Smaller can quite often mean better when you’re comparing one driver’s car to another. Does it mean as much, then, in the case of Mercedes’ smaller, lower-order-AMG, four-door coupe: the CLA 35? Frankly, it depends what you’re comparing it with.
The CLA is, for starters, the smaller of two Mercedes four-door coupes, and does offer much more of the elegance and style of the bigger CLS for a cut-down price than the original CLA managed. Being part of Mercedes’ compact-car model family, however, the CLA is less practical, arguably, than even an A-Class hatchback. Meanwhile, being transverse-engined, it’s only ever four-wheel drive in fairly transient and qualified terms, and can’t compete with natively rear-driven 4WD options for throttle-on handling balance.
The ‘-35’ suffixed AMG version uses a 302bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine which has plenty to recommend it, as does the car’s meaty, tactile steering and its measured-yet-composed ride and handling. The car’s two-pedal, twin-clutch gearbox is less slick, though, and can disappoint with its roughness as well as its unpredictability.
Audi’s four-door S3 didn’t become a part of the wider S3 model family until the third-generation car arrived in 2013, but quickly seemed to make itself at home in the model range thereafter. Nobody does fast, smart business saloons quite like Audi, after all; and this one had all the visual presence and the neat proportions of its bigger siblings, as well as quattro drive and a grown-up power output.
The current version delivers just under 300-horsepower to all four wheels from a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, but has a longer wheelbase, a lower roofline and wider axles than other S3s. Our testers have identified it as a better-handling S3 on several occasions.
Trademark Audi design appeal comes together with plenty of material cabin quality here, in a car that feels composed and secure on the road. It’s a little reserved, perhaps, delivering its speed through a luxury filter which kills some – although far from all – of the fun factor.