Twin test: Audi A3 2.0 TDI Sport saloon vs Mercedes-Benz CLA 220 CDI Sport

  • Stylish A3 saloon and CLA offer plenty of feel-good factor
  • Diesel engines mean running costs are low
  • Easily specified up to £35,000 new, now available used from £10,000

Think premium and you tend to think large saloon. With the arrival of Audi’s booted A3 vying for attention against Mercedes-Benz’s glamorous CLA, the choice is altogether more compact.

This stylish saloons have battled for new buyers since 2013; they both represent excellent used value with modern looks, efficient powertrains and suprisingly modern equipment.

Find a used Mercedes-Benz CLA for sale on Parkers

Find a used Audi A3 Saloon for sale with Parkers

Read on to see how they compared as new cars - and which makes the better used buy as a result.

Which is better inside – Audi A3 vs, Mercedes-Benz CLA

Mercedes CLA interior

There’s little doubt that the coupé-styled Mercedes is more visually interesting than the boxier Audi, which although well resolved and attractively proportioned in isolation loses out to the CLA for impact.

Our A3 stood out more thanks to its optional LED headlights and 19-inch alloy wheels, though they actually looked a little large for the arches, even with the 15mm lower ride height. 

Inside, the A3 saloon has the same elegant and minimalist interior as the hatchback which is streets ahead of the Mercedes in terms of finish and tactility. That’s not to say the CLA’s cockpit is unpleasant, but it’s not as neat as the glamorous exterior.

Both cars have a tablet-style screen for the multimedia system that’s operated via a rotary controller near the gear lever. The Audi’s slimline screen is far neater, gliding out of the dash when the engine is started whilst the permanently fixed Mercedes’ screen looks more of an afterthought.

Audi A3 saloon interior

How does the Audi A3 Saloon drive compared to the Mercedes CLA-Class?

They are both powered by diesel engines, the Audi using a 148bhp 2.0-litre and the Mercedes a 2.1-litre with 168bhp.

Despite the CLA’s power advantage both feel similar in performance, though the Mercedes is noisier than the A3, both at idle and under acceleration. The result is the quieter Audi feels more refined.

All A3 Saloons in Sport trim come with Sports suspension as standard, while the Mercedes comes with Comfort suspension in Sport trim. Even the Comfort setup is fairly firm but we’d opt for that rather than the harsh Sport setup for UK roads.

Both are good to drive and handle well though the firm ride on the Mercedes makes it uncomfortable on bumpy roads; in comparison the Audi is limousine-like despite the enormous wheels.

That’s even without any adaptive damping, as the car’s ‘Drive Select’ only allows the driver to change the steering weight or throttle response – and if truth be told there’s not a dramatic difference anyway. The Mercedes does without such trickery, though the steering is more communicative than the Audi’s heavy helm.

Our model also came with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, which was smooth shifting, even if it wasn’t the quickest to kick down when pressing on. Drivers looking for an automatic ’box in the A3 diesel saloon will need to look for later examples, but the six-speed manual is smooth and user friendly, and in fact it adds to the driving experience of the Audi.

Mercedes CLA Audi A3 saloon

How practical are the Audi A3 Saloon and Mercedes-Benz CLA?

Neither of these sporty four-doors are going to be bought with outright practicality in mind but the Audi’s higher roof and boot-line enables the A3 to make a better fist of it. Certainly the sloping roofline of the CLA eats into the headroom available, even if they’re evenly matched for legroom.

Split-folding rear seats ensure there’s a nod to cargo flexibility in both but the Audi’s wider boot opening with a lower lip make it easier to use, and once you’ve started to load it, you’ll discover the CLA’s 470-litre boot is 45 litres more generous than the A3’s.

Mercedes CLA seats

Value

Unsurprisingly, neither of these premium-badged small saloons are cheap to buy. While the Audi weighs in at £23,630, the Mercedes tips the scales at a heftier £29,355, which doesn’t even include genuine leather.

Our test cars featured numerous expensive options that raised their prices to just shy of £36,000 though; the Audi’s LED light package costs a further £2,000 but includes adaptive Xenon headlights as well as LED lamps in the rear. The £750 stereo upgrade puts the CLA’s system to shame, especially as the Mercedes’ DAB radio (£420 more) repeatedly lost signal.

Both make bold fuel efficiency claims, Audi quoting 68.9mpg and Mercedes 62.8mpg, but during our test they managed 44.2mpg and 46.3mpg respectively each yielding around 500 miles from a full tank in each. Thanks to its 107g/km CO2 figure the Audi sits in one tax band lower (band B) than the Mercedes though.

Which should you choose?

Choose either the Audi A3 saloon or Mercedes-Benz CLA and you’ll be driving a stylish, premium four-door with reasonably low running costs.

Nobody would criticise you for being captivated by the CLA’s voluptuous metalwork and sportier driving experience, but the A3’s appeal is more than skin deep. With its superior ride quality, more commodious interior and a cabin that feels more special, the Audi is the most satisfying overall.

Used prices for the Audi A3 saloon start at £10,000, and the Mercedes-Benz CLA is a little more expensive at £14,000; a like-for-like comparison between the models reveals a smaller gap for similar specification.

You can find out more about both cars in their respective Parkers full reviews:

Audi A3 saloon full review

Mercedes-Benz CLA full review