Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Audi RS6
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- It's a high-performance wagon
- Outstanding fit and finish
- Even more torque
- More angular styling
- Rear legroom could be better
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|
The Audi RS 6 Avant is sacred ground for car geeks. See, we might barely agree on much in terms of what the ultimate driver's cars are but there are certain vehicles that are so awe inspiring they’re almost a protected species in our world, and the Audi RS Avant is one of them.
If you’re new to this idea and have only just stumbled onto the RS 6 Avant, then welcome. You’re just in time because the new-generation RS 6 Avant has arrived.
You only need to know three things at this point. The first is, an RS 6 is a high-performance version of the A6. The second is, Avant is Audi speak for wagon. And the third is, no you can’t get it in a sedan. The next best thing though is the RS 7 Sportback which shares the RS 6 Avant's engineering and features.
If this isn’t your first RS 6 Avant rodeo, then you’ll want to know what’s new and if this new one lives up to the legendary reputation.
|Engine Type||4.0L 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.
There’s something beautiful about the design of fast wagons, regardless of the brand. It’s that performance meets practicality combination, but Audi really is the master of it.
Audi doesn’t just take an A6, add big wheels and then shout, “let’s hit the showers!” Well, the wheels are definitely large, but there are only four body panels shared between the A6 Avant and RS 6 Avant – the roof, front doors and the tailgate. The rest of the panels are unique to the RS 6.
Look at those flared wheel guards – they extend out 20mm more than a regular A6’s.
This new-generation RS 6 Avant shares the same face as the RS 7 Sportback with the broad black mesh grille, narrow headlights, gigantic side air intakes and a thin upper air inlet which is a hat tip to early racing Audis.
All those sharp edges match its body which is more angular and ‘shredded’ than the previous generation’s curvy shape. Add the 22-inch alloys, plus the huge oval tailpipes (set into that chunky diffuser framed by the aluminum trim) and this RS 6 Avant is verging on Hot Wheels territory.
While the eight-year old kid in me thinks that’s awesome, the grown up me reckons it’s a bit too much. Historically, part of the appeal of the RS 6 Avant was its restrained styling – the thug in a suit.
While RS 6 Avant’s exterior is different to a regular A6’s their interior designs are almost identical. It’s a stunning cabin dominated by a dash which protrudes back towards the passengers and houses the media screen.
Anther display for climate is set into the big centre console which divides the driver and co-pilot into almost cocooned cells.
The cabin isn’t without its RS touches though. There’s the sports seats with honeycomb stitching, fully digital instrument cluster with RS specific meters, the RS steering wheel, aluminium inlays, plus Nappa leather on the dashboard and doors. The level of fit and finish is up there with the best that I’ve seen on any production car.
The RS 6 Avant is 4995mm long, 1487mm tall and 1951mm across, for a wide planted stance.
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.
Sure, the RS 6 has supercar acceleration but it’s also a large station wagon. So, it’s super practical, too, right?
Well not as much as you might think. See it’s not the most spacious of wagons. Up front the stepped dash protrudes into the passenger’s space, the door pockets are thin and the centre console storage under the armrest is small.
Legroom in the back could also be better – at 191cm (6'3") tall I can only just fit behind my driving position, although headroom is good. The door pockets in the rear are larger and there are two cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest (another two up front).
The boot’s 565-litre cargo capacity isn’t bad and almost matches the Alpina B5 Touring’s 570 litres.
For phones there’s a wireless charger and two USB ports in the centre console storage box, while back seat passengers have two USB ports and a 12V outlet. There are also directional air vents and dual-zone climate control in the rear, too.
While the RS 6 seats five, the middle passenger in the second row will have to straddle the hump over the drive shaft.
While wagons have lower load lips to their boots making them easier to fill with luggage or shopping bags, SUVs are easier on the back when it comes to loading children into car seats.
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 Audi RS 6 Avant lists for $216,000. That might sound like a lot of money but to put it in perspective, when the RS 6 Avant was first introduced to Australia in 2003 it was $220K.
Coming standard are the enormous 22-inch alloy wheels, matrix LED headlights with laser lights, metallic paint, a panoramic glass sunroof (which is new to the model), privacy glass, a head-up display, soft-close doors and red brake calipers.
Inside there’s the Bang & Olufsen 16-speaker sound system (that's new, too), sat nav, the 12.3-inch 'virtual instrument cluster', wireless Apple CarPlay (new, as well), wireless charging, full leather upholstery with RS sport front seats that are heated and now come with ventilation as standard, and four-zone climate control.
I’ve left off all the standard RS mechanical equipment, but I’ll cover that in the driving section below.
