Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Jaguar XE
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Outstanding ride and handling
- Great horsepower for your buck
- Though, good looks
- Rear seats are tight
- Small boot
- Optional safety tech
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|
Mercedes-Benz has the C-Class, BMW has the 3 Series, Audi has the A4 and Jaguar has the one people in Australia seem to forget – the XE.
Yep, the default setting we seem to have when it comes to buying a prestige car is as strong as buying the same brand of milk every week.
There’s a decent choice of milk, but it can sometimes seem that there are only three brands and we tend to zero in on the same one again and again. Same with prestige cars.
But all milk is the same, I hear you say. And I’m inclined to agree, and that’s the difference, cars vary greatly despite them having the same purpose.
The latest version of Jaguar XE has arrived in Australia and while it’s very similar in size and shape to its German rivals there are some big differences, and some compelling reasons to add it to your shopping list.
I promise, there are no more mentions of milk.
|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 Jaguar XE is a dynamic, prestige mid-sized premium sedan, for those who are more concerned with engaging driving than cargo space and rear legroom.
The sweet spot in the range is the entry R-Dynamic SE. Buy that one and option the handling pack, and you'll still come in under the costs of the HSE.
Would you pick a Jaguar over a Mercedes-Benz, Audi or BMW? 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.
This freshen up of the XE sees a sharper, wider look for the mid-sized sedan with sleeker headlights and tail-lights, plus redesigned front and rear bumpers.
From front-on the XE looks low, broad and planted, a black mesh grille and the way it’s flanked by much larger air intakes is tough, and the signature Jaguar long bonnet curving down towards it looks magnificent.
The rear of the car has benefited greatly, too. Gone are those overly simple tail-lights, replaced by more refined units with a strong resemblance to the F-Type's.
How much smaller is the XE than its big sister the XF? Well, here are the dimensions. The XE is a mid-sized car at 4678mm long (276mm shorter than the XF), 1416mm tall (41mm shorter in height) and 13mm narrower at 2075mm wide (including the mirrors).
The XE’s cabin has been updated, too. There’s the new steering wheel which has a more minimalist and cleaner design than the previous tiller, the rotary gear shifter has been replaced with an upright trigger-grip device (another functional improvement), and there’s the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
New materials and trims are used throughout the interior. Both grades have premium carpet mats, and aluminium trim around the centre console.
In the SE four types of two-tone leather upholstery can be specified as non-cost options, while another four which are $1170 options in the base grade are available free in the HSE.
The standard cabins of both grades feel luxurious and premium.
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.
Mid-sized sedans have a tough job on their hands when it comes to practicality – they need to be small enough to park and pilot in the city but big enough to carry at least four adults comfortably along with their luggage.
I’m 191cm tall and while space up front for me is plentiful, space behind my diving position is limited. Headroom in the second row is getting tight, too.
The small rear doors also made entry and exit a bit of a challenge for me.
Boot space is also not the best in the class at 410 litres. I’m being kind. See, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has a cargo capacity of 434 litres, while the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 have 480 litres volumes.
Up front you’ll find a USB and a 12-volt outlet, but if you want the wireless charger for your iPhone or Android device you’ll need to option it for $180.
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.
There are two members of the Jaguar XE family: the R-Dynamic SE which lists for $65,670, before on-road costs, and the R-Dynamic HSE for $71,940. Both have the same engine, but the HSE has more in the way of standard features.
Coming standard on both cars is a 10.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights with auto high beam and direction indicators, metal treadplates with R-Dynamic branding, dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, digital radio, sat nav, proximity key with push button ignition, reversing camera, Bluetooth connectivity and power front seats.
The R-Dynamic HSE grade adds more standard features such as a second touchscreen below the 10.0-inch display for climate control, swaps the 125W six-speaker stereo in the SE for an 11-speaker 380W Meridian system, also adding adaptive cruise control, and an electrically adjustable steering column.
The only other difference is that the SE has 18-inch alloy wheels while the HSE has 19-inch rims.
It’s not incredibly good value as far as standard features go and you’ll have to option privacy glass, wireless charging, the head-up display and a 360-degree camera on both grades.
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.
There’s one engine for both the R-Dynamic SE and R-Dynamic HSE – a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four cylinder making 221kW/400Nm. Drive is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The four-cylinder felt strong and all that torque arrives low in the rev range (1500rpm) for good off-the-line acceleration. The transmission is also excellent, shifting smoothly and decisively.
It’s a shame the V6 isn’t offered anymore, but 221kW is a lot more power than you’ll get for this money in a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class
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.
Jaguar says that the XE will use 6.9L/100km of premium unleaded petrol when driven on a combination of open and urban roads.
After my time with it the trip computer was reporting an average of 8.7L/100km. Not bad considering the test drive would have been thirsty work for the four-cylinder turbo engine.
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 launch took place on twisty country roads snaking away from the coast in Northern NSW, but I was only a few corners in before it became darn clear the R-Dynamic HSE was talented dynamically. Impressively so.
The HSE I tested was fitted with the $2090 'Dynamic Handling Pack', which adds bigger front brakes (350mm), adaptive dampers and configurable settings for throttle, transmission, chassis and steering.
Steering which felt a tad heavy in town became the XE's secret weapon as the roads curled through the hills. The confidence the steering, delivering great feedback and accuracy, gives the driver can’t be overstated.
This combined with the XE’s excellent handling and powerful four-cylinder engine makes it a clear dynamic standout among its competitors.
A comfortable ride even, on potholed roads, but flat handling regardless of how hard it was pushed through corners amazed me.
Sure, optional adaptive dampers were fitted to our test car, but considering the work out they were getting without skipping a beat, their response was impressive.
Following this I dropped into the seat of the red R-Dynamic SE you can see in the images. While this wasn’t fitted with the handling package the HSE had, the only real difference I could feel was in the comfort – the adaptive dampers were able to produce a more composed and cushioned ride.
Handling, however, felt sharp, sure and the steering gave me the same confidence I experienced in the HSE.
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 Jaguar XE was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2015. Both the R-Dynamic SE and R-Dynamic HSE come with AEB, lane keeping assistance, rear cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition and automatic parking.
The HSE adds blind spot assist which will steer you back into your lane if you’re about to change lanes on top of somebody else; and adaptive cruise control.
The lowish score is due to the need to option safety equipment – it’s becoming the norm for advanced technology to be included as standard.
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.
The Jaguar XE is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty. Servicing is condition-based (your XE will let you know when it needs a check-up) and there’s a five-year/130,000km service plan which costs $1750.
Again a low score here, but that’s because of the short warranty compared to the five-year coverage which has become an industry expectation and while there is a service plan there’s no service-by-service price guide.