Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Porsche Panamera
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Engineered like a Porsche
- Cool interior design
- Dynamic quality
- Remote steering
- Real-world fuel economy
- Expected safety tech optional
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|
For Porsche purists, the arrival of the Cayenne SUV in the early noughties was a knife to the heart. Jaws dropped and minds blew at the thought of the brand’s famous crest being applied to the nose of a high-riding family truckster.
Although Porsche had previously toyed with the idea of a four-door sports/GT mash-up, this was for real; the idea being to push the brand’s performance reputation into the ‘executive’ space, and trim some Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Merc S-Class grass.
To rub salt into that Porscheophile chest wound, the Panamera has fulfilled its brief, splintering into an ever-increasing range of niche variants, and last year evolving into a sleek, second-generation version.
And just when old-school 911 diehards thought it couldn’t get any weirder, the Panamera E-Hybrid arrived to turn their upside-down worlds inside-out.
In the model we’re looking at here, the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine (in the nose), is supported by an electric motor (just behind it), which, according to Porsche, mimics the hybrid set-up used in its 918 Spyder hypercar.
You can't beat a lofty comparison. But is it a case of legitimate tech sharing for maximum efficiency and performance, or is it, in fact, just too big a stretch for a thumping, 2.2-tonne sports limo? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.9L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
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 Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid offers an interesting alternative to the traditional inhabitants of the upper-luxury sedan market. It’s quick, sleek and beautifully engineered. But it ultimately sits between two worlds rather than embracing both. An ‘individual’ choice that's not quite the fast GT you'd like it to be, nor the full-blown upper-luxury limo.
Is the high-tech Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid your type of luxury GT? 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 first-generation Panamera’s famously awkward profile reflected then Porsche CEO, Wendelin Wiedeking’s demand that its rear seat should be able to accommodate his lanky frame.
Since then, saner (and presumably lower) heads have prevailed, with the sleeker, sportier second-gen version fitting more easily into the sleek and slick Porsche-design mould.
Hints of the iconic 911 abound, from the turret’s smooth curve towards the rear, to the distinctive tail-lights, recognisable headlights and familiar nose treatment.
Screaming green brake calipers reinforce the eco-friendly message, as does a green halo around the ‘Panamera 4’ badge on the tail, and ‘e-hybrid’ labels on the front doors.
Optional 21-inch ‘Panamera SportDesign’ wheels, finished in high-gloss black, ($9380) replace the standard 19-inch rims to give our test car a more menacing and purposeful look.
The interior-design theme is shaped by a similar set of traditional elements. including the iconic five-dial main instrument cluster (with tacho in the centre), chunky sports steering wheel, and chrono clock on the dashtop. The leather-trimmed sports seats (front and rear) feature a high, one-piece backrest, echoing those of Porsches past and present.
Not so familiar is the flight-deck-style dash, including a 12.3-inch high-res touchscreen media display, and maxi-size centre console housing touch-sensitive switchgear in place of Porsche’s usual array of knobs and buttons.
Rear-seat passengers are presented with an ultra-slick touchscreen display, integrated into the extended centre console, to manage their climate control, nav and media settings.
The optional ambient-lighting package ($990) fitted to our test car added a subtle green keyline glow to the door speaker surrounds front and rear.
Overall, the design manages to successfully combine slick luxury and comfort with clear sporting intent.
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.
At just over 5m long, close to 2m wide, and a touch over 1.4m high, the Panamera is surprisingly close to the key dimensions of its traditionally supersized German competition - the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
That said, its 2950mm wheelbase gives away a modest 42mm to the A8, a more substantial 85mm to the S-Class, and a lengthy 120mm to the 7 Series (all standard wheelbase versions). And this Porsche is strictly a four-seater, with elaborately sculpted and bolstered chairs for each occupant.
As you might expect, there’s plenty of room up front and generous storage space including a decent glove box, a lidded compartment between the seats, large door bins with space for bottles, and two cupholders (one jumbo, one regular) in the centre console.
In terms of power and ports there’s a 12-volt socket, USB plug (Apple CarPlay is standard), and an aux-in outlet.
The rear feels great, with ample head and legroom (for this 183cm tester), although getting in and out through a door aperture that tapers sharply towards the bottom is awkward. Not great for a car with limo aspirations.
