Peugeot 508 VS Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
- Design oozes style
- High-tech, well equipped
- Refined fun behind the wheel
- Touchscreen air-con controls
- Rear seats clumsy to get into
- Steering wheel can block instruments
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
Peugeot has gone from strength to strength in Europe off the back of a branding and design renaissance.
The brand now fields a competitive range of SUVs as well as a new generation of tech and design-focused cars.
In Australia, you'd be forgiven for not knowing any of this, with French cars still well and truly in the niche basket. And with Aussie consumers increasingly shunning cars like the 508 in favour of SUVs, the liftback and wagon combo has the odds stacked against it.
So, if you're not already a French car die hard (they very much still exist) – should you be stepping out of your comfort zone and into Peugeot's latest and greatest offering? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||1.6L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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|
The 508 draws you in with its stunning design, but under the surface there's a well-equipped and practical car.
While it might not be destined for mass popularity in Australia, it's still a compelling semi-premium option that should have you asking yourself: "Do I really need an SUV?"
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.
Let's lead with this Pug's strongest suit. No matter whether you choose the liftback or the wagon, you're getting a seriously stunning car. There are a lot of elements comprising the front and rear fascias, yet somehow it's not overly busy.
The downward swoop of the bonnet and the angular rear, with a subtle flicked up wing on the liftback, give this car a curvy but muscular aesthetic, and there are more than enough 'wow' items, like the DRLs which streak down from the front light clusters and rear fittings, which reference this car's classy 407 ancestor.
Meanwhile, the more you look at the wagon, particularly from the rear, the more elements begin to stand out. Either car has a sleek silhouette when spotted from the side.
There's no doubt it has a rich visual presence – one which is befitting of Peugeot's new push to be seen as a more premium offering in Australia. It's also easy to draw comparisons to recent design leaders like Volvo's S60 and V60 twins, and Mazda's new 3 and 6.
Inside is just as bold, with Peugeot's iCockpit interior theme providing a fresh take on a tired formula.
The theme consists of a steering wheel that 'floats' low and flat in the dash, with the instrument cluster perched atop. There's also a raised console and super-wide 10-inch touchscreen adorning the centre of an otherwise minimalist looking interior.
Annoyingly, the dual-zone climate control is operated via the touchscreen, which is clumsy and annoying to look at when you should be keeping your eyes on the road. Give us an old-fashioned set of dials next time, it's just so much easier.
The design is comprised of mostly tasteful leather finish, gloss black panelwork and soft-touch plastics. The pictures somehow don't do it justice, although personally I think it could do with a little less chrome.
Maybe we should really be thanking SUVs for a resurgence in great-looking passenger cars for every niche.
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.
No matter which bodystyle you pick, the 508 is a practical unit, although there are a few areas where the design takes priority.
We'll start with the luggage area, where both cars are at their best. The Sportback offers 487-litres of storage, which is up there with the biggest hatchbacks and most mid-size SUVs, whereas the wagon offers almost 50 extra litres (530L), which is more space than most people will realistically need.
Up in the second-row space is decent, with an inch or two of airspace for my knees behind my own (182cm tall) driving position. There's room above my head once I'm seated - despite the slopey roofline - but getting in and out is a scramble, with the C-pillar jutting down where the door joins the body.
You'll fit three adults across, with a bit of a squeeze, and there are ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the outer two seats.
The rear seats also get access to a set of air vents, two USB power outlets and netting on the back of the front seats. There are cupholders in the doors, but they're so tight they'll only really hold an espresso cup.
Up front, the door issue is the same – it won't hold a 500ml bottle due to the complex door cards – but there are two large cupholders in the centre.
Storage for the front occupants is far better than it is in this car's 308 hatch sibling, with the posh raised centre console also offering a long trench for phones and wallets, as well as a deep centre-console box and a storage area underneath, which also hosts the front USB outlets. There's a decently sized glovebox on the passenger side.
Room for front occupants is also good, as the seats are set low in the body, but knee room is limited due to the wide console and overly thick door cards.
The iCockpit design is perfectly suited to someone my size, but if you're particularly short you won't be able to see over the dash elements, and if you're particularly tall it will get uncomfortable quickly, with the wheel blocking elements or simply sitting too low. Seriously, just ask our resident giraffe-person, Richard Berry.
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.
Price and features
An impressive specification is completely standard, including a 10-inch multimedia toucschreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, built-in navigation and DAB+ digital radio, a 12.3-inch digital dash cluster, modestly sized 18-inch alloy wheels, full LED front and rear lighting, adaptive dampers, which respond to the car's five driving modes, and a thorough active-safety suite, which includes adaptive cruise control.
