Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Infiniti Q50
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Powerful V6 engine
- Good value
- Macho looks
- Struggles to maintain traction at times
- Confusing dual screens
- Cabin design feels busy
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 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport sedan really wants you to love it, and this latest version is doing its best to impress the heck out of you with its looks and features.
Oh, and don't forget that we when first met the Q50 Red Sport last year we didn't exactly get off on the right foot. The engine's formidable grunt seemed too much for the car to handle. Then there was the jiggly ride, and the steering wasn't great either unless you were in Sport + mode. It's all coming back now...
Perhaps the Q50 Red Sport had changed. This is the new one, and Infiniti had assured us it's a different car now.
Do we give it another chance? Of course, and we do, in a quick 48-hour test. So, has it changed? Is it better? Would we live with it forever?
|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.
The Q50 Red Sport is a premium sedan that's great value, with a cracker of an engine. While Infiniti has improved the ride and steering, it still feels to me that the engine is too powerful for the wheels and chassis to handle. But if you're looking for something of an untamed beast, this car could be for you. Just don't say we didn't warn you.
Would you pick a Q50 Red Sport over a Euro sports sedan? 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.
The Q50 Red Sport looks cranky from front on, which I like in a car. Yes, the grille is simplistic and gaping, the nose is a bit bulbous, and sure, side on the car looks like a Lexus IS 350, but those rear haunches and the aggro body kit with its front splitter and boot lid spoiler make for an impressive looking four-door sedan.
The update brought restyled front and rear bumpers, those red brake calipers and the dark chrome 20-inch rims and new LED tail-lights.
Inside, the cabin is an asymmetrical paradise (or hell, if you're a bit OCD like me) full of sweeping lines, angles, as well as different textures and materials.
The red stitched quilted leather seats are an addition that came with the update, so is the new steering wheel and the ambient lighting.
The 'Sunstone Red' colour of our test car is also a new hue which looks a bit like Mazda's Soul Red. If red is not you, there are other colours – hope you like blue or white or black or grey because there's 'Iridium Blue', 'Midnight Black', 'Liquid Platinum', 'Graphite Shadow', 'Black Obsidian', 'Majestic White' and 'Pure White'.
The Q50 has similar dimensions to the IS 350: both are 1430mm tall, the Infiniti is 10mm wider at 1820mm, 120mm longer at 4800mm, and has a wheelbase that's 50mm longer at 2850mm.
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 Q50 Red Sport is a five-seat four-door sedan and is vastly more practical than its two-door Q60 Red Sport sister, in that I can actually sit in the back seat. The Q60's coupe styling looks amazing, but the sloping roofline means headroom is so severely limited that it reduces the rear seats to a place to throw your jacket.
True, I'm tall at 191cm, but in the Q50 Red Sport I can sit behind my driving position with legroom to spare and more than enough headroom.
Boot space is good at 500 litres, which is 20 litres more than the luggage capacity of the IS 350.
Storage throughout the cabin is good with two cup holders in the rear centre fold-down armrest, two more up front and bottle holders in all doors. A large centre console storage bin and another big storage area in front of the shifter are great for keeping junk under control and your valuables covered.
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.
Maybe sit down for this next bit. The Q50 Red Sport lists for $79,900. Are you okay? Do you want a moment? Remember, though that only seems like a lot because it's not a Benz or a BMW. Truth is the value is pretty good – better than a German car of the equivalent size and grunt.
Look at the standard features list: 8.0-inch and 7.0-inch stacked touchscreens, the 16-speaker Bose 'Performance Series' stereo system, digital radio, road noise cancellation, sat nav, 360-degree camera, leather seats, power adjustable from sports seats, dual-zone climate control, proximity key, sunroof, auto wipers and adaptive LED headlights.
The 2017 update brought new standard features to the Red Sport including, red stitching on the seats and dash, quilted leather seats, new 19-inch alloy wheels and red brake calipers.
Don't forget that the bang-for-buck factor is strong with the Red Sport, too. In that nose is a twin-turbo V6 that makes almost as much grunt as the BMW M3 for about $100K less. Even the 340i, which Infiniti says is a Red Sport rival, is $10K more. Truth is though, the Lexus IS 350 is the real rival to the Q50 Red Sport.
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.
Inside the Q50 Red Sport's nose is a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine and it is a beautiful thing. To me this car is piece of technologically sophisticated jewellery that cradles a precious gem that pumps out 298kW/475Nm.
But I have my concerns... you can read about those in the driving section.
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.
Infiniti says the V6 petrol engine in the Q50 Red Sport should use 9.3L/100km if you're using it on a mix of highways, urban streets and country roads. We only had the Q60 Red Sport for 48 hours and after a couple of days of Sydney city commutes and a trip to the Royal National Park our trip computer was reporting 11.1L/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.
Perhaps the biggest complaint we had about the previous Q50 Red Sport, which launched in 2016, was that it felt as though the chassis wasn't up to the amount of grunt running through it, and those rear wheels struggled to transfer the oomph to the road without losing traction.
We experienced the same issue again in this new car. I was breaking traction, not just in 'Sport+' and 'Sport' modes, but in 'Standard' and 'Eco', too. That was happening without pushing it hard and with all electronic traction and stability aids on.
If I was 18 I'd declare to the world I'd found my dream car - something that always wants to 'light 'em up' given half a chance. But like that one mate who always gets into trouble on a night out it's only funny when you're young.
A truly great performance car is planted, balanced and able to deliver the grunt to the road effectively. The Nissan R35 GT-R is the perfect example – a brilliant piece of machinery, a weapon of a performance car and with a chassis matched perfectly to its engine.
And that could be the issue with Q50 Red Sport - that engine feels overpowered for the chassis, and wheel and tyre package.
We also felt the previous Q50 Red Sport's ride, with its constantly adapting 'Dynamic Digital Suspension', was overly busy. Infiniti says it has developed the suspension system further and it does feel as though the ride is more comfortable and composed.
Steering was another area that we weren't overly impressed with when we drove the previous car. Infiniti's 'Direct Adaptive Steering' (DAS) system is super sophisticated and was the first in the world not to have any mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the wheels – it's all electronic.
The new Q50 Red Sport uses the upgraded 'DAS 2' and while it feels better than before, it's only in Sport+ mode that it seems most natural and accurate.
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.
The Q50 was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2014 and the amount of advanced safety equipment which comes standard on the Red Sport is impressive. There's AEB, that works forwards and when you're reversing, forward collision and blind spot warning, lane keeping assistance and moving object detection.
There are two ISOFIX points and two top tether anchor points in the back row, for child seats.
The Q60 Red Sport doesn't come with a spare tyre because the 245/40 R19 tyres are run flats, which means even after a puncture you should be able to keep driving for about 80km. Not ideal in Australia where distances are seriously vast.
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.