Audi S3 Saloon vs Mercedes CLA 45 AMG

28 May, 2014 4:30pm

Audi's sizzling S3 saloon takes the fight to Mercedes' CLA 45 AMG in the battle of the fast four-doors

Fast four-door saloons have been a staple of Audi’s model line-up for decades, but this is the first time the A3 has been given the trademark go-faster treatment.

By packaging a muscular 296bhp turbocharged engine and quattro all-wheel-drive system into the handsome A3 Saloon body, Audi has created the S3 Saloon – a car that aims to blend scorching performance and agile handling with sharp-suited style and plenty of premium kerb appeal. And
at around £33,000, it looks like decent value, too.

However, Audi isn’t the only German brand that offers a hot version of its smallest saloon, because Mercedes has treated its sleek CLA to a muscular makeover courtesy of in-house tuning division AMG.

Featuring a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine that boasts a dizzying 355bhp, as well as the company’s grippy 4MATIC all-wheel-drive transmission, the CLA 45 has all the right ingredients to take the fight to its S3 Saloon rival.

Audi S3 Saloon review

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG review

This exotic specification comes at a price, though, because the Mercedes will set you back by almost a hefty £42,000. So which of our heavy-hitting duo will land the knock-out punch in this encounter?

Click the links above to read each review, then read on for our verdict.

Head-to-head

Practicality 

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG rear seats

On paper, there’s little to separate the Audi S3 Saloon and Mercedes CLA 45 AMG for versatility. The Mercedes’ 470-litre luggage space is 80 litres larger than the Audi’s, but the S3 offers more head and legroom for rear passengers. 

The CLA is hampered by its high-backed front seats and narrow side windows, which create a claustrophobic feel for those  in the back. A sloping roofline and narrow door openings also make for tricky access to the rear bench.

Styling

Many buyers will put up with the compromised practicality to get such a bold design. While the subtle Audi looks every inch the traditional three-box saloon, the CLA apes sleek and stylish coupés. The blend of A-Class hatchback nose and rakish rear end is a little awkward, but it catches the eye. 

Verdict

1st place: Audi S3 Saloon

The Audi S3 Saloon is fast, composed and agile, plus it has a classy cabin and decent practicality. Better still, it can switch from sports saloon to cosseting compact exec at the flick of a switch. Factor in the £10,000 saving over the Merc, and the Audi is a worthy winner.

2nd place: Mercedes CLA 45 AMG

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG front three-quarters

When it comes to style and excitement, the rakish and raucous Mercedes CLA has the upper hand over the Audi S3. It’s also blisteringly quick and has incredibly sure-footed handling. Yet it’s not as comfortable as the Audi, while the hefty price tag and running costs are hard to ignore.

Figures

Audi S3 Saloon Mercedes CLA 45 AMG
On the road price/total as tested £33,245/£39,855 £42,270/£54,715
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000) £18,218/54.8% £21,854/51.7%
Depreciation £15,027 £20,416
Annual tax liability std/higher rate £1,651/£3,301 £2,186/£4,377
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles) £2,894/£4,824 £3,058/£5,096
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost 36/£407/G/£180 45/£575/G/£180
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service £17pcm (3yrs) £24pcm/2yrs 24k
Length/wheelbase 4,469/2,631mm 4,691/2,699mm
Height/width 1,392/1,796mm 1,416/1,777mm
Engine 4cyl in-line/1,984cc 4cyl in-line/1,991cc
Peak power/revs 296/5,500 bhp/rpm 355/6,000 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs 380/1,800 Nm/rpm 450/2,250 Nm/rpm
7-spd auto/rwd
Transmission 6-spd man/4WD
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel 55 litres/space saver 56 litres/sealant
Boot capacity (seats up/down) 390/845 litres 470 litres/N/A
Kerbweight/payload 1,430/550kg 1,585/490kg
Turning circle/drag coefficient 11.0 metres 11.0 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery 3yrs (unlimited)/3yrs 3yrs (unlimited)/4yrs
Service intervals/UK dealers Variable/121 Variable/136
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos. 12th/23rd* 9th/12th*
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars 95/87/74/5 91/75/74/5
0-60/30-70mph 5.6/4.8 secs 4.5/3.9 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th/kickdown 2.6/3.6 secs 2.3/3.8 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th/kickdown 4.5/5.8 secs/N/A 4.6/6.9/13.3 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 155mph/2,500rpm 155mph/1,800rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 51.1/36.1/10.4m 41.3/30.8/9.7m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph 26.2/5.8/317 miles 24.8/5.5/305 miles
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range 31.0/48.7/40.4mpg 31.0/47.9/39.8mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 6.8/10.7/8.9mpl 6.8/10.5/8.7mpl
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 249/162g/km/25% 263/165g/km/26%
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket
Airbags/Isofix/cruise control Seven/£345/£275 Seven/yes/£300
Electric/leather/heated seats £1,305/yes/£225 Yes/yes/yes
Met paint/xenons/split/fold rear seats Yes/yes/yes Yes/£1,640^/£300
Park sensors front/rear/climate ctrl £525/yes/£425 £660/yes/no
Sat-nav/DAB radio/Bluetooth £495/yes/yes/yes £495/yes/yes/yes

Disqus - noscript

Dacia is significantly cheaper than Polo. Does that alone make it a better car? I don't think so.
Similarly the CLA45 AMG is a class above from the S3 but there you go!
It's not more than a second faster than the Audi. Fit the Audi with performance brakes and 7-speed auto only then you can appreciate the difference.

Yeah but when the Audi goes toe to toe with the merc and is better built, is a slightly different factor.

How about just the hatchback versions of these. They are a lot better whilst still being stylish.

Rather the Merc. No more Audis please!!!

Merc´s better!

Merc for me, any day of the week. I can barely believe that people actually buy Audis.

Dacia better than Polo? Which Dacia? A Sandero? On balance, yes better than Polo.

Mercedes loses group test after group test against BMW and Audi due to it lacking excitement and even style to its counterparts, albeit more comfortable. Here an AMG, the sportiest of Mercs, goes head on against and S3 and loses because it is less comfortable, even if it is more exciting and more stylish. Go figure...

I thought these cars were mostly about excitement and style!

"Mercedes has also performed better than Audi in our Driver Power manufacturer and dealer charts." The quote is from AE on the CLA45 AMG. It gets a 3,5 star rating for reliability, yet the Audi gets 4,5 stars. Really, it is starting to get a little amusing this.

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