The black fully leather interior trim is included, as well as heated and powered front seats.
The only two items that reside on the options list are a sunroof ($2500) and premium paints (either metallic at $590 or pearlescent at $1050).
While all of those options, including the 508, are not budget buys, Peugeot makes no apologies for the fact that it's not going after the volume end of the market. It hopes the 508 will become the brand's "aspirational flagship."
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.
Engine & trans
Peugeot has made this department easy, too. There's just one drivetrain.
It's a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, which punches above its weight on the power front with 165kW/300Nm. If you think about it, there were many V6 engines that wouldn't have produced that kind of power, even just a few years ago.
The engine drives the front wheels only via an also-new eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission. There's no all-wheel drive and no diesel as part of Peugeot's simplify-and-conquer strategy.
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 508 is rated to consume an impressive-sounding 6.3L/100km on the combined cycle, although in my recent test of the 308 GT hatchback, which shares the same drivetrain, I scored 8.5L/100km.
While our countryside blast at the 508's launch event would be an unfair representation of this car's real-world fuel consumption, I'd be surprised if most people scored below 8.0L/100km, given this car's extra kerb weight over the 308 and the nature of its entertaining drive.
We should stop for a moment and appreciate that this engine is the first one on sale in Australia featuring a petrol particulate filter (PPF).
While other manufacturers (like Land Rover and Volkswagen) have been vocal about the fact that they cannot bring PPFs to Australia due to our lax (high-sulfur) fuel quality, Peugeot's "totally passive" system allows for higher sulfur contents, so 508 owners can rest assured they're driving around with reasonably low CO2 tailpipe emissions of 142g/km.
As a result, however, the 508 requires you to fill its 62-litre tank with a minimum 95RON mid-grade unleaded petrol.
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 508 matches up to its swoopy looks by being a whole lot of fun, but also surprisingly refined behind the wheel.
The 1.6 turbo isn't wildly powerful for something this size, but it's easily grunts enough, with peak torque easily lighting up the front wheels from a standstill. It's quiet, too, and the eight speed is silky-smooth in most driving modes
Speaking of which, special attention should be given to the driving modes. In many cars you'll get a 'sport' button, which, nine times out of 10, is basically useless. But not here in the 508, where each of its five distinct driving modes alters everything from engine response, transmission map and steering weight to the mode of the adaptive dampers.
Comfort is best for plodding around town or in traffic, with a smooth engine and transmission response to inputs and light steering, which makes it a cinch to move around.
The prime B-roads we were on around Canberra's countryside periphery, however, demanded the full-fat sports mode, which makes the steering heavy and instantly responsive and the engine far more aggressive. It will let you ride each gear all the way up to the red line and switching to manual gives impressively snappy responses, via the flappy paddle, wheel-mounted shifters.
I was taken aback to find that no matter which mode I chose, the suspension was excellent. It was softer in comfort but even in sport it wasn't as brutal as the 308 GT hatch, soaking up the larger bumps without shaking up the occupants in the process. This is partially due to the 508's reasonably sized 18-inch alloys.
The wheel itself feels great in your hands, with a small radius and slightly square shape making it easy to wrangle. My main complaint is directed at the the multimedia touchscreen, which is seated so deep in the dash it requires taking your eyes a bit too far off the road to adjust anything – including the climate controls.
With no all-wheel drive and modest power, the 508 is hardly a proper sportscar, but it is still a great balance of refinement and fun where it counts.
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 508 comes loaded as standard with an impressive suite of active safety items including auto emergency braking (AEB – works from 0 – 140km/h), lane-keep assist (LKAS) with lane-departure warning (LDW), blind-spot monitoring (BSM), traffic-sign recognition (TSR), and active cruise control, which also lets you set your exact position within the lane.
Thanks to the 508's AEB also detecting pedestrians and cyclists, it already carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
The expected suite of features include six airbags, three top-tether and two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points as well as electronic stability and brake controls.
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.
Peugeot currently offers a competitive five-year unlimited kilometre warranty promise, which includes five years of roadside assist.
The 508 only has to be serviced once every 12 months or 20,000km, which is nice, but that's where the good news ends. Service pricing is steeper than budget-brand peers, with a fixed-price program costing between $600 and $853 per visit. Over the length of the warranty it will cost you a total of $3507 or an average of $701.40 per year.
It's almost twice the price of some competitors, but Peugeot does promise that the service visits are all inclusive of expendable items like fluids and filters etc.
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.