Pre­pare for take-off

Benz and BMW coupes com­pared — en­try level and high end

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

THERE’S not a lot you can’t buy for $50,000. You can have lav­ishly equipped fam­ily car or SUV from Korea or Ja­pan. Or you might opt for a big Aus­tralian mus­cle car with more grunt than you could ever legally need. The choice is nowhere wider than in this coun­try.

One of the few things to which you couldn’t as­pire at this sum, how­ever, was a Ger­man coupe, at least not a new one or one that went any faster than a de­ter­minedly driven Corolla.

Not un­til now, that is. Now there are two, both po­ten­tial clas­sics, BMW’s 2 Se­ries and the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class.

For the up­wardly mo­bile or young fam­i­lies as­pir­ing to join the pres­tige mo­tor­ing club the coupe-styled sedans start at just $50K.

The lat­est styling from their re­spec­tive brands means this duo also dresses to im­press with looks to jus­tify head­ing for the re­served park­ing sec­tion. Apart from the CLA’s four doors be­ing more prac­ti­cal than the two doors on the 2 Se­ries, there is very lit­tle to sep­a­rate them in terms of space or so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

Cars­guide took the en­try level and top-tier mod­els for a drive to help sort out the de­bate.

EN­TER HERE

So you’ve made it to the ranks of “proper” pres­tige cars — those with a boot. Now the choice comes down to which car has the su­pe­rior looks and value and drives bet­ter.

In this con­test the base BMW 220i is dearer than the com­pa­ra­ble Benz CLA 200. For $50,500 there’s a sweet 2.0-litre turbo four-cylin­der en­gine and eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, plus sat­nav, Blue­tooth, auto lights and wipers, adap­tive cruise con­trol and dual-zone air­con. In cus­tom­ary BMW fash­ion, the driv­ing is done by the rear wheels.

The CLA 200 is $49,900. It adds a re­vers­ing cam­era, bi‒xenon head­lamps, par­al­lel park­ing as­sist, blind-spot warn­ing and col­li­sion preven­tion mit­i­ga­tion. Yeah, the Benz is fes­tooned with more fruit to tempt po­ten­tial cus­tomers. But it also brings a smaller 1.6-litre turbo and front-wheel drive dy­nam­ics into the mix.

It is here that the two ap­proaches di­vide.

The Benz isn’t as will­ing an ac­com­plice to off-the-line charges as the Beemer, a fact re­flected in their re­spec­tive 9.4 sec­ond and 7.0 sec­ond sprints to 100km/h. These times also tell the story of their re­spec­tive trans­mis­sions — the seven-speed dual-clutch auto of the Merc still has the tell­tale lag from start, un­like the eight‒speed torque con­verter auto in the BMW, which is one of the slick­est around.

There’s not much be­tween them once un­der way and roll‒on ac­cel­er­a­tion im­proves in the Merc — it isn’t found want­ing for go in sport mode — but in point-and-squirt per­for­mance terms it can’t keep up with the 220i.

For those who want bang to go with the pres­tige badge, buy the BMW. Those with a more holis­tic ap­proach will favour the Mercedes. It looks a more up­mar­ket car (if you ig­nore the ba­sic plas­tics that blight the lower half of both dash­boards) and the CLA’s ex­tra driver aids are gen­uinely use­ful, like­wise the ex­tra 60L of boot space.

But it must be said that those rear doors give ac­cess to seats that are use­less for any­one more than 170cm in height.

The CLA’s ride is firm but well man­aged — there’s an im­pres­sion of the sus­pen­sion work­ing and a ris­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the fact it is harder than many cars.

The BMW has bet­ter com­po­sure over the small stuff but has a ten­dency to

bob­ble over cor­ru­ga­tions as the shocks strug­gle with re­peated os­cil­la­tions.

HARD BAR­GAINS

There’s good news for buy­ers at the top end of the range — you can’t lose.

The BMW M235i and Benz CLA 45 AMG are hard to ar­gue with. Both are fo­cused pres­tige ve­hi­cles en­dowed with per­for­mance to shame out­right sports cars.

