Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Holden Calais
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Plenty of cabin space
- Safety gear on-point
- Punchy V6
- Fuel use on the high side
- Four-cylinder turbo petrol unavailable
- Diesel not an 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|
If Holden had a dollar for every time someone had criticised the new and international flavour of Australia’s formerly home-grown hero, it would surely have more than enough spare cash to blow the dust of that vast South Australian factory and restart local Commodore production immediately.
Hell, there’d probably be enough left over to relaunch the Camira while they were at it. And maybe even knock out a new Gemini or two.
So we’re not going to do that again here. The all-new Commodore, in this case the Calais Tourer, is now here - granted having travelled further than the one it replaces - and so we’ll be playing this review with the straightest of bats.
Because the truth is, if you peel the badging - and thus the swirling emotion - off its elongated rump, then you’ll find this German-built Tourer is, really and truly, a very good thing.
|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.
A best-of-both-worlds option that should have us questioning our SUV obsession, the Calais Tourer delivers plenty of practicality perks and a higher ride height in a dynamic and car-like package. The equipment levels are spot on, including the comprehensive safety package, and it you act smartly, you'll get a hugely long warranty to boot.
It sure is thirsty, though, and we can't help but think plenty of owners would be happier with a smaller, more-efficient engine.
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.
Less an SUV (happily), and more a high-riding wagon, the Calais Tourer borrows a little from the Subaru XV in its exterior design, sporting the same plastic cladding over each wheel arch. Clearly there is a whole heap of shared DNA between the Sportwagon and Tourer, and so it offers similar perks; like its SUV-shaming boot space.
Elsewhere, the Tourer shares the same soft and rounded edges as the rest of the Commodore range, and while it is genuinely quite handsome from most angles, it is at its best viewed front on, where a simple front-end is bookmarked at each corner by a narrow headlight on top, and an encased fog light below. It’s all a touch understated, sure, but it looks sharp in the metal.
Inside, it’s a clean and functional cabin design, with most of the touchscreen functions controlled by a simple row of four horizontal buttons, and with a gloss-black surround encasing the centre console. The thin leather wheel feels lovely under the touch, and the contrasting door trims and soft-touch materials find their way into the backseat, too.
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.
The Tourer serves up identical storage space to its Sportwagon near-enough twin, with 793 litres of storage (to the roof line) with the rear seats in place, and 1665 litres with the rear seat folded down. That’s about 200 litres more than the regular Commodore hatchback.
Where the Tourer does differ from the Sportwagon is in its exterior dimensions, measuring 5004mm in length (versus 4986mm in the Sportwagon) and 1525mm in height (versus 1483mm). Width and wheelbase are identical, though (1871mm and 2829mm), and so the interior space dimensions - like headroom and legroom - are identical no matter which of the estate-style Commodores you opt for.
The key dimension here, though, is ride height, with the Tourer offering 20mm more ground clearance (42mm greater height overall) than the Sportwagon. That, combined with the on-demand all-wheel-drive system, allows for some light off-roading - though you won’t be conquering Everest.
Up front, expect two cupholders hidden under a gloss-black cover, as well as power and USB connections located in a central cubby. The back seat is home to two extra cupholders hidden in a pulldown divider, and there is room in each of the doors for bottles. The back seat is also home to air vents (but no temperature controls) and two USB charge points located just below the vents.
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 Calais has long formed the most luxurious rung of the Commodore ladder, and the wagon-ish Tourer is without doubt the most practical version. It will set you back $45,990 ($47,990 drive-away) in the guise we’ve tested here, and $53,990 In Calais V specification.
Not to be sneezed at, then. But it does arrive with plenty of stuff to help justify your investment.
Outside, you’ll find 18-inch alloys, a handsfree auto-opening boot, heated mirrors, keyless entry with push-button start, a remote start function, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights with LED DRLs. Inside, expect leather seats that are heated in the front, a leather-wrapped wheel, dual-zone climate control, standard satellite navigation and a wireless charging pad for compatible phones.
On the technology front, an 8.0-inch touchscreen pairs with an eight-speaker stereo, and it’s both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto equipped. There’s also a genuinely impressive standard safety package, too, but we’ll drill down on that under the Safety sub-heading.
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.
A really rather good 3.6-litre V6 engine Is parked under the bonnet, feeding 235kW at 6800rpm and 381Nm at 5200rpm to all four wheels as required, thanks to an on-demand all-wheel-drive system. The suspension is tuned specifically for its high-riding antics, too.
The 3.6-litre engine means a braked towing capacity of 2100kg, and an unbraked max of 750kg.
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.
Not so good, I’m afraid. The offical number is on the high-side at 9.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the claimed/combined cycle (though that's less than the equivalent Subaru Outback), but we were averaging a smidge under 14.0L/100km after what was admittedly quite a lot of city driving. Still, that’s high.
Emissions are pegged at 212g/km or C02, and the Tourer’s 61-litre tank will accept cheaper 91RON fuel, or an E10 blend.
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.
Really very good. That 3.6-litre engine (why they haven’t offered the Tourer with the smaller and smarter turbo engine is something of a mystery) might be a touch old-school and a touch thirsty, but it’s a rich and powerful thing, and it gives the Calais-stamped Tourer a perky personality that defies its dimensions.
The Calais Tourer was built in Germany, and fitted with an engine and transmission from the USA, before undergoing local tuning here in Australia (think bespoke steering and suspension tunes calibrated both at the company’s testing facility and after a 200,000km test on Aussie roads), and it’s the last of those Dr Frankenstein ingredients that have had the biggest impact here.
The Tourer’s ride is fantastic, perfectly poised between firm composure and everyday comfort, and - like most good wagons - it will honestly leave you wondering why so many people are clamouring aboard the SUV train when you can all the space with better dynamics in a humble estate.
The nine-speed ‘box is smooth and sharp in its operation, too. But the fuel use is a concern. Sure, we spent the bulk of our time in the city, where stop-start traffic naturally uses more fuel. But then, surely so would most owners?
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.
You’ve got to hand it to the Lion for the standard safety package here, which includes the Holden Eye camera system as standard, adding auto emergency braking (AEB), lane keep assist, lane departure warning and forward collision warning. You’ll also find semi-autonomous parking, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
The Calais Tourer adds blind-sport monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert to that pretty comprehensive package. All of which helps the Commodore range qualify for the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Finally, you can add six airbags and two ISOFIX attachment points to the mix.
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.
Holden has recently relinquished the initial warranty offering, now including the Commodore in its seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty program, meaning it mixes with the very best in the aftercare business. For now, at least; normally, the Commodore carries the brand's standard three year/100,000km warranty. But be on the lookout for the return of this deal if you miss out this time.
Service intervals are pegged at 12 months or 12,000kms, and the Commodore falls under Holden’s extensive capped-price servicing program, and it will cost between $259 and $359 for each of the first seven annual services.