Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Skoda Superb
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Subtle good looks
- Stands apart from the rabble
- Performance and handling to match
- Badge can work against it
- Thirstier than its claimed fuel economy
- Misses out on full engine tune
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|
Tim Robson road tests and reviews the new Skoda Superb SportLine wagon with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Sydney.
Explore the 2016-2017 Skoda Superb Range
2016 Skoda Superb review | first Australian drive video
2016 Skoda Superb review | first drive
2016 Skoda Superb review
2016 Skoda Superb 206TSI 4x4 wagon review | quick test
Skoda Superb 162TSI sedan 2016 review | road test
Skoda Superb 140TDI 2016 review | road test
Skoda Superb 140TDI wagon 2016 review | Torquing Heads video
Anything with large wheels and a taller stature is simply muscling other, equally capable cars out of way on the showroom floor, and there seems to be no end in sight.
It's a bit heartbreaking, then, that cars as capable – and as relatively affordable, spec wise – as the Skoda Superb SportLine are in danger of being overlooked because it's not an SUV.
|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.
It's genuinely difficult to fault the Superb in this spec, although the front-wheel drive 162TSI version is on par in practical terms and can be had for almost $12,000 less, albeit with fewer toys.
However, the Superb SportLine wants for almost nothing in terms of specs and appointments, and it differs from the regular 206TSI thanks to its subtle, sporting demeanor.
It's flexible, strong and elegant, and it's as practical as any sports utility vehicle on sale today.
Skoda does well with the Superb in relation to the rest of its line up, but even within its own ranks, a coming challenger in the form of the Kodiaq SUV will make life unnecessarily difficult for this well-priced, well-specced wagon.
If you don't need a high-riding 4x4-esque SUV, and you're not concerned about the badge your car wears – or even if you are – you really need to short-list the Superb for a test drive.
Can you walk past an SUV for a great wagon? 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.
There's a feeling that the Skoda brand has supplemented the now defunct Saab as the thinking driver's car of choice. In fact, Skoda defies its origins as a discount sub-brand of Volkswagen, with almost every vehicle sold locally optioned up like, as Skoda's product manager Kieran Merrigan told us, "a Christmas tree."
The Superb has a bold, masculine, yet friendly shape that manages to avoid being slab-sided and dull. The blacked out presentation of the SportLine variant is nicely underplayed, while the distinctive alloys give the Superb a real presence.
Its front end is not a million miles away from the one that adorns its smaller Octavia sibling, but in its wagon guise, the Superb SportLine is a genuine head-turner.
Inside, the Superb is clearly a high-end VW Group car, but the unique seats and sports trim and interesting Skoda touches - door bins, for example - set it apart.
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.
The Superb wagon is an amazingly versatile car that's easy to live with. Its electric tailgate opens to reveal a cavernous luggage space; there is 660 litres behind the seats, which expands to 1960 litres when the seats are flipped down.
We love the handy seat releases near the rear door, along with shopping bag hooks, cargo cover, load restraint points, nets and a 12-volt socket. The load cover can interfere when larger bags or boxes are stowed, though, and the Skoda also sports an odd pseudo storage hammock that could easily be deleted.
Storage is plentiful, and there are two cupholders up front and another pair in the flip-down rear centre armrest – though the cupholders are frustratingly tiny in their diameter, defying even a regular can of drink.
Another four bottles can be stashed in the front and rear door pockets.
Rear seaters can also control the climate via temperature adjusters if they so desire. The SportLine even has heated rear outside seats, which also have ISOFIX child seat mounts added to them.
Up front is an inductive phone charging slot; simply place a suitable phone flat on the pad, and the car will charge the phone without a cable. Not only that, but the pad can enhance the signal of the phone. It didn't work with every phone we tried, though, and the slot is too small for huge devices like Apple's iPhone 6S.
Seating is generous and supportive in all positions, with loads of room throughout the car for five people. Rear legroom is a particular standout, with our lanky teen enjoying limo-like space in the back seat.
