Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Jaguar XJ
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Characterful supercharged V8
- Agile handling with great ride
- Individual looks
- Options pricing
- InControl software a bit ordinary
- Too much in-cabin chrome
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|
As a child, my parents - who aren't car people - would see a Jaguar and point. It didn't matter if it was an XJ, Daimler Double Six or a Mark II, there was a great deal of mystique around these bastions of Britishness. It also didn't matter that these weren't necessarily good cars. The Seventies and Eighties saw the brand slide into a funk while being passed between owners like hot potatoes.
Somehow, the brand survived its brush with Ford's useless Premier Automotive Group strategy which only came good towards the end as Jaguar's management woke up and put in place a change in direction that produced the Ian Callum-designed XF. Riding high on that design, Jaguar then promptly introduced the very pretty Jaguar XJ.
It has been on sale for ages, but with the addition of a few bits and bobs to stay competitive, it's as compelling as ever. Most importantly, the performance-focused R has kept its unique supercharged V8.
|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.
It might be old and facing German competition bursting with advanced technology, but the XJR is still a car you can buy with heart and head. But mostly your heart. It goes like stink, has a much better interior than the Quattroporte and is more interesting than just about anything this big or this grand.
It's also a better car than the Maserati Quattroporte if you want to get on with the driving yourself and is far prettier than the Porsche Panamera. It's a wonderful thing and even more wonderful that Jaguar continues to build it. Long live that supercharged V8 and the XJ is a great home for it.
Is the XJ your cup of Earl Grey or are you more interested in a Maserati espresso (sorry) or a Porsche stein (sorry, again)? 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 XJ has a marvellously exaggerated length, with a rear overhang redolent of Jag's sporting coupe and roadster pair of the time of its launch, the XK. There's nothing else in the segment like it, with the three Germans - Mercedes' S-Class, Audi's A8 and BMW's 7 Series - having gone all Hugo Boss and and in the latter two's case, almost shrinking violet. The only credible Japanese alternative, the Lexus LS, looks like a Lexused 7 Series. The XJR is a more emotional car, like Maserati's Quattroporte.
The R adds an aggro grille, 20-inch wheels with low-ish profile tyres, a bootlid spoiler, red brake calipers and vents in the bonnet. Bits and pieces get the black gloss treatment and there are V8 and R badges, as well as a rather large leaper on the bootlid. Capping it all off are four exhausts poking out from the bumper and distinctive vertical taillights.
Inside remains largely unchanged. The cabin is big and luxurious, leather-lined and very, very comfortable. The front air vents have to be modelled on the de Havilland Comet's integrated jet engine intakes and, again, the dash design stays away from the horizontal lines of its obvious competition.
There is probably a bit much chrome for my liking, particularly on the centre console and around the rotary dial shifter, which reflects sunlight into your face during the day.
The lovely 'Riva Hoop' - a band that sweeps from door to door across the top of the dash - is a great touch and remains a defining feature in the cabin. The last update brought an Audi-like digital dashboard, including maps, but it's not nearly as slick as the German. The graphics for the dials are good (and quick) but the maps are a bit so-so.
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.
It might be over five metres long, but the Jag's cabin isn't as gigantic as that might suggest - luckily, if you want space, the XJ L has it. The SWB version is roomy enough, though, just not palatial. You can fit five people, but the big transmission tunnel will limit the size of that fifth.
Front and rear passengers have a pair of cupholders each, with rubber bubbles to help hold smaller cups in tight. The front and rear doors have pockets but aren't really for bottles.
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.
As is expected at this level, Jaguar was not mucking about with price or specification - the XJR starts at a mildly terrifying $299,995, which is very close to the rather more tranquil Autobiography long-wheelbase relax-o-mobile.
Standard are 20-inch alloys, a 20-speaker stereo, power everything with three memory positions, four-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, heated and cooled front and rear seats, sat nav, LED headlights and DRLs, leather everywhere, auto wipers and (LED) headlights, electric boot lid, heated steering wheel and a space saver spare.
The Meridian-branded stereo is an absolute cracker, powered by the improved but still laggy 'InControl Pro' system. Oddly, it's all crammed into an 8.0-inch touchscreen when there is seemingly room for the larger (and better-performing) 10.0-inch screen. The software is far superior than the version that preceded the last update, but the screen is hard to use, as targets are placed right in the corners and are hard to hit.
A long list of options are available, some of which should probably be included in the big sticker price - DAB+ ($620), premium paint is a splutter-worthy $2060 (although, to be fair, the vast majority of the 19 colours are free), adaptive cruise with queue assist ($2200), adaptive headlights a further $2620 and 'Parking Assist', which adds side sensors and a front camera, a further $2780. Reverse cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and forward collision warning cost yet another $1460. Ouch.
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.
Jaguar's lovely 5.0-litre V8 with supercharger continues under the XJ's long and shapely bonnet, delivering a walloping 404kW and a tyre-shredding 680Nm. The sprint to 100km/h for all 1875kg of XJR is completed in an impressive 4.6 seconds, which was very competitive at the car's launch in 2009.
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 combined cycle figure for the V8 is listed at 11.1L/100km but fully expect to see the 16.1L/100km we got, especially as you try and fail to tyre of the monstrous power delivery and lovely (if muted) V8 roar.
Luckily, even if you're belting it, the 82 litre tank is a generous size and you'll cover a fair amount of ground.
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.
Indecently quick, surprisingly agile and heaps of fun. While the first descriptor applies purely because of its size, the next two shouldn't when you're in command of 5.13 metres of motor vehicle. As with the Audi and now the 7, the Jag has a lot of aluminium to help keep the kilos off and good gracious, it has worked.
The R is based around the short wheelbase version of the XJ for perhaps obvious reasons. Even so, it appears to be the shorter-again XF's because this thing turns in like a demon. No, it won't stay with the dearly-departed XF-R but it does a mighty fine impression of one, just with a better ride quality.
Rear seat passengers should be prepared to feel a lot of wheelslip, especially when in Dynamic mode, as even the fat Pirelli P-Zero's struggle for purchase when the right foot hits the carpet. The V8 rumbles rather than bellows, but the rears cheerfully spin up until the computers and active differential rein things in. Traction control off and you've got a proper tyre-smoker if you're not playing by the rules. Jag's engineers are clearly hooligans at heart.
As always, ZF's eight-speed transmission does an incredible job of marshalling the horses in a rearward direction and when you're not after a bit of sound and light, have achieved a tremendous amount with the damping. When in normal mode, the car glides along, so much so that the lady of the house wasn't so sure it was a sporting sedan.
Once she was apprised of dynamic mode (you have to cycle the button through winter mode first, for some reason), her only complaint was that it was too long and the steering wheel too big for this type of car. I was persuaded of the latter, especially after stepping out of an Audi S3 which has a tiny wheel. Long story short, the XJR is now 'her' car (to be more accurate, the XFR is, but that hasn't arrived yet, so...), as it felt smaller than it was when not parking and she's a sucker for a torquey V8.
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.
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.