Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS BMW M5
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Effortless power
- Dimensions seem to shrink in sports mode
- RWD setting means much fun
- Hefty price hike
- Design, inside and out, could be more adventurous
- Still no phone mirroring
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|
Remember back when people were saying the BMW M5 would lose a little something by shifting from its traditional rear-wheel drive set-up to all-wheel drive?
It would drain a little sparkle, maybe. Or some excitement. It would become more predictable, more placid - hell, even boring.
But hindsight is always 20/20, and we know now that switching to AWD has done nothing but allow BMW to funnel even more power into the tarmac, with the German brand upping power outputs and dropping lap times in one fell swoop.
Consider the M5 Competition, then, BMW’s way of delivering the ultimate 'I told you so'. Because it’s not just the most fun, most potent AWD M5 ever - it’s the best M5 period.
|Engine Type||4.4L 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 term bigger is better doesn't often apply to performance cars, but it fits the M5 Competition perfectly. Big inside, but small outside when it matters, BMW's new performance flagship might be expensive, but there's no shortage of bang for those bucks.
Is the bruising BMW M5 your high-performance sedan from heaven or hell? Tell us what you think 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.
Let’s start with the new stuff, shall we? The BMW M5 Competition gets a new colour ('Frozen Dark Silver'), as well as new 20-inch (and lightweight) alloy wheel designs, and the grille, aero-designed wing mirrors and boot lip are finished in high-gloss black. The quad exhaust pipes are a black, too, as is the rear diffuser. Elsewhere outside, though, it’s the more muscular 5 Series of old.
Parked next to the much smaller M2, you quickly realise just how much bulk the M5 is carrying. It stretches 4966mm in length and 1903mm in width, and it looks every centimetre of those dimensions in the metal.
Climb inside, and you’re greeted with the familiar BMW interior design, with a huge centre screen, digital driver’s binnacle and a spaceship-level number of buttons surrounding the shift lever. The M5 Competition also arrives with full leather (seats and dash) trim, with carbon-effect dash inserts and aluminium pedal and foot rest trims.
Is it the most adventurous design treatment, inside or out, that we’ve ever seen? Well, no. But it looks polished and premium outside, and feels plenty comfortable inside.
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.
As far as performance cars go, the M5 Competition is a rolling Swiss Army Knife. For one, it’s bloody massive, which pays considerable dividends for passengers.
Up-front, the seats are far enough apart to ensure you’ll be rubbing shoulders with exactly nobody. The centre console Is super wide (all the better for fitting all those buttons), allowing for a sizeable centre storage bin, joined by two cupholders and a second storage bin in front of the shifter which is also home to your USB, power and 'aux-in' connections.
In the back, there’s business-class levels of leg and headroom, and you can even fit another whole adult in the centre seat if you’re so inclined. The pull-down seat divider is home to two extra cupholders, sitting in front of a thick armrest, and the rear air vents get their own temperature controls. There’s an ISOFIX attachment point in each window seat, too. Pop the capacious boot and you’ll find 530 litres of storage space.
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.
Parking the M5 Competition on your driveway will require a $229,000 investment. That's not chump change, and a considerable jump over the regular M5, which arrived (in launch-edition guise) wearing a $199,529 price tag.
Outside, that money buys you new and lightweight 20-inch alloys, LED headlights with auto-dipping and active cornering, keyless entry and a four-tipped sports exhaust. Inside, expect a 'full leather' interior (seats, dash and door inserts),a nav-equipped screen which pairs with a 16-speaker stereo (but Apple CarPlay is a cost option) and dual-zone climate control.
Performance wise, M-designed variable dampers, a lightweight carbon-composite roof and a M sports exhaust all join the standard features list. Still, $30,000 is fair jump over the standard (and well equipped) M5. But if money is no object, you'll be buying plenty of fun.
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.
Yes, our all-electric future feels inevitable. And yes, there’s much fun and performance to be had from battery-powered EVs. But you can’t help but hope that future is a Star Wars style far, far away when you get acquainted with the BMW M5 Competition’s monstrous twin-turbo V8.
It’s good for a wondrous 460kW (up 19kW on the regular M5) and 750Nm. Both of which are big numbers, which are fed to all four wheels via an eight-speed 'M Steptronic' automatic. Happily, you can, at the push of some buttons, make the M5 a rear-driver again. It’s slower, but damn if it ain’t much more fun.
As a result, the performance numbers need to be seen (or better yet; felt) to be believed. The near-two-tonne M5 Competition will blaze from 0-100km/h in 3.3secs, 0-200km/h in 10.8secs, and push on to a limited top speed of 250km/h (or 305km/h, provided you do some BMW driver training).
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.
Well, BMW tells us you’ll return 10.7-10.8 litres per hundred kilometres on the combined cycle. But we would suggest that’s unlikely, unless you have Miss Daisy lounging in the back seat. Drive it like you definitely will drive it, and you can expect to pay for that privilege at the pump.
Emissions are a claimed 243-246g/km of CO2, and the M5 Competition’s 68-litre tank will demand a premium unleaded petrol.
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.
Things this large simply shouldn’t be this potent. Like John Goodman suddenly toppling Usain Bolt at the Olympics, the BMW M5 Competition is bulk-defyingly good at the fast stuff.
The secret is its ability to hide those sprawling dimensions on a race circuit or twisting road. BMW’s engineers have poured plenty of work into stiffening the chassis of the M5 Competition, from new anti-roll mounts to additional under-bonnet bracing, to make the brand’s biggest performance sedan feel more lithe and responsive when pushed.
And while its size never vanishes completely - and you find yourself praying you don’t encounter oncoming traffic on skinnier roads - engaging the Competition’s sportiest settings unlocks a Copperfield-level vanishing act.
The engine helps too, of course, pushing the M5 along with staggering ease, even when you’re pottering at suburban speeds. But really flatten your foot and the big V8 will force you to reassess your knowledge of physics. It’s really very fast, the Competition, the power flowing uninterrupted to the tyres, the engine still very willing to deliver more oomph long after your courage has jumped ship.
The steering, direct though it is, lacks some natural feel, but you are always left with the impression that the Competition is going to go where you point it.
More fun stuff? Well, you can switch the traction control to a half-off setting, allowing for some smoking, drifting heroics before it drags you back into line. BMW calls it M mode, and it’s designed to make a hero of even the most ham-fisted of pilots, myself included. The braver still can deactivate traction control all together which, combined with rear-wheel-drive mode, turns the M5 Competition into the biggest and possibly most expensive drift car of all time .
Away from the track, though, the Competition version of the M5 is almost as good as transforming into a comfortable everyday commuter as its less hairy siblings. The adaptive suspension can be softened, and the steering lightened, to make toppling traffic a doddle.
The keen-eyed among you might well have noticed we’re yet to touch on any major downsides of the drive experience. And you'd be correct.
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 is yet to confirm full specifications for the M5 Competition, but you can expect the safety offering to largely mirror that of the regular M5. And while the performance variant has not been crash tested, the regular 5 Series was awarded the maximum five-star safety rating.
Expect dual front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a knee bag for the driver, and a parking camera. You'll also find AEB, active cruise (which allows for brief spells of autonomy), thanks to its lane-keep assist.
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.