Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Jaguar XF
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Beautiful to look at
- Fantastic drivetrain
- Properly luxurious
- The cost
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Not really a five seater for long trips
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 a Jaguar owner fell through a wormhole from 2003, the company they bought their car from would be almost unrecognisable. Back then, it was a bewildering mess making an odd assortment of cars, yet to emerge into the light after Ford's confused and debilitating period of ownership.
Why 2003? Fifteen years is a nice round number and pre-dates the arrival of the brand-saving XF.
Today, Jaguar has three SUVs, and the gorgeous F-Type, the XE, its second-generation XF and the big XJ. It has three SUVs (the F-Pace, E-Pace and I-Pace) because without them Jaguar would be a niche manufacturer before long, because big sedans, formerly the brand's trademark, are continuing their gentle decline. Oddly enough, one of the market segments contracting even faster than sedans is wagons.
So what better time to launch into a draining pool from the three-metre board than now? Jaguar has bravely taken that risk and brought us the puzzlingly named XF Sportbrake.
|Engine Type||3.0L 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.
With that iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove wrapped in bubble wrap engine, excellent ride and gorgeous looks, the XF Sportbrake ticks all the boxes. Apart from the entry price and options prices, there are few objective reasons not to buy the car. It's just as good as any of its German competition and arguably the prettiest of the lot.
Should Jaguar have taken the dive? Given the XF Sportbrake is a luxury wagon done right, yes.
So you've decided you want a prestige wagon? Is it the Jaguar for you, or do you need a German machine to lug your load?
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 second-generation XF is a very pretty car. A few carmakers have a had a crack at that four-door coupe idea, but Jaguar's Ian Callum got it right first go. You might expect the wagon to be a bit dumpy but it's far from it. That's not to say wagons can't be good looking - many are better-looking than the car they're based on (the weirdly proportioned Golf wagon being the exception to the rule). The XF sedan just looks right.
Anyway, the Sportbrake is basically the same until behind the B-pillar, with the roof continuing on to steeply raked tailgate glass. Obviously the lights are different back there but it's a nicely integrated job, it doesn't look like a dodgy extension. Rolling on the optional 20-inch wheels it looks amazing - low, long and well-proportioned. Unfortunately, it's more than vaguely hearse-like in black (the only First Edition colour).
Inside is standard XF, with the obvious exception of the rear seats and the big open load area. With this First Edition's glass roof the cabin seems infinite. Either way it's big and comfortable, although fit and finish could be a bit tighter.
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.
Front and rear passengers enjoy plenty of space. Storage includes a not-quite-big-enough-for-a-phone tray ahead of the rotary dial gear selector and a pair of cupholders. Those in the rear have plenty of space, except for the middle seat occupant who must straddle a stout transmission tunnel. The rear armrest holds a pair of cupholders and the doors have slim pockets.
The boot holds 565 litres with the seats in place and "up to" 1700 litres with the seats down - that latter figure does not feel like a VDA number.
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.
Over the years the XF has edged its way upmarket and is now playing with the Germans in the big luxury segment. And as is now customary for Jaguar, the Sportbrake is available in First Edition guise. First Editions are available for a model's first year of production and are usually based on the top-spec (in the Sportbrake's case, that's the 30d S) with a few extra bits and pieces to make things interesting.
While the 30d S retails for $123,450, the FE weighs in at $137,300. For that you'll waft out of the showroom with 19-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, a huge panoramic glass roof with gesture-activated roof blind, around-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, 11-speaker Meridian-branded stereo with DAB, sat nav, head-up display, electric gesture-activated tailgate, keyless entry and start, rear air suspension, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim and a space-saver spare.
Jaguar Land Rover's 'InControl' media system is presented on a whopping 12.3-inch screen and, as ever, is steadily improving but goes without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The sound is, as you might expect, pretty good.
Our car had a few options fitted. 'Active Safety Pack' (see below), carbon-fibre trim ($3470), driver and passenger memory pack ($3210, including perforated leather trim), 20-inch wheels upgrade ($2790), cold-climate pack ($2540), illuminated metal treadplates ($2110), privacy glass ($950), 'InControl Protect' ($630), configurable interior lighting ($540), nets and rails ($390 and $320 respectively), extra power socket ($240) and 'InControl Apps' ($100). Most of it is cosmetic and/or unnecessary and took us to $158,950.
And there is still a plethora of boxes to tick.
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.
With all that power and torque, the XF Sportbrake cracks 100km/h from rest in 6.6 seconds.
The air suspension means you can tow up to 2000kg with a braked trailer.
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.
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.
There's no getting away from the size and heft of the Sportbrake. Where a four-cylinder sedan comes in under 1600kg - not bad for an almost five-metre-long car - up here at the top it's well over 1800kg. With big wheels and a long wheelbase it's not going to win any wards for manoeuvrability, with a big turning circle and a length that's challenging to shopping centre car parks.
The 3.0 V6 twin-turbo is a fantastic unit. It can be a bit noisy when cold but it's super smooth and with all that torque it crushes overtaking with little need for advanced planning. The Sportbrake wafts along, lazily turning over in traffic and keeping the vibe calm.
Despite those big wheels, the ride is excellent. Even when in Sport mode, it's a rare bump or surface that will cause drama. It's very comfortable and very quiet, almost to the level of the XJ limo.
If you do fancy a bit of amusement, the V6 and well-sorted chassis are ready to play. In reality, Sport mode is where both myself and my wife left the car the whole time we had it. Both of us found the steering a little too light and preferred the more lively throttle response. The XF features torque vectoring using the brakes and coupled with a well-judged stability and traction control system, it delivers a good impression of a sporty sedan.
But the XF is best when you keep it relaxed. Both in town and in the cruise, it's a lovely, quiet place to be and a relaxing, undemanding drive.
Only a couple of things were annoying - the light steering we've already covered. The heated windscreen was more reflection-prone so the head-up display could be hard to see in some lighting conditions. And sometimes it beeped for no apparent reason, which I eventually traced to the blind-spot warning.
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.
For child seats you've a choice of three top-tether anchors or two ISOFIX points.
Our car had the $4360 Active Safety Pack, which adds blind-spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise and driver-attention detection. If you were to ask me, this little lot should be standard at this level.
Despite that, the XF scored a maximum five ANCAP stars following assessment in 2015.
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.
Jaguars are offered with a three-year/100,000km warranty with a matching roadside-assist package. You can purchase a five-year/130,000km service plan for an oddly reasonable $2200. Even more reasonable are the service intervals - 12 months or 26,000km (!).