Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Nissan 370Z
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Dynamic balance
- Slick manual gearbox
- Classic exterior design
- Lacks latest safety tech
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Fake engine noise
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|
Road testing the Nissan 370Z in 2011, I noted it was getting on. Yes, the rear-wheel drive two-seater had been given a design freshen up and a bigger engine a couple of years prior, but the 350Z it was based on had hit the local market way back in 2003. And it wasn't unreasonable to expect replacement or retirement in the not-too-distant future.
Okay, so that was seven years ago, which means if you (like many) consider the 370Z to be an update of the 350Z (the transition happening in 2009), this car has been on sale for 15 years straight. Can you imagine Apple trying to sell any one product without entirely reinventing it for that long?
You might say that makes it a modern classic; so good it's only required an occasional touch up to keep it on the Sports Car Most Wanted list. And in recent years, a consistent average of 30 Aussies a month have slotted a shiny new 370Z in their driveway.
Is it enough to keep Nissan's eternal Z-car flame burning?
|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's hard not to be ageist when it comes to the current Nissan Zed, because 15 years in market (nine if we're generous) is a lengthy stretch in anyone's book. But somehow the 370Z is more than the sum of its parts. It has fantastic front-engine/rear-drive balance, an increasingly rare atmo engine, and a beautiful manual 'box. The value equation is decent, and it's nicely put together. Just don't expect to be dazzled with the latest safety, driver-assist and multimedia technology.
Does the Nissan 370Z have what it takes to elevate your heart rate? Tell us 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.
If you want to go all the way back, the 370Z clearly takes its design direction from Datsun's star of the '70s, the original 240Z.
Inspired by Ferrari, and (along with the Toyota 2000GT) a sports-car breakthrough for the Japanese industry, the first Zed's front-engine, long-nose proportions have remained largely intact in successive iterations over the decades.
With a broad, flat nose, distinctively jagged headlights, and steeply raked rear profile, there's no mistaking the 370's signature stance, with pumped-up guards sitting over fat, 19-inch alloy rims.
Sharp-eyed car-spotters will notice the update's new design RAYS forged wheels, smoked front and rear lights, and a similar smoked finish on the exterior door handles.
A new colour, 'Cherry Red' also replaces 'Bordeaux Black' in an eight-shade colour palette. Our test example was finished in 'Gun Metallic'.
Inside, echoes of Zeds past abound, with a trio of hooded gauges (clock, voltmeter, oil temp) sitting in the centre of the dash top, and the tachometer in the middle of a cowled, three-instrument main cluster shaded by an exaggerated tube.
And aside from consciously retro design touches, some elements have been present inside the car for so long they're just... ancient.
For example, old-school orange graphics for the odometer, gear position and trip computer are dated, and the small (7.0-inch touchscreen) multimedia display has the feel of an early noughties edition of Tekken 6.
Forget a digital speedo or head-up display. A CD slot still sits proudly in the centre stack, and matt silver highlights scattered around the cabin are as on-trend as double denim.
And the steering wheel (joined with the instrument binnacle) adjusts for height, but annoyingly, not reach.
That said, friends and family who rode in the car during the week I had the keys all commented on the swoopy exterior and cozy cockpit feel of the interior. So, what do I know?
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.
Two seats means practicality is a relative term when applied to the 370Z. For example, getting in and out is an athletic exercise requiring gymnastic levels of flexibility and poise. As with most low-lying coupes, I found the outer hand on the A-pillar technique helps with swinging down into the car, or lurching up out of it.
Once ensconced behind the wheel, you're confronted with a relatively modest amount of storage space, running to a medium-size glove box, a lidded bin at the rear of the dividing console, a single cupholder, and door pockets incorporating recesses for small bottles only.
There are two lined recesses for soft bags or coats behind each seat, including a fold-out map pocket, but they're not exactly convenient for retrieving things when you're on the move. What's missing is a tray where you can easily stow things likes keys, coins or a phone.