The Alcantara fabric isn't perhaps as soft and as luxurious as the leather you'd find in the 206TSI 4x4, but it's grippy and comfortable, and cleans up just as easily as the leather, despite having perforations. Don't ask how we tested that...
And as usual, Skoda adds its cool little touches, with small umbrella ports in both front doors and garbage bins in the door pockets, as well as sun shades on the rear side windows.
Oh, and if you're worried about ride height, don't be; the Superb cleared our steep drive test front and rear with ease.
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 Superb is based on the same Volkswagen Group MQB platform that underpins the Volkswagen Passat. This particular model is known as the SportLine, and supplements the previous range-topper, the 206TSI 4x4, by dint of a handful of extra bits and pieces and an extra thousand dollars on its price ticket.
The sedan costs $51,990, while it's $53,690 for the wagon tested here (plus on-road costs).
On top of the already well specced 206TSI the SportLine picks up a black finish on the mirror caps, rear diffuser, roof rails and front grille, as well as black door trim pieces, unique 19-inch alloys and SportLine badging on the front guards.
A new dashboard instrument cluster is finished in white trim, there are Alcantara-trimmed front and rear seats and door card inserts, a flat-bottomed sports wheel, alloy pedals, black roof lining and a sports monitor that adds boost, power, and engine oil temperature gauges as well as a lap timer.
The SportLine also gains all the standard inclusions of the 206TSI, including auto lights and wipers, LED headlights and tail-lights, heated front and rear seats and an inductive phone charging bay.
The only options on the SportLine are metallic/pearlescent paint ($700) and a sunroof ($1900).
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.
Torque is rated at a hefty 350Nm from a low of 1700rpm, and it hurls the SportLine wagon to 100km/h from rest in a claimed 5.8sec.
It's backed by a six-speed dual clutch transmission and runs a Haldex all-wheel drive (AWD) layout that biases traction to the front wheels. The Superb also has a drive mode select switch that modifies the behaviour of the throttle, gearbox and steering. It also runs adaptive dampers.
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.
Skoda rates the Superb SportLine at 7.3L/100km on the combined fuel economy cycle, and it needs 95RON fuel as a minimum. Its 70-litre tank should yield 958km of range.
Over 380km of testing, the Superb returned 12.2L/100km according to the dash, which is a surprisingly high figure when compared to the claimed average. The majority of the test was conducted with the car in Sport mode, but this has only a marginal effect on consumption.
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 Golf-R engined Superb belies its size with mid-range urge that would shame a lot of larger capacity engines. It's not as vocal – it's not an RS model, after all – and it's missing a bit of the oomph that Skoda Australia's hot weather tuning takes out of the European spec engine (about 16kW and 30Nm), but it's still a marvel to think this big car has such a relatively small engine under the bonnet.
Its chassis balance is spot on, too, with the 19-inch wheels and 235/40 R19 tyres still offering a decent ride compliance, as well as sharper handling when the dampers are turned up to Sport.
The AWD system, too, is a great addition, providing a more stable, connected feel that ties both ends of the car better than the FWD-only versions. Be warned, though – AWD cars need to have all four tyres replaced at the same time, even if you've only worn the fronts or damaged a single tyre.
Steering feel is good, if a little isolated, but overall, the Superb shrinks around the driver, behaving for the most part like a smaller, more agile car.
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 five-star ANCAP Superb is well equipped with safety kit, including nine airbags (front driver and passenger, driver's knee airbag, front and rear side airbags and front and rear curtain airbags), AEB (auto emergency braking) which operates at speeds of up to 65km/h, lane departure assistance, adaptive cruise control, side assist and rear traffic alert.
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.
Skoda offers a pre-paid 'Service Pack' for the Superb , with a three-year/45,000km plan costing $1299 and a five-year/75,000 plan coming in at $2650.
Service intervals of 15,000km or 12 months are suggested.
The car is covered by a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.