Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Audi RS4
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Immense traction
- Easy to drive fast
- Practical, too
- Steering not perfect
- Missing one or two things
- S4 makes better financial sense
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|
Think about the word ‘functional'. You might notice that there are three letters at the start of the word that people don't often associate with station wagons. That's not the case for the 2018 Audi RS 4.
This isn't your everyday station wagon. It's a hyperbole-generating monster - a family-friendly estate with a licence to punish. Audi goes as far as to suggest that it offers "supercar performance and everyday practicality".
And why wouldn't it? With a bolshie engine, all-wheel drive and more grunt than a pair of conjoined twin hot-hatches, it's a model that has little to prove... especially to those people who appreciate what those precious first three letters can do to improve a drab drive in city traffic.
But there's something that can't be understated about this new-generation RS 4: it isn't like the model that came before it. There's no V8 engine under that shapely bonnet, because of the the new RS 4 isn't like the old one. The V8 is gone... and yes, when I first read that Audi had done the unthinkable and pulled the bahnstorming eight-cylinder screamer in favour of a downsized twin-turbo six I was shocked and horrified.
Without its star attraction, could it still be fun? I don't want to spoil the story, so be sure to read on to find out...
|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.
There is no doubting that the all-new Audi RS 4 is a pragmatic option, probably more so now than ever before. It does the dual-personality thing better than the model that came before it, and perhaps better than anything else at this price point, too.
If you want a practical family wagon that just also happens to be punishingly fast, and you have the budget to consider something like the new Audi RS 4, it should be on your shopping list. And probably towards the top, too.
Are you a fan of fast station wagons? Let us know in the comments section below.
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.
If you like wagons, you'll totally get it. If you're a hater, or even ambivalent, then you'll probably still get it.
Admittedly it could look even more aggressive, but it has to balance practicality with pouncing killy animal aggression. Even so, I think there's a lot to like here, from the squared-off front and rear quarter panels, the broad (even broader than the regular A4 range, in fact) 'single-frame' grille, and the bejewelled looking LED headlights.
It looks even better from behind, with the broad rear haunches really hunkering it down, and the wide tail-lights and sneaky little fake vents on the side adding extra back-end bulk. Note: the rear light-edge vents may be fake, but the front ones actually work to channel air to cool the brakes.
There are 20-inch wheels in a few different designs, but my personal choice would be the milled aluminium single-piece ones you see on the blue car in these images. They're gorgeous, even if they cost more. And I couldn't not have the signature Nogaro Blue Pearl, which was the same colour as the RS 2 wagon that started the hot wagon thing for Audi... again, at a high price.
Thankfully, I wouldn't need to spend an extra cent inside, because the interior is lush. There are all the typically Audi finishes - it's a high-end and luxurious environment, but with lashings of sporty elements that help it feel almost like a leather tracksuit. Take a look at the pictures of the interior to make up your own mind.
Compared with, say, a regular A4 Avant, the RS 4 Avant is bigger in every way except height. It measures 4781mm long (up 56mm), 1886mm wide (up 44mm) and 1404mm tall (down 30mm). It's quite heavy, too, weighing in at 1800kg, which is about 150kg more than the entry-level wagon.
As good as it looks, I just can't help but think maybe it could have been even more aggressive. The last model certainly had muscle and more macho with its even more angular guards. But maybe the world has moved on a bit, and I'm just not ready for it.
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.
Don't get me wrong, it's still a very, very pleasant place to be. Typically Teutonic, typecast technical Audi, but with some sporty flourishes. The hard-backed sport bucket seats up front offer a great amount of adjustment (though the driver's seat base is a little too high), and depending on what interior trim you opt for, you may see aluminium or carbon finishes throughout.
The quilted leather is lovely, and the materials are all superb - so is the fit and finish. One of the cars I drove had an optional pack with Alcantara trim, with that material covering the shifter and steering wheel - the latter of which I love, because it's smooth yet grippy. I'm not so sold on manual steering adjustment for a car at this price point, however.
With the Audi Virtual Cockpit digital screen spreading 12.3-inches in front of the driver, there's no shortage of info to choose from. It's been around a few years now, but I still love the look of Google Maps in front of me.
