Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS BMW 5 Series
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
BMW 5 Series
- Engaging dynamics
- Top-notch interiors
- Clever technology across the range
- Price hikes on almost every model
- Six-cylinder engine reserved for most expensive models
- Apple CarPlay a cost option
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|
BMW 5 Series
Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the new BMW 5 Series 520d, 530i, 530d and 540i sedans with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Victoria.
When we're all living under the cruel rule of our robot overlords, the few remaining human historians will track the genesis of our downfall to the technology explosion that occurred in 2017's new-car market.
Never before have car companies focused so hard on producing cars that can't just be driven, but that can drive themselves, negotiating corners, unexpected obstacles and changing traffic conditions without ever needing to consult the human actually sitting behind the steering wheel.
And BMW's all-new 5 Series sedan takes yet another a step forward, eliminating the need for said human to even be sitting in the car. Owners can instead move their 5 Series in and out of tight parking spaces simply by pressing a button on their key.
The Active Key function is admittedly a $1,600 cost option, but it proves the techno-focus applied to the seventh-generation of BMW's executive express, which will land in Australian dealerships this month. Every car is also fitted with what the German brand calls its personal co-pilot; a series of nifty cameras and radars that allow the car to be driven completely autonomously for spells of 30 seconds.
But the question is, has all this new technology come at the cost of regular, old-school driver enjoyment?
|Engine Type||2.0L 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.
BMW 5 Series7.9/10
Sleek and attractive in the city, engaging on a country back road and with plenty of clever technology, the 5 Series sedan ticks all the right boxes as an executive express. If you can stomach the price hike, the six-cylinder 540i is our pick of the bunch.
Would a new 5 Series tempt you away from an E-Class or A6? Tell us what you think in the comments 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.
BMW 5 Series8/10
Hardly a revolution, the 5 Series has instead undergone a few nips and tucks. But if it ain't broke and all that. It might not be the most head-turning offering, but the 5 Series sedan remains sleek, powerful and understated, and it is undeniably handsome on the road.
Its 8mm wider, 28mm longer and 2mm taller than the car it replaces, but it's also around 95kg lighter, thanks to its aluminium doors and boot and a clever magnesium frame for the instrument panel that saved another two kilograms. There's some other clever design elements, too. The kidney grille has active air flaps that open when extra cooling is required, closing when it isn't, reducing drag and helping accleration.
Inside, the 5 Series offers a beautifully crafted yet joyously understated cabin, with quality materials joining modern technology in a seamless way.
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.
BMW 5 Series8/10
This is a full-size sedan, and every seat feels spacious and airy. The sloping, slightly coupe-style roofline does cut into headroom in the back, but human-sized people will have little trouble, even sitting behind a tall driver.
Each trim offers two cupholders in the front, with another two housed in a pull-down divider that seperates the rear seat. And there's two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat in the back.
The 5 Series' boot opens to rival a surprisingly sizeable storage space, offering 530 litres with the 40:20:40 rear seats in place.
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.
BMW 5 Series7/10
BMW's venerable 5 Series is now 45 years old, and this all-new model arrives in four distinct flavours, with a fifth - an incoming M5 performance sedan - still some way off.
For now, though, the range kicks off with the 520d, before stepping up what BMW hopes to be the big seller of the range, the 530i (replacing the outgoing 528i). Next up is biggest diesel, the 530d (replacing the the 535d), before the current range tops out with the petrol-powered 540i (replacing the old 535i).
Be warned though, there's been some pretty serious price increases right across the line up, ranging from $9,145 to a whopping $19,245. In fact, only the 530d has seen its price come down, now $3,755 cheaper than the outgoing 535d. BMW justifies the hikes by pointing to an increase in standard inclusions across the range.
The 520d kicks off from $93,900, and arrives predictably well equipped for your money. Expect 18-inch alloys, leather trim, dual-zone climate control and a 12-speaker stereo. You'll also get a technology overhaul, with a bigger and upgraded Head Up display (it can now read street signs and beam that info onto the screen), a 10.25-inch touchscreen and a wireless (insert link to chi charger story) charging pad.
Step up to the 530i ($108,900) or 530d ($119,900) and you'll add 19-inch alloys, adaptive dampers with dynamic mode (that reads both driver input and navigation data and tweak suspension, gear and steering settings automatically) a 16-speaker Harman Kardon stereo and a crystal-clear 12.3 high-resolution digital display in the driver's binnacle. You'll also find heated front seats, a powered boot and sports seats in the front.
Finally, spring for the 540i ($136,900) and you'll get 20-inch alloys, a sunroof and electric blinds for the rear windows. You'll also find better Nappa leather on the seats, which now also offer a cooling function. Under the skin, you'll get an active anti-roll bar at each axle designed to keep the car from rolling side-to-side on the twisty stuff.
One quirk, however, is the fact that BMW's very cool wireless Apple CarPlay is a cost option on every trim level, and one that will set you back $479.
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.
