2015 Audi A3: Still Better Than the Benz
by Carlos Lago, Road Test Editor on October 12, 2015
I came back from the weekend rather impressed with our 2015 Audi A3. It takes the stuff Audi does best — interior design, especially — and puts it in a smaller package with few downsides. In fact, the A3's smaller proportions make it easier to park and maneuver.
As luck would have it, an all-wheel drive Mercedes-Benz CLA250 4Matic showed up for testing right after I turned in the Audi's keys. In being able to drive the two back-to-back, I was able to revisit the comparison James Riswick wrote in early 2014.
The short version? The comparison is still right, almost two years later.
To my eye, Audi is more successful at downsizing its design language to the A3 than Mercedes is with the CLA. The A3 hides its smaller dimensions well, still giving off a whiff of luxury and maintaining the clean aesthetic that we've come to expect. The CLA250 looks good from some angles, but in others it looks like it's sat in the sun too long. The "coupe"-like sloping roofline does little favor to the profile, three-quarter angle, or rear interior space.
As far as driving goes, the A3's drivetrain outmatches the CLA's. Regardless of what the test numbers say, Audi's 2.0-liter turbo feels more powerful, offering its output eagerly and quietly. Its dual-clutch transmission shifts feel quicker and smoother, too.
The CLA's dual-clutch exhibits clunks and delays; it's constantly a few beats behind your tempo. Gear engagement is slow, much like the computer-controlled clutches in the sequential manual gearboxes that few other automakers abandoned in the late 90s.
The CLA's 2.0-liter engine also sounds grainy and thrashy. Those who've driven Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions will recognize the noise, but will miss the horsepower and fun that accompanied it.
Both cars handle well, but ride quality again goes to the A3. The CLA is comfortable, but doesn't control strong impact as well as the Audi, and it imparts more movement and flex into the cabin on normal street surfaces.
Riswick's conclusion summed it up right two years ago: Versus the CLA250, the A3 is a true luxury sedan in a small package.
Carlos Lago, Road Test Editor