the score applicable from August 2019 onwards.
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.
Audi covers the A6 with a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is in line with BMW and Merc, but lags the mainstream market where five years/unlimited km is the norm, with Kia and SsangYong at seven years.
That said, body cover runs to three years for paint defects and 12 years for corrosion (perforation).
Recommended service interval is 12 months/15,000km, and ‘Audi Genuine Care Service Plans’ offer capped price servicing options over three and five years.