Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Holden Commodore
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Comfortable but dynamic chassis
- Strong and smooth 2.0 turbo
- Liftback's boot practicality over a sedan
- Relatively unassuming looks
- V6 not as refined as the 2.0 turbo
- VXR doesn't match the romance of old V8 SS
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|
For many Australians, calling the new ZB a Commodore is tantamount to being forced to call your Mum’s new boyfriend ‘Dad.’
One big reason is that it was always going to be the next Commodore, even before Holden decided to stop building cars in Australia. Yes, it was even set to be built here.
Once the VE/VF Commodore’s Zeta platform was axed during General Motors’ post-GFC rationalisation, the next best thing was to align with the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia designed primarily for Europe.
Holden was actually involved with the new Insignia’s development from the beginning, which has led to some key details for the Commodore version and Australia, and a whole lot of input from our world-renowned Aussie engineering team.
So it’s a whole lot more Commodore than you may realise. Whether it lives up to its reputation is another matter.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
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.
So will the new Commodore become Australia's favourite car? I strongly doubt it, but it's not the car's fault, and it wouldn't be any different if it was a rear-wheel drive, V8, Australian-built sedan. Australian buying habits have just moved on, and diversified into a range of SUVs, small hatches and dual-cab utes.
Taken as an all-new entry in Holden's revitalised line-up though, the new Commodore ticks all the important boxes required of a mid-size to large passenger car these days. It may not be anywhere near as exciting as a 6.2-litre Redline sedan, ute or wagon, but it’s objectively a far better car overall, and you should definitely give it a drive before dismissing it.
The pick of the bunch in my eyes is the $39,490 RS Sportwagon with the 2.0-litre petrol engine. Yep, the best new Commodore is now a four-cylinder station wagon.
Be sure to check out what James Cleary thought of the new Commodore in prototype guise here:
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.
Aside from the move to a front-drive basis, the other key difference between the new Commodore and those of the past is its shift from a classic three-box sedan shape to a sleek, five-door Liftback. Even the Sportwagon has an elegant arc to its roofline, which is arguably their most appealing design element. There are no Ute or Caprice bodystyles, and there never will be.
The European-designed look is less macho than the bulging wheelarches of the VE and VF, but more in line with its European rivals like the Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat and Skoda Superb.
The best way to identify specific models is by their wheels, with the trim levels split between a more elegant body trim on the entry, Calais, Calais-V and Tourer variants, and sportier body kits with side skirts and a rear spoiler on the RS, RS-V and VXR flagship.
The interior look is also best described as elegant, with fresh shapes that flow cohesively into the door trims and centre console. There’s a general air of quality about it, but it’s let down by some cheap-feeling controls and switches, particularly the climate control knobs.
The ZB’s overall size is bigger than you might think, with most dimensions fitting neatly between the VE/VF and the VT-VZ generation that preceded it.
You might be surprised to learn it’s no lightweight either, with the heaviest Calais-V Tourer actually outweighing the portliest VF by 31kg.
Interior dimensions are comparable with its predecessor, with the most significant differences being a narrower back seat thanks to its 36mm thinner body and 13mm less rear headroom in the Liftback (but 3mm more in the wagon).
Before the decision was made to source the new car from Germany, Holden was planning a longer wheelbase for Australia. One specific requirement that did reach fruition is the availability of a V6 engine, which isn’t fitted to European versions.
Under the skin it rides on GM’s E2XX platform, which is a significant evolution of the chassis that underpinned the previous Insignia and the now-defunct Holden Malibu.
Aside from having a say in every step of its design process, Holden engineers covered more than 200,000 kilometres of testing on Australian roads and at the Lang Lang proving ground.
This has been to fine tune the drivetrain calibrations, the steering, suspension, and even details like the sat nav and radio reception to suit our tastes and unique demands.
Specific suspension tunes have been developed for four cylinder models, the V6 Calais, V6 RS-V and the Tourer, with unique setups between Liftback and Sportwagon bodies.
The only version not to score an Australian suspension tune is the VXR, which was treated to a performance-focused setup at the Nürburgring in Germany.
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.
Another traditional Commodore trait to have taken a step backwards is its ability to carry three adults across the back seat. Admittedly only really an issue for taxi use, the ZB will certainly still swallow three, and likely three child seats, but less comfortably and more like the similarly sized Camry.
The Liftback’s reduced headroom didn’t matter for this 172cm tester, but if you were marginal in a VF you’d probably want to avoid spiking your hair.
The cabin ticks all the other important boxes for a modern family car, including twin cupholders front and rear, bottleholders in each door and two ISOFIX child seat mounts in the rear.
All get a good cluster of USB and 12V charge points, while the RS-V models upwards get a big bonus with wireless phone charging.
The Liftback's boot space is only slightly down on before at 490 litres, but the huge opening created by the five-door design is so much more useful in the real world. It also brings a split-fold back seat for the first time in a non-wagon Commodore.
The Sportwagon has lost around 100 litres in capacity though, but is still a very useful 560 litres to seat height or 793 litres to the roof.
