Competitive Set: Audi’s A3 vs CLA and ILX

2015 Audi A3

Trunk Sale: Audi’s new A3 has hatched, without – of course – the hatch.

For fans of the existing A3 5-door, news of the ‘new’ 2015 Audi A3 was bittersweet. Obviously, in this hyper-competitive environment it would be a better car. And while cognizant of the obvious improvements, you couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret when noting the absence of a hatch, along with absence of a conventional manual trans. I know, we Americans don’t like hatchbacks and don’t buy manuals, but don’t these attributes reflect the tastes of domestic buyers? If I’m shopping for a European car, I’m inclined to want what the Europeans already have, and not what the Euro execs think I want. So, no Rabbits pimped like a Malibu, and no smallish 4-doors lacking a hatch.

With all of that, the new A3 isn’t the sellout to American preferences it might have been; I’m thinking Passat 4-door or VW’s Touran. Instead, it comes across as a small sedan executed in a way only Germans seem able to execute, with a tidy footprint, reasonably short (for a fwd/awd platform) overhangs and an almost upright windscreen. In 2.0 liter guise with S-Tronic trans and mandatory all-wheel drive we rather liked it, while wishing a reasonably-equipped price of around $35K represented the incredible value of Audi’s first A4, introduced to the States for ‘96.

Of course, Audi doesn’t enter this $30K segment all by itself. Mercedes’ CLA has certainly garnered its share of media ink and consumer attention, and while Acura’s ILX has made less of a splash (it is – after all – marketed by Acura), it’s certainly worthy of consideration when thinking of dropping three large on a small sedan. And while these two constitute the ‘target’ segment by Audi execs, others – such as Accord Sport, Mazda3 and at least a couple of ‘hard loaded’ Koreans – might also come into play. Let’s look at a few…

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250.

Mercedes’ CLA: CLS profile with Mazda Monroney.

Mercedes CLA: If we heard it once we heard it a hundred times – the smallest M-B available Stateside is fixed firmly on Audi’s radar screen. And the target on the CLA’s backside is there for a good reason, as Mercedes management rarely moves into mainstream motoring with this level of heightened determination.

Sharing a great many design cues with the bad*ss CLS, the Hungarian-built CLA enjoys a coupe-like greenhouse, aggressively raked windshield and overhangs that appear almost exaggerated. In short, on the street or at the curb you can’t really ignore it, but neither do I know if I really like it. Assorted reviews note the competence of the platform, in combination with some shortcuts taken with the interior.

Under the hood the CLA shares the same 2.0 liter displacement as Audi’s available 2.0 liter turbo four. And although torque, at 258 lb-ft, is identical between the two powerplants, the Benz’s is down on actual horsepower. While the Audi is delivering 220 at 4,500 rpm, the CLA manages only 208 at 5,500. And this shows in the published 0-60 figures: Audi suggests under six seconds, while the M-B’s figure is almost seven.

Of course, both carmakers boast of $30K window stickers. Audi counters with its kit, suggesting that if you consider the two with comparable equipment Audi’s price advantage is some 10%. And there is, of course, the standard argument anytime Mercedes explores the ‘entry level’: Is it a real Mercedes? That’s a question an Audi rep will almost never get regarding the A3.