BMW 5 Series8/10
The hunt for efficiency sees all but the most expensive 5 Series models equipped with four-cylinder engines, including the entry-level 520d, which is fitted with a 2.0-litre diesel unit that will produce 140kW at 4,000rpm and 400Nm from 1,750rpm. That's enough to push the cheapest 5 Series to 100km/h in a not particularly inspiring 7.5 seconds, topping out at 235km/h.
The cheapest petrol, the 530i, arrives with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine good for 185kW at 5,200rpm and 350Nm from 1,450rpm. That will see you clip 100km/h in 6.2 seconds and push on to a limited top speed of 250km/h.
The 530d introduces the first six-cylinder engine, a 3.0-litre unit that will produce 195kW at 4,000rpm and an impressive 620Nm from 2,000rpm. That's enough to knock off the sprint in in 5.7 seconds and offers a top speed limited to 250km/h.
Finally, the top-spec petrol, the 540i, will produce 250kW at 5,500rpm and 450Nm from 1,380rpm from its 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six engine. Those are healthy numbers, and enough to welcome 100km/h in a sprightly 5.1 seconds before topping out a limited 250km/h.
Every model is paired with an eight-speed torque converter automatic 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.
BMW 5 Series8/10
BMW quotes a combined 4.3 litres per hundred kilometres from the 520d, which will also spit out 114g per kilometre of C02. The 530d lifts that number to 4.7 litres per hundred kilometres (which seems a small price to pay for all that extra torque), with C02 pegged at 124g per kilometre. Both diesels get a slightly smaller tank, at 66 litres.
The 530i will sip a claimed/combined 5.8 litres per hundred kilometres, with C02 emissions a claimed 132g per kilometre, while the big 540i requires 6.7 litres per hundred kilometres, with C02 pegged at 154g per kilometre. Both petrol models get a 68-litre tank and require 95RON fuel.
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.
BMW 5 Series8/10
BMW's pre-drive briefing was so technology focused we half expected the black turtle neck and dad jean-wearing ghost of Steve Jobs to emerge from behind a curtain clutching an iPad. Only a minuscule portion was dedicated to the cars' drivetrains, with BMW instead hammering home autonomy functions, technology upgrades and the fact that its car was a preview to "the future".
But once we'd slipped behind the wheel of the all-new 5 Series, it all started to make more sense. Having briefly sampled three models (the 530i, 530d and 540i), we can safely report there's nothing particularly revolutionary about their on-road behaviour. That's not necessarily a bad thing - they do everything you could ask of a car in this bracket. They're mostly smooth and always quiet, the new chassis has done nothing to dampen engagement when you start to ask a little more of it, and it's generally a luxurious experience. But then so was the old car.
But what's new is the technology poured into the 5 Series. Every car gets what BMW is calling its personal co-pilot, for example, which is a set of tricky systems (there's six cameras, five radar sensors and 12 ultrasonic sensors scattered around the car) that work with the active cruise control and allow the car to be driven completely autonomous for 30-second intervals. Now, it's not quite as advanced as some of its competitor's systems - it can't change lanes for example - but if you're out on a country road or on a highway, it will stay within its lane, turn around corners and keep up with the traffic, even if they stop in front of you.
While the cheapest diesel model has historically been the best seller, BMW is hoping the new 530i will prove the most popular this time around. And while you couldn't describe it as fast, the power from its four-cylinder engine is ample for all that will likely be asked of it, and it feels sorted and composed on more challenging roads. It's a smooth and comfortable ride, too, even with the optional 20-inch alloys fitted, though that's undoubtedly thanks to the adaptive dampers and ever-changing dynamic ride function, both of which are fitted as standard. In fact, we're yet to drive a car without those options fitted, so we're forced to reserve judgement on the as-standard ride quality of the cheaper models.
Be warned though, none in the 5 Series range offer the disconnected and perfectly smooth conveyance you might find in some true luxury offerings, and you'll still know when you're diving into deep pockmarks in the road. But the trade off is a an engaging ride and steering set up that always feels planted, with enough feedback to ensure you feel connected to what's happening beneath the tyres. And that's a trade we're more than willing to make.
Step up to the 540i and things take a much sportier turn. The turbocharged six-cylinder feels right at home in a car this size, with acceleration effortless and freeway overtaking manoeuvres an absolute breeze. And while we didn't find roads quite brutal enough to really test the active anti-roll bars housed at each axle, there's a wonderful and stable flatness to the way the biggest petrol handles corners.
It's not cheap, but thanks to the bigger engine and sorted dynamics, the 540i feels most like a 5 Series probably should.
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.
BMW 5 Series9/10
Expect plenty of clever safety gear, with every 5 Series sedan arriving with six airbags (dual front and full-length side airbags, along with head protection bags for front passengers). You'll also find a surround-view reversing camera and parking sensors.
But the high-tech stuff arrives courtesy of active cruise control, cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist and cross-road alerts.
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.
BMW 5 Series7/10
The BMW 5 Series is covered by a three year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and requires condition-based servicing (rather than a pre-defined service interval).
You can also prepay your maintenance costs for five years/80,000kms, with prices ranging from $1,640 for the basic package, and climbing to $4,600 for the all-inclusive option.