Holden’s local team has also developed a range of optional accessories for the Commodore, which includes a bonnet protector, weather shield, towbar, boot liner, floor mats, headlight protectors, sill guards, locking wheel nuts, roof racks and a cargo net, but there’s no sign of a cargo barrier, nudge bar or bullbar at this stage.
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.
Aligning with the Insignia’s European platform has bumped the Commodore right up to speed with the current status quo of features expected in such a family car.
Available Commodore firsts include standard auto emergency braking (AEB) on all models, adaptive cruise control, 360-degree / surround-view cameras, massage and ventilated seats, heated rear seats, wireless phone charging, LED headlights and a power tailgate on the wagons. Like most new cars, there’s no more CD player or DVD player with the radio and other multimedia options.
The broad model range is split into LT, RS, RS-V, Calais, Calais-V, VXR trim levels, while the off-road flavoured Tourer is split into Calais and Calais-V versions.
All bar the Tourer and VXR are available with either Liftback or Sportwagon ($2200 extra) bodystyles, while the 2.0-litre turbo engine is standard in the LT, RS and Calais. The V6 with all-wheel drive is available in the RS, RS-V, Calais-V, VXR and both Tourer trims, while the diesel engine is limited to the LT and Calais.
The base LT Liftback drops the Commodore entry point by $1800 with a list price of $33,690. The diesel engine is available in either bodystyle for an extra $3000.
Standard features include the aforementioned AEB, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in addition to Bluetooth connectivity with a 7.0-inch multimedia screen, reversing camera, auto parking, a leather steering wheel, an eight-way power driver’s seat, proximity keys, auto headlights and wipers, air conditioning and 17-inch alloy rims.
The RS kicks off at $37,290, or $40,790 in V6 AWD guise, and brings sports front seats, steering wheel and body kit, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and bigger 18-inch alloys, while the Sportwagon version gets a power tailgate.
The V6 AWD RS-V commands $46,990, and adds leather seats, heated front seats, paddle shifters a larger 8.0-inch multimedia screen with built-in GPS navigation system and DAB+ digital radio, a colour head-up display, wireless phone charger, interior ambient lighting, upgraded Hi Per strut suspension and a sportier rear bumper.
The $40,990 Calais is also available with the diesel engine for an extra $3000, or as the V6 AWD Tourer wagon for $45,990.
The Calais sits closer to the LT on features, but adds leather trim, front seat heaters, 8-inch multimedia screen with built-in GPS navigation system and DAB+ digital radio, wireless phone charging, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and 18-inch alloys.
The Calais Tourer scores a ride height lift (overall height up 42mm) and off-road styled unpainted wheel-arch moulds and bumper caps.
The $51,990 Calais-V adds a Bose premium sound system, ventilated front seats, a massage function and powered side bolsters for the driver’s seat, heated rear seats, a sports steering wheel with paddle shifters, 360 degree cameras, colour head-up display, adaptive LED headlights and 20-inch alloys. The Liftback version gets an electronic sunroof, while the Tourer version gets a panoramic glass roof.
The top-spec VXR is closest to the RS-V in terms of features, but for $55,990 it adds VXR-specific sports seats with power adjustable bolsters and ventilation up front, heated rear seats, Bose premium audio, adaptive suspension, adaptive cruise control, Brembo brakes, VXR floor mats and sill plates, active LED headlights, 360-degree camera, electric sunroof, and 20-inch alloy wheels.
From launch, Holden is offering drive-away pricing across several models, with on-road costs included. The LT petrol Liftback is available for $35,990, while the RS Liftaback is being offered for $38,990 with the 2.0-litre turbo and $42,490 with the V6. The Calais Tourer is also being offered for $47,990 drive away.
The available colours are spread across two whites, two reds, silver, grey, black and blue, with some only available on certain models. All bar the non-metallic white and red will cost you an extra $550, but there’s no sign of the green, purple, orange, or yellow we’ve seen over the past decade.
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.
No, there’s no more V8, manual transmission or rear wheel drive, but the ZB’s options are more in sync with its newer rivals.
For the first time since the VH, or 1984, the base engine is a four-cylinder petrol unit, but uses modern tech like direct injection and a turbo to boost power statistics to more than triple that of the infamous Starfire engine. Also seen in the Equinox, the new turbo motor’s 191kW is also notably 6kW more than the 5.0-litre V8 in the VL Group A SS (Walkinshaw), and 1kW more than the 3.6-litre V6 was making in top-spec VZ Commodores – so pretty good horsepower for its engine size.
The real story is its healthy 350Nm of torque, which is also more than what the same VZs were making, but on tap from a useful 3000-4000rpm.
The latest version of the 3.6-litre Alloytec V6 that’s seen duty in VZ, VE and VF models makes a reappearance as the new performance leader, but mounted sideways and turning all four wheels this time. In ZB trim, it produces 235kW and 381Nm, the latter from 5200rpm.
For the first time, you can also choose a diesel option with LT and Calais trims, which is a version of the engine used in the previous Opel Insignia. You’ll also find it under the bonnet of the Jeep Cherokee and Compass, and its applications spread as wide as the Alfa Romeo 159 that ended production in 2011. In Commodore guise, the turbo 2.0-litre engine specs are 125kW and 400Nm (available from 1750-2500rpm), and therefore taking out the torque trophy for the ZB range.
