Audi A3 vs. Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

By

Automotive Editor

Willis is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. Born and raised in Colorado, he graduated from Williams College. When he's not writing about cars or the outdoors, he spends his time rock climbing or reading with his two cats.


, Automotive Editor - February 19, 2020

As luxury sedans grow larger, compact cars fill in the gaps underneath. Sport sedans remain a popular choice, and the luxury establishment wants to tempt younger buyers.

Mercedes-Benz has an answer in the CLA-Class, which brings a coupe profile to a four-door body. Rising to the challenge is the Audi A3, baby brother to the venerable A4. We put the two German compacts head to head to see which is worth the price of entry.

See a side-by-side comparison of the A3 & CLA-Class »

What the A3 Gets Right

Speaking of price, the A3 is an easier way into a luxury badge. In base form, the A3 is nearly $2,500 less than the cheapest CLA-Class. At the price, it offers some features that even Mercedes can’t match. A power moonroof is one, and real leather makes the CLA’s synthetic upholstery look like a corner cut.

The A3 has a more typical sedan profile, and it backs it up with more interior space. The A3’s second row has a full 8 inches more legroom than the CLA-Class, and an extra half-inch of headroom to boot.

Both sedans start with front-wheel drive. In that guise, the A3 is a more efficient vehicle. The EPA estimates that the A3 will do up to 30 miles per gallon combined, while the CLA’s best effort is 28 mpg combined.

What the CLA-Class Gets Right

The Mercedes CLA-Class isn’t as efficient as the A3 to start, but it comes with more power. The base A3 makes only 186 horsepower, while the CLA 250 starts with 221 hp. Both cars make good use of their power, but the responsive suspension in the CLA is more fun in the curves.

The engine is impressive, but the hoods that hides it is equally attractive. The A3 is a handsome sedan, but the CLA’s swoopy profile brings a sense of drama and style that the Audi lacks.

Although the roofline means that the CLA-Class compromises on the rear-seat room, it wins out on cargo space. Neither of these cars is meant for hauling gear, but the CLA’s 11.6 cubic feet of trunk space overshadows the Audi’s 10.

Finally, the CLA comes with a host of new modern technology. That starts with the brand’s latest MBUX infotainment system running through dual screens, but it includes advanced safety tech like advanced adaptive cruise control and a surround-view camera.

Practicality and Poise

These two sedans could trade blows all day over features, power, and efficiency, but the fundamental difference is priorities. The A3 is a more conventional sedan, and if you’re carrying more than one passenger, it’s the more comfortable car.

The CLA-Class brings its tuxedo, with some extra power to match. It’s a small sedan that wants to be noticed, and although it demands a premium, it follows through with a flashy personality.

Our Verdict: Mercedes CLA-Class

This duel is a close one. Buyers looking for practicality and value (trunk space aside) would be justified in choosing the Audi A3, which brings great features in a typically polished package. But we prefer our sport sedans to feel special, and the Mercedes CLA does that better.

The handling is balanced, the engine well-matched, and the looks alluring. If you’re willing to sacrifice rear-seat space (and some extra cash), the Mercedes is a worthwhile experience.

Take a closer look at the Audi A3 »

Take a closer look at the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class »

Side-by-side comparison of features, pricing, photos and more!

, Automotive Editor

Willis is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. Born and raised in Colorado, he graduated from Williams College. When he's not writing about cars or the outdoors, he spends his time rock climbing or reading with his two cats.


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