There are also two 12-volt power outlets, a USB port and an aux-in audio connection.
Rear load space is limited to 195 litres, mainly due to the boot's shallow floor (an alloy space-saver spare sits underneath). It does incorporate a cargo blind and four tie-down hooks, but we only managed to squeeze in the largest (105-litre) suitcase from our three-piece hard set, or a combination of the two smaller ones (35 and 68 litres).
We also had a crack at stuffing in the CarsGuide pram (there is a top-tether hook provided for child seat fitment) and managed it with only a couple of beads of perspiration expended.
Forget the nappy-bag paraphernalia, though. The soft bags with all the baby stuff would have to go in the storage bays in the cabin behind the seats.
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.
The arrival of the tricked-up 370Z NISMO in August last year, offered Nissan Australia an opportunity to reposition the regular model, dropping the MSRP for the manual version from $56,930 to $49,990.
Aside from adjusting the car's value-for-money proposition (and pissing off those who'd bought one in July), that close to seven grand haircut delivered more pricing headroom up to the Roadster (starting at $60,990), and NISMO (from $61,490) versions.
For that money the standard equipment list includes, keyless entry and start, cruise control, climate control air, go-fast alloy finish pedals, 'HDD' (Hard Disc Drive) sat nav with 3D mapping, a 7.0-inch colour multimedia touchscreen, and Bose eight-speaker audio with 9.3GB 'Music Box' hard drive.
You'll also pick up sports seats with lots of features. First, they're 'leather accented', which is code for genuine hide in all the places you regularly contact, and a faux equivalent everywhere else. Not uncommon, and not necessarily unpleasant. Then they're heated and four-way power-adjustable, (with manual lumbar and height adjustment for the driver).
The steering wheel and gear knob also cop the 'leather accented' treatment, plus you can expect LED DRLs and tail-lights as well as auto headlights. It's worth noting that the headlights are garden-variety xenons, and things you might expect in a $50k coupe, like, rain-sensing wipers, dual zone climate, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity or tyre-pressure monitoring are 100 per cent absent.
Lining up direct competitors for the 370Z isn't easy, because there aren't any. But the closest is arguably a 2.3-litre EcoBoost version of Ford's Mustang at $45,990 for the manual. A further stretch of the imagination could haul in the Mazda MX-5 RF ($43,890) or the 86 GTS+ ($39,440) and Subaru BRZ tS ($39,894).
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.
The 370Z is powered by an all-alloy, 3.7-litre (VQ37VHR), naturally aspirated, quad-cam V6, producing 245kW at 7000rpm and 363Nm at 5200rpm.
It features the 'Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System' (CVTCS) with 'Variable Valve Event and Lift' (VVEL) on the intake side. And while all that may sound new and ultra-high tech, it was actually introduced in 2007.
Transmission choice is between a seven-speed auto (with manual mode and paddles) or six-speed manual gearbox, as tested here. And this 2018 upgrade brings a high-performance clutch from Japanese specialist Exedy.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via a carbon-fibre composite drive shaft, connecting with a viscous limited slip differential (LSD).
Additional features that won't necessarily be music to purists' ears include 'Active Noise Cancellation', and 'Active Sound Enhancement'.
The former monitors and measures engine sounds, using the audio speakers to produce "acoustically opposing signals to cancel undesirable sounds". So, okay, maybe filtering out the messy noise is a good thing.
But at the same time Active Sound Enhancement employs "digital signal processing to enhance the engine note, using the vehicle's sound system to augment or modify the spectrum of select powertrain sounds in the cabin". Yuck.
I can cop a tube that channels a bit of genuine engine noise into the interior, but in this context, the phrase 'digital signal processing' is a turn-off.
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.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 10.6L/100km, the 370Z emitting 249g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over roughly 250km of city, suburban and freeway running, we averaged 15.6L/100km, at the bowser. Far from miserly.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, although Nissan says "for optimum performance" you should stump up for 98 RON. And just to rub it in, you'll need 72 litres of it to fill the 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 Nissan 370Z is actually the car many want the Toyobaru 86/BRZ to be. I can sense some of you spluttering out a sweary response to that notion. But hear me out.