There's also Audi's MMI touch system, a rotary dial with a touchpad on top that is pretty simple to use, and it links up to a high-resolution 8.3-inch screen on the dash top. All the connectivity stuff you'd expect is included - Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth phone and audio, DAB+ digital radio, and an inbuilt hard-drive for your own music storage. You won't be left wanting for entertainment.
There are reasonably good sized cup holders up front, a covered centre console, some loose-item storage areas and adequate bottle holders in all four doors. The back seat has mesh map pockets (set on hard plastic seatbacks - good for limited damage to fabric if you have children who like to kick the seat) and a flip-down armrest with cupholders.
Space in the rear is easily good enough for a six-foot (183cm) tall adult like myself to slot behind someone of the same size, with ample kneeroom, good toe room and enough headroom to ensure no hairs were out of place. The width is surprisingly decent, too.
There are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, and three top-tether attachments as well. And parents (and children alike) will appreciate the rear air vents, and three-zone climate control system that allows a seperate temperature in the back.
The boot is a good size, with 505 litres of capacity up to the multifunctional luggage cover (which includes an integrated mesh cargo barrier and operates electronically in conjunction with the boot lid). It also has a reversible floor section - carpet one side, plastic on the other - perfect for tying down wet clothes (using the included mesh elasticated web net) or even performing potentially messy nappy changes. The boot expands to 1510L with the seats down.
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 new twin-turbo V6 model is priced at $152,900 plus on-road costs, which represents a slight hike over its V8-powered predecessor, but Audi claims to have added $22,000 of extra equipment.
Standard inclusions offered in the RS4 consist of 20-inch alloy wheels, red RS brake calipers, an adjustable sports exhaust system, Audi's sport differential, adaptive sports suspension, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, adaptive rear LED indicators and tinted rear windows with acoustic front glass.
Standard interior kit includes Audi's 'Virtual Cockpit' 12.3-inch driver info screen with configurable RS display mode, an 8.3-inch tablet media screen with sat nav, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring, DAB+ digital radio, and a stonking 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo system.
The front sports seats with Nappa leather trim and honeycomb quilting (which apparently mirrors the design of the grille mesh) also feature bolster adjustment, massage function, memory settings for the driver's seat and electric adjustment and heating for both sides. There is an ambient-lighting system with 30 different colour options, too.
A panoramic sunroof is fitted as standard, but for hot areas of the country it can be deleted if the buyer so chooses. Smart key entry and push-button start is standard, and there's an auto tailgate with gesture control.
Even though that list is long, there are still option boxes you can choose to tick. Things like the carbon and black styling pack ($11,900), the 'Technik Pack' (with head-up display, Matrix LED headlights, wireless phone charging - $3900) and other style-focused extras like the 20-inch milled aluminium wheels ($1600). There are several colour options to choose, including the Misano Red pearl finish ($1846), or the brilliant 'Nogaro Blue Pearl' ($5450)... but not all the colours cost money, with a selection available at no cost.
See below for the extensive safety kit list - because it's hugely lengthy!
As for where the competitors sit, the Mercedes-AMG C63 S wagon lists a little higher, at $159,711 plus on-roads. There's no BMW M3 wagon, but the sedan version is $141,610 plus costs... and it's the only one with manual or auto to choose from. There's no Lexus, Infiniti or Volvo equivalent model. But I guess you could consider the S4 a good alternative at $50,000 less, and it's available as a sedan or a wagon...
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.
This isn't the first time the Audi RS 4 has had a twin-turbo V6 engine under its bonnet. Back in 2000, the very first RS 4 launched with a 2.7-litre biturbo engine.
This all-new model has a 2.9-litre twin-turbo unit, which shares much with the Audi S4 and S5 models (they run a 3.0-litre turbo - the engine in the RS 4 is a smaller capacity and has a shorter stroke, but adds a turbo over the lesser S models).
It's no V8, however. The most recent model before this one had a 4.2-litre naturally aspirated unit with 331kW of power and 430Nm of torque.
This new version carries over the same power output - 331kW - but it hits between 5700-6700rpm, not at 8250rpm like the old V8. And torque has seen a substantial kick up the behind, now rated at 600Nm.
Not only has torque increased by about 45 per cent, it's also across a broader rev range - now it spans 1900-5000rpm, where it was not only lower but shorter-lived and less usable in the V8 (4000-6000rpm).
