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2015 Audi A3 vs. 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2015

The world of compact luxury cars is heating up, and two of today's most popular new challengers are the 2015 Audi A3 and the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class. If you're searching for a compact luxury car, you probably have both of these models on your shopping list -- and that might make you wonder: Which one is better? Which one has more stuff? And which one should you get? We've created an in-depth comparison of both cars to help you answer those questions, but first let's see what's new with the A3 and the CLA for the latest model year.

2015 Audi A3

The Audi A3 is completely new for 2015, offering sedan and convertible body styles along with gasoline or diesel engines, front- or all-wheel drive, and an available high-performance S3 variant.

2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

All new for 2014, the CLA receives some substantial changes for the 2015 model year, including a more comfortable suspension for base models, newly standard keyless ignition and dual-zone climate control, a larger center display screen and an improved forward-collision alert system.

Reliability

Unfortunately, both the Audi A3 and the Mercedes-Benz CLA are too new for reliability ratings from experts at J.D. Power. Based on the performance of other Audi and Mercedes-Benz models, however, we'd expect the two to offer roughly average reliability.

When it comes to warranty length, the A3 and the CLA are identical: Both offer 4 years or 50,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage. As a result, our reliability category is a little too close to call -- at least until we get final reliability numbers from J.D. Power.

Fuel Economy

The base-level Mercedes-Benz CLA250 offers a 208-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that's mated to a standard 7-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy reaches as high as 26 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway with front-wheel drive or 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy with optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive.

The A3 offers three available engines. Base-level front-wheel-drive models use a 170-hp 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, which touts fuel economy numbers as high as 23 mpg city/33 mpg hwy. Add all-wheel drive, and you'll get a 220-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, which manages to offer the same gas mileage. For shoppers especially interested in fuel economy, there's the A3 TDI, which uses a turbodiesel 4-cylinder engine that makes 150 hp and returns 31 mpg city/43 mpg hwy.

While all that's a bit complicated, here's a simple summary: The A3 wins on overall fuel economy thanks to its diesel engine, but the CLA has a more efficient base-level powerplant for drivers who don't want to pay extra for better fuel economy.

Of course, both the A3 and the CLA offer performance versions, too: the 292-hp S3 and the 355-hp CLA45 AMG. But we suspect fuel-economy-focused drivers probably won't be too interested in those models.

Safety

In crash testing carried out by the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Audi A3 earned a perfect 5-star overall rating. Likewise, it earned an excellent Top Safety Pick+ score from the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Interestingly, the CLA has not yet been tested by either organization, though we expect it will return the same excellent results that most of its Mercedes-Benz brethren do.

When it comes to safety features, both the A3 and CLA offer roughly the same level of standard and optional items. Disappointingly, neither car includes a backup camera as standard equipment. But both cars offer standard side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control, with options including forward-collision alert, a blind spot monitoring system and lane-keep assist.

To us, neither car especially stands out from the other in terms of safety, but we'd love to see crash-test ratings for the CLA before we make our final decision.

Technology

Similar to the safety section, neither the A3 nor the CLA boasts any huge technological advantages over the other. Both offer a lot of technology, including advanced infotainment systems, all-wheel drive, adaptive cruise control and even an automated parallel-parking system. While there are some differences in package content and pricing between the Audi and the Mercedes, we suspect that technophiles won't find substantial differences separating the two models.

Value

Following the huge marketing drive behind the CLA250's original base price of $29,995, the model has unsurprisingly seen a price hike for 2015. Now the CLA's MSRP is $31,500 -- or nearly $32,500 with shipping. It's around $1,600 more expensive than the A3.

Is it around $1,600 better than the A3? We find that hard to believe. While the Mercedes offers better fuel economy and (to most people) a stronger brand name, we think the A3 offers roughly the same level of equipment, reliability, safety and technology for a little less money. As a result, we think the A3 represents a better value than the CLA -- unless you're comparing performance models, in which case Mercedes' excellent CLA45 AMG is our pick.

Autotrader's Advice

There is a lot of