Again, they go about their busi­ness dif­fer­ently — BMW sticks with rear-drive ar­chi­tec­ture against race-tuned part-time AWD in the Benz.

The M235i shows that BMW can still build a driver’s car with all the flair and fe­roc­ity that made the brand fa­mous.

This has the best bits of the M3 dis­tilled into a hugely en­joy­able smaller car.

It’s not a gen­uine Mma­chine so it suf­fers in di­rect com­par­i­son with the AMG, though the pric­ing is close enough to make it a valid test.

Our test ex­am­ple’s $79,900 sticker bal­looned with a $1300 ad­vanced park­ing pack­age (adding park as­sist and re­vers­ing cam­era), $2600 for the sun­roof (which any tall driver will es­chew), $1350 for Har­man Kar­don au­dio with dig­i­tal ra­dio, $1560 for vis­i­bil­ity pack with adap­tive head­lights and elec­trochro­matic ex­te­rior mir­rors, $3120 for com­fort ac­cess with key­less en­try, elec­tric front seats with heaters and $1485 for metal­lic paint.

That adds $11,415 for op­tions that are all stan­dard on the CLA 45. And still the Beemer doesn’t have a limited-slip dif­fer­en­tial as in a full-on M car, al­though it’s kit­ted out with adap­tive M sus­pen­sion, up­graded M Sport brakes and 8.8-inch dis­play screen.

The mer­cury-smooth 3.0‒litre six-cylin­der turbo has been tweaked for 240kW/450Nm. It pro­pels the M235i to 100km/h just 4.8 sec­onds af­ter take­off.

The Benz’s more pow­er­ful four clocks 4.6 sec­onds.

Where the Merc stands out is in mid-cor­ner grip and sus­pen­sion. It has to be driven harder than the BMW to bring out the best in the en­gine and chas­sis but when you do the pre­vi­ously un­com­pro­mis­ing sus­pen­sion starts to flex and make sense while the weighted steer­ing wheel gives neu­ral‒quick re­sponse to in­puts.

The 2.0-litre turbo is an oc­tane junkie, the world’s most pow­er­ful pro­duc­tion four­cylin­der, snarling and slavering for the full juice from the in­stant it barks into life. In­dulge it and you’re pro­pelled by an ad­dic­tive 265kW/450Nm, yet claimed fuel use is 7.0L/100km.

As road con­di­tions de­grade, con­fi­dence in the CLA rises.

The AWD deals with mud, wet bark and rain-slicked sur­faces with to­tal dis­re­gard and only oc­ca­sion­ally does the trac­tion warn­ing light flicker on in the dash­board.

For mine, the Merc wins out. It isn’t the purists’ de­light of the BMW but it is no less en­gag­ing to drive near its lim­its. And ul­ti­mately, those lim­its are just a frac­tion fur­ther around the curve.

VER­DICT

The per­for­mance man­tle is clear-cut — it’s claimed by the CLA 45 — but that for the en­try mod­els is less so. The heart says BMW 220i — it is a bet­ter driv­ing car than the CLA 200 — but the head high­lights the fu­tur­is­tic look of the CLA and its stan­dard equip­ment edge. And it’s hard to ar­gue with.

MERCEDES-BENZ CLA 45 AMG PRICE $86,900 EN­GINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 265kW/450Nm

TRANS­MIS­SION 7-speed twin-clutch auto; AWD THIRST 7.0L/100km

BMW M235i

Pic­ture: Jack At­ley PRICE $79,900 EN­GINE 3.0-litre 6-cyl turbo, 240kW/450Nm

TRANS­MIS­SION 8-speed auto; RWD THIRST 8.1L/100km

BMW 220i PRICE $50,500 EN­GINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 135kW/270Nm

TRANS­MIS­SION 8-speed auto; RWD THIRST 6.0L/100km

MERCEDES-BENZ CLA 200 PRICE $49,900 EN­GINE 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 115kW/250Nm

TRANS­MIS­SION 7-speed twin-clutch auto; FWD THIRST 5.7L/100km

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