And the all important 0-100km/h time? It's now at 4.1 seconds, where it used to be 4.7sec. The top speed remains identical - 250km/h.
What about the sound, though? Read the driving section below... or better yet, watch the video!
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.
Fuel consumption for the 2018 Audi RS 4 is rated at 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres, which is fairly good for a vehicle with this much propulsion potential. CO2 emissions are rated at 202g/km.
Both of those are big improvements over the V8 that preceded it - the claimed consumption was 10.7L/100km and emissions were 249g/km.
But it's worth noting that Mercedes-AMG has the C63 wagon with a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that has more power (375kW) and torque (700Nm) yet uses less fuel (8.7L/100km).
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.
It only took three corners for me to feel 100 per cent comfortable with the controls of the Audi RS 4. Some cars may take a few minutes before you become accustomed to how the throttle, brakes and steering want to be used, but it was mere seconds in this case.
That's because of the outright predictability of the RS 4 - it's hard to set a foot wrong, with excellent throttle response, strong but progressive braking, and better steering than I've experience in any Audi outside of the R8. It's not perfect - there's still a little bit of deadness or stickiness on centre - but I like the way it helps you pivot the car and apply lock at pace, thanks to nice weighting and resistance. The steering is light when you want it, and hefty when you need it.
The adaptive dampers and 20-inch wheels can't totally divorce the road surface from the bodies of the occupants in the cabin, and over patchy surfaces the ride can be a little pitchy, even in the Comfort setting.
But those dampers help stiffen the chassis up in Sport mode, negating body roll brilliantly. That, combined with the traction of the excellent quattro all-wheel drive system with a self-locking centre differential, and the grip of the Continental tyres makes for a really enjoyable way to cut through a series of corners.
Of course there are electronic helpers underneath, including a torque-vectoring-by-braking system and torque-splitting rear differential that pushes load to where it's needed most - but unless you had a screen in front of you telling when they were being used you wouldn't know. It all just feels really natural in the way it handles itself.
Now, that engine.
No, it isn't a V8, but what it is is a powerhouse weapon. It's still rev-happy, and the transmission allows it to be that way: in Dynamic mode with the shifter in S (not D) there is a brilliant willingness to the way it hangs on to gears - through a series of sweeping corners, getting on and off the throttle and brake pedal respectively, it had incredible intuition - third gear was the most usable, and gave the most, too.
The engine's sound isn't as visceral as the V8 of its predecessor, but it isn't what I'd call dull. There's a nice bit of chortle on the overrun, and it sounds pretty menacing when you punch the go pedal.
In normal driving, too, it's well suited to regular duties. It just so happens that its great at going fast, which is what you want from an RS model.
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.
There is no model-specific Audi RS 4 Avant crash-test rating, but the Audi A4 (four-cylinder) range managed the maximum five-star EuroNCAP / ANCAP test score in 2015.
Rest assured, though, the RS 4 has a lot of standard equipment.
The standard safety equipment list includes Audi's pre-sense front system with auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection (which works up to 85km/h), plus a 360-degree camera with reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors. Plus the traffic-jam assist system, which debuted in 2015 on the Q7 and uses two radars to read the road ahead - even scanning in front of the car directly in front of you.
There's active lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, turn assist (which will stop you from driving through an intersection if the car doesn't think you'll make it), auto high-beam lights, rear cross-traffic alert (with audible, visual and physical notification - it can jolt the brakes if you aren't paying attention), multi-collision braking (which will stop the car if you have an accident to prevent further mishap).
There's also Audi's clever "exit warning system" that will flash the ambient lights if an occupant is about to open their door into the path of oncoming cars or cyclists.
The RS 4 has eight airbags (dual front, front side, rear side and full-length curtains).
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 all of its models with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, which, by market standards is starting to look a little low, but in the premium part of the market, not many brands do much better.
As for servicing costs, it's a bit of a guessing game. The entire RS model range, as well as the R8 supercar, isn't covered by the same Audi Genuine Care pre-purchase setup you can get on a regular (non RS) model. That plan covers three years/45,000km of maintenance, and in the case of the A4/S4, the cost is $1620. Expect more than that for the RS 4.