If you, like many others, think the 86/BRZ would be perfect with an extra 50kW/80Nm, just bolt on a turbo or supercharger, and voila. You'll get that extra grunt, but remember, the 86/BRZ was conceived to be light, tactile, and, not least of all, affordable.
Up the outputs and you light the wick on an engineering arms race that should also lead to bigger brakes, an engine with more exotic pistons and a tougher bottom end, a stronger gearbox and clutch, a beefier diff, sturdier chassis, fatter rims and rubber... the list goes on, and on. Until you end up with something very much like the spec, weight, and price of the 370Z.
That's not to say this car isn't a fun drive. It is. Just don't expect the quick reflexes of an MX-5 or 86/BRZ.
Despite light-weighting tricks like an aluminium bonnet and all-alloy suspension, the 370Z weighs in at a not inconsiderable 1467kg. And although its 3.7-litre V6 develops a solid 245kW/363Nm, first impressions are dominated by its hollow mid-range.
Much as I love the free-revving nature of a naturally aspirated engine, there's no denying a modern turbo typically delivers lots of torque low down, with peak power also available within a useful rev range.
All the action here is at the top end, with maximum torque arriving way up at 5200rpm, and peak power taking over at a nose-bleed 7000rpm (the rev ceiling is 7500rpm). Not exactly an easily accessible sweet spot.
But there's still so much to like about this evergreen Zed. Its classic front engine/rear-drive layout results in a 53/47 front to rear weight distribution and the car feels balanced and beautifully predictable.
Suspension is double wishbone front, multi-link rear, and ride comfort, even over choppy bitumen surfaces is surprisingly good. On the flip-side, rumble coming up from the Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rubber (245/40 f / 275/35 r) is always noticeable, and often intrusive.
The steering is supported by old-school hydraulic power assist and while connection with the front wheels is impressive, overall feel is light. Hello 'Merica.
The gearbox is a sweet reminder of what a pleasure it is swap ratios in a top-notch close-ratio manual, and hats off to Exedy for producing a wonderfully progressive clutch. Personal preference was to turn off the standard 'SynchroRev Match' function, because I like having a go at the ol' heel 'n' toe tap dance myself.
Brakes are ventilated front and rear with almost equal size rotors (355mm f / 350mm r) clamped by four-piston calipers up front and two piston units at the rear. They are reassuringly powerful and consistent.
Age has not wearied the 370Z's ergonomics. Although the lack of a digital speedo and no reach adjustment for the steering column is annoying, the sports seats are snug and comfortable, the moderately chunky wheel feels great, and all the major controls are simple to use. Who needs slick screens and 'piano black' finishes?
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 370Z must feel like a wall flower at the crash-test disco because it currently isn't rated for safety performance by ANCAP, its Euro NCAP affiliate, JNCAP in Japan, or the USA's NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) or IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).
That said, in terms of active safety features you'll find ABS, BA, EBD, traction control, 'Vehicle Dynamic Control' (stability control), and a rear-view camera with 'Predictive Path' guidance lines.
But if you're looking for more current active tech, look elsewhere, because things like AEB, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, active cruise, lane-keep assist, auto high beam or any kind of pedestrian detection are missing-in-action. They're not even available on the options list.
If all else fails and a crash is unavoidable, primary passive safety runs to active head restraints and eight airbags (driver and passenger front and side airbags, plus roof- and door-mounted curtain airbags).
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.
But it does include 24-hour roadside assistance for three years, and Nissan's 'myNissan Service Certainty' capped-price servicing program applies for up to six years/120,000km.
The scheduled maintenance interval is six months/10,000km, with charges ranging from a low of $283, to a high of $831 (100,000km), averaging out to roughly $428 per service.