A pair of longitudinally opening door lids in the centre console reveal a single cupholder and dual high-output USB power outlets. Our car also featured the ‘USB interface in rear’ option, at a measly $790!
A fold-down centre armrest opens to reveal a lined storage box, there are map pockets on the front seatbacks, and you’ll find bins (with bottle capacity) in the doors.
The back-seat section of the four-zone climate control system is run via the central touchscreen, with flashy knurled rollers to adjust temperature, and vents above the screen and in the back of the B-pillars to direct flow.
For an extra touch of luxury our test car featured an electric roller sunblind for the rear, and rear side windows ($2940).
The cargo compartment features four flip-up hooks to secure loads with a net or straps, a netted pocket on the passenger side, a 12-volt outlet and usefully bright lighting.
Boot space is 405 litres, enough to swallow our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres) or the CarsGuide pram with room for soft bags to spare. The rear seat split-folds 60/40 to open up a whopping 1215 litres, and auto tailgate open/close is standard.
With no spare tyre; a repair kit is the only puncture option.
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.
When you’re asking a whisker less than a quarter of a million dollars for a luxury performance car, it’s fair to expect a a healthy standard equipment list, and the Panamera 4 E-Hybrid satisfies that requirement.
Included in the $242,600 recommended retail price (before on-road costs) is four-zone climate control, 14-way electrically adjustable and heated front seats (with memory), a two-piece panoramic sunroof, multi-function sports steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, sat nav, adaptive air suspension, auto rear hatch, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, daytime running lights, tail-lights and indicators, auto headlights, keyless entry and start, leather trim, leather steering wheel, park assist and parking distance control (front and rear), rear privacy glass, rain-sensing wipers, and sat-nav.
As well as the nav, ventilation, phone and vehicle set-up, the 12.3-inch touchscreen multimedia interface controls the standard Bose 710-watt, 14-speaker audio (which adapts audio settings to ambient noise levels) with digital radio and Apple CarPlay.
Our test car was also loaded up with around 20 grand worth of options; specifically the 21-inch ‘Panamera SportDesign’ alloy wheels in high-gloss black ($9380), electric roller sunblind for rear compartment and rear side windows ($2940), ‘LED-Matrix’ headlights including ‘Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus’ ($2690), front-seat ventilation ($2190), ‘Lane Change Assist’ ($1890), ambient lighting ($990), rear USB interface ($790), and ‘Power Steering Plus’ ($650), for a before on-roads total of $264,120.
The tester’s ‘Carrara White Metallic’ finish is one of only two no-cost paint options.
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 Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is powered by a 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6 petrol engine producing 243kW from 5250-6500rpm and 450 Nm from 1750-5000rpm, working in parallel with a ‘permanently excited’ synchronous electric motor delivering 100kW at 2800rpm and 400Nm from 100-2300rpm. And no, that 100rpm minimum figure for the motor’s maximum torque is not a typo.
They combine for a total output of 340kW at 6000rpm and 700Nm from just 1100-4500rpm, driving all four wheels, firstly, through an eight-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, and then Porsche’s active all-wheel drive system (with electronically variable, multi-plate clutch for torque distribution between front and rear axles).
Porsche claims 0-100km/h in 4.6sec in full parallel mode, and 0-60km/h (a useful urban performance measure) in 5.7sec, when running in pure EV mode.
The petrol V6 boasts the latest version of Porsche’s ‘VarioCam Plus’ variable cam timing, with the twin turbos located in the engine’s hot vee to minimise lag by creating the shortest possible path for exiting gases from exhaust, to turbo, to inlet.
Dubbed ‘PDK’ (Porsche DoppelKupplung), the Panamera’s eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is overdriven in its top three ratios, and wheel-mounted paddles spice up manual shifts.
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 a miserly 2.5L/100km, emitting 56g/km of CO2 in the process. The electric motor consumes 15.9kWh/100km.
In the real world we averaged more than three times that at 8.3L/100km (at the bowser) over around 300km of mainly urban commuting, with some freeway running thrown in. And yes, we did indulge in some ‘Sport+’ enthusiasm to balance ‘E-Power’ austerity.
Recommended fuel is 98 RON premium, and you’ll need 80 litres of it to fill the tank.