Is it good value? Well, its direct rival is the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Estate, but that’s not sold in Australia, the nearest to this is the C 63 S Estate for $170K. And while BMW hasn’t made an M5 Touring since 2010 there is the Alpina B5 Touring which lists for $217,000. I’ve tested the sedan version and it’s astonishingly quick and super comfortable. Alternatively, there’s the Porsche Panamera 4 Sport Turismo for $236,300.
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.
Remember this moment in human existence: a time when you can buy a family car with a 441kW/800Nm twin-turbo petrol 4.0-litre V8. Yup, the electric future is coming and it’ll be great from what I’ve experience so far, but it’s clear engines like the V8 in the RS 6 Avant won’t be around forever so you should enjoy it while you can.
And you will enjoy it – this engine with almost 600 horsepower is glorious. There’s the seemingly never-ending acceleration with 0-100km/h coming in 3.6 seconds. That’s a tenth of a second faster than the Audi R8 V10 RWD supercar, and this is a large, family wagon.
Compared to the previous generation model the power is down by 4.0kW but torque is up by a whopping 100Nm. Give me torque over power any day.
Shifting gears is an eight-speed automatic transmission, sending the drive to all four wheels.
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.
This is a large, all-wheel drive car with a 441kW V8, but it also has a mild hybrid system in this new generation which will switch the engine off and let the car coast down hills, or at speeds under 22km/h.
Audi says this can save up to 0.8L/100km in real-life driving. That’s great news, but consumption is still fairly high with Audi claiming that after a combination of open and urban roads the RS 6 Avant will have used 11.7L/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.
I’ve never driven the bullet train before, but it probably feels (almost) as good as this.
Eight hundred newton metres lay curled up under that accelerator pedal ready to push the planet backwards. And waiting to catch you at the other end are enormous anchors in the form of 420mm discs at the front with 10 piston calipers and 370mm discs at the rear.
The optional carbon ceramic brakes are the largest ever to be fitted to a production vehicle at 440mm at the front and 370mm at the rear, saving 34kg in mass over the steel brakes.
Now standard for the first time is Audi’s 'Dynamic Package' which adds dynamic steering (variable ratio) paired with all-wheel steering, a sport differential, and a 280km/h top speed.
Coming standard is adaptive air suspension and for $2850 you can option the 'Dynamic Ride Control' suspension which is a hydraulically activated adaptive damper system.
Explore the virtual Audi RS6
At the Australian launch Audi supplied two RS 6 Avants – one with the air suspension and the other with the dynamic ride control system. I’m probably supposed to say that the optional hydraulic dampers are the pick, but the air suspension suits this luxury freight train so much better.
I’d already driven the car with the dynamic ride control, and while it felt sharper and firmer, it’s ride was a tad uncomposed, almost as though the car was oversprung.
The RS 6 Avant with the standard air suspension on the other hand was not only far more comfortable and settled, but was still superbly dynamically, for a five-metre long car.
Unless you were planning on attending regular track days, in which case the Dynamic Ride Control is the way to go, I’d stick with the standard air suspension which is far more comfortable over Australia’s less-than perfect roads.
Another thing I can say is that this RS 6 Avant is quieter than the previous generation. Even with the windows down and with Dynamic drive mode selected its exhaust note, while still glorious and deep, isn’t raucous and loud. Sound aside, this superwagon is as much a hi-po monster as ever.
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.
ANCAP tested the A6 in 2019 and gave it the maximum five-star score, however, this rating does not apply to the RS 6 Avant high performance model.
That said, the RS 6 Avant comes fortified with nearly every piece of advanced safety tech there is in Audi’s cupboard. There's AEB which can detect and brake for cyclists and pedestrians at speeds between five-85km/h and vehicles up to 250km/h.
Not a fan of parking, the RS 6 can do it by itself or there’s a 360-degree camera that’ll help you do it yourself. There’s an exit warning system which will warn you if a vehicle is approaching as you go to get out, too.
And if the RS 6 Avant detects that it will be hit from behind it will prepare the cabin by tensioning the seatbelts and closing the windows, as well as the sunroof.
Along with all that there are Audi’s new Matrix LED headlights with laser lights, rain-sensing wipers and adaptive cruise control.
For child seats you’ll find three top tether points and two ISOFIX mounts across the second row.
There’s no spare wheel – instead, there’s a tyre repair kit.
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.
The RS 6 Avant is covered by Audi’s three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty which not only falls behind in duration compared to mainstream brands but also its direct rival Mercedes-Benz which now has five-year, unlimited kilometre coverage.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km with a three-year plan costing $2380 and a five-year plan for $3910.