Both petrol engines are paired with a nine-speed torque converter automatic transmission, while the diesel has an eight-speed gearbox. Both four-cylinder engines are front-wheel drive, while all V6 variants are all-wheel drive.
The all-wheel drive system is actually quite clever, using what’s called a Twinster twin-clutch rear differential for finite torque vectoring, or sending the just the right amount of power to each wheel. The system varies torque distribution between 100 per cent front and a 50/50 split.
If you think the Commodore has gone soft, its towing capacity ratings also suggest otherwise, with a 2100kg maximum braked rating for V6 models matching the best offered previously. The four cylinder models are rated at 1800kg, which is 200kg better than what the previous 3.0-litre V6 and LPG models carried.
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.
As you’d hope, the ZB sets a new Commodore benchmark for fuel consumption, with the diesel models managing a best official combined figure of 5.6L/100km. The petrol four-cylinder models also pip the VF’s best combined fuel economy figure of 8.3L/100km with 7.4 and 7.6L/100km for the LT, RS and Calais Liftbacks respectively. The Sportwagon versions wear 7.7 and 7.9L/100km figures, while V6 versions span 8.9-9.3L/100km combined ratings.
It’s worth noting that the petrol four-cylinder engine needs premium 95RON unleaded to do its best, while the V6 is happy to run on regular 91RON unleaded. All versions have a 61.7-litre fuel tank.
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.
The Commodore we know and most of us love is just as famous for its quality driving experience as its local production and motorsport successes. So, the ZB has some big shoes to fill in this area.
At the ZB’s media launch, we drove everything aside from the base LT or any diesel variant, over several hundred kilometres of pretty much every road condition.
I’ll cut to the chase. There’s a genuine quality to the way they handle Australian road conditions. We drove them back to back with a UK-spec model at Lang Lang, and while you’d expect the local car to excel at its own test facility, the rear and front suspension work in harmony to handle mid-corner bumps with far greater stability than the alternative. The electric power steering weighting was also lighter, but it didn’t seem to lose any precision.
You probably wouldn’t notice it driving to the shops every day or cruising on the highway, but this on-limit controllability could easily be the difference between life and death in an emergency.
The turbo four is a surprisingly capable and refined package, and would honestly be my pick if I were in the market. It’s smoother and more tractable than the V6, so feels like it would deliver speed more readily than the bigger engine unless you were going flat out.
Holden isn’t quoting official 0-100km/h acceleration figures, but we hear the petrol four is good for a 7.0 second-ish time, and the V6 will manage just over 6.0sec. So there’s really not much in it outright.
Therefore it’s a shame you can’t get the Tourer with the petrol four, but because the combination is available in Europe, Holden could shift the line-up if there’s enough demand.
The nine-speed auto does a pretty good job with either engine, and its electronic brain does a slick job of seamlessly adjusting its shift behaviour to your driving style.
Holden isn’t quoting ground clearance figures, but all have enough to handle dirt roads, and while the 17-inch wheel equipped models match the VF II’s 11.4m turning circle, be aware that the 18-inch wheel variants blow out to 11.7m, the 19s are 12.7m, and Holden doesn’t quote a figure for the 20-inch equipped Calais-V Liftback and VXR.
The only other surprise among the group we drove is the Calais-V Liftback, which is likely to be a bit too sharp in its ride for some luxury buyers on its big 20-inch alloy wheels. The Calais or one of the Tourers would be your best bet for comfort.
The VXR performance flagship is a completely different personality to the SS models of the past. It’s nowhere near as fast, but is more of a grownup package that’s easier to get the best out of.
Its more demure than the brash final VF IIs, and the V6 does make a pretty sweet note, even if half of it is coming from the speakers.
Nothing was ever going to replicate the romance and pride of the last SS, but all is not lost for fans of fast Holdens.
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.
All versions of the new Commodore come with a maximum five star ANCAP safety rating, which has been measured against 2017 standards. The VF’s five star rating was based on 2013 standards.
As mentioned above, all versions get standard AEB and ISOFIX child seat mounts, plus features like lane keep assist and departure warning, auto parking, a reversing camera with front and rear sensors and six airbags covering both rows of seats.
All versions also get a novel following distance indicator to help you gauge a safe distance from the car in front. This could serve as excellent driver training, and worth having a go with on a test drive.
RS variants upwards get blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, while only the Calais-V and VXR get 360-degree /surround-view camera setups.
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 is currently offering a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assistance to help boost sales, but be on the lookout for the return of this deal if you miss out this time. Normally, the Commodore carries the standard three year/100,000km warranty.
Service intervals are now 12month/12,000km, which have shifted from the previous 9month/15,000km terms.
Service costs are capped for the first seven trips to the workshop, with petrol models costing $259, $299, $259, $359, $359, $359 and $259, or a total of $2153 over seven years or 84,000km. The diesel is actually slightly better value at $259, $359, $259, $399, $359 and $399, or $2134 over the same period.