Claimed pure electric range is roughly 50km (which we can verify), with a maximum velocity of 140km/h (which we can’t). Even with delicate use of the accelerator pedal my 48km (round trip) suburban commute was just too long for the Panamera’s pure electric range.
Luck out on a traffic-light-free route, or drop that urban crawl distance to 40km, and I reckon you’d be ‘there and back’ on a single overnight charge. The liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack takes 5.8 hours to charge via a conventional 240-volt/10amp outlet.
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 first impression behind the Panamera’s wheel is mild claustrophobia, thanks to a high window line combined with our test car’s predominantly black interior. And if you’re a head-check lane changer you’ll find over-shoulder vision relatively tight and crowded.
Then there are the front seats - a graceful design with heaps of lateral support, but firm in the finest German tradition. Not quite as firm as the armrest though, which is so unforgiving I found it uncomfortable to use.
The E-Hybrid system operates in one of six modes, with the purely electric ‘E-Power’ set as the default from start-up. Not surprisingly, the 2170kg Panamera is quiet and relatively meek in this setting, while still offering enough performance for easy lane changes and reasonably swift overtakes.
‘Hybrid Auto’ switches between engine and motor with the aim of balancing power and efficiency, while ‘E-Hold’ conserves the current state of charge, allowing a switch to electric-only zero-emissions when desired (or possibly in future, when legally required).
In ‘E-Charge’ the V6 produces more power than it needs for driving to charge the battery as a side project, ‘Sport’ ensures battery charge is maintained at a minimum level so there’s sufficient reserve for an electric boost when needed. And as the name implies ‘Sport Plus’ delivers maximum (combined) performance, the engine recharging the battery as quickly as possible at the same time.
That final setting is where this Panamera starts to feel like a proper Porsche. The 2.9-litre V6 sounds gruff and builds to a satisfying bellow as revs rise, and if you get the bit between your teeth and pin the throttle, every one of those 700Nm make their presence felt.
Manual changes from the dual-clutch transmission are quick and positive, although we did experience a moment of alarming slow-speed paralysis where the PDK took its sweet time to cooperate and agree to move the car forward.
The alloy-rich suspension is a double-wishbone front, multi-link rear set-up, with the ‘Adaptive Chassis Control’ combining switchable, three-chamber air springs with adjustable dampers.
Ride comfort (even on the test car’s optional 21s shod with hi-po Pirelli P Zero rubber) is excellent, and the big Panamera remains balanced and buttoned down in quick cornering.
Brakes are substantial with six-piston calipers on 390mm (cast iron) ventilated rotors at the front, and four-piston units on 365mm vented rotors at the rear. Pedal feel is progressive and stopping power always professional grade.
But no matter which drive mode you’re in the ‘Power Steering Plus’ speed-sensitive, electrically assisted steering feels mediocre - overly light, with surprisingly modest feedback from the front wheels. And despite the car’s performance potential this limitation alone makes it hard to bond with the Panamera E-Hybrid as a performance partner.
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.
A fast four-seater needs top-shelf active safety, and the Panamera E-Hybrid boasts front and rear park assist, and ‘Surround View’, as well as AEB (Auto Emergency Braking), ABS, BA (Brake Assist), ESC (Electronic Stability Control), traction control, a tyre-pressure-monitoring system, auto-levelling headlights and LED daytime running lights.
But things that should be standard in a $250k sports luxury limo are optional. For example, lane-keeping assist, lane-change assist, and Porsche’s ‘Night View Assist’ technology.
If a crash is unavoidable there are no less than 10 airbags located around the interior (dual front, driver and front passenger knee, front side, front thorax, and full-length curtain). There’s also an active bonnet to minimise pedestrian injury, as well as top tethers and ISOFIX anchors for child restraints in both rear-seat positions.
The Panamera hasn’t been assessed by ANCAP (or EuroNCAP).
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.
Porsche offers a three year/unlimited km warranty, with three-year paint, and 12-year anti-corrosion cover. Twenty-four-hour roadside assist is included in the warranty, renewed every time you service the car at an authorised dealer.
The recommended service interval for the Panamera E-Hybrid is 12 months/15,000km, and Porsche doesn’t offer a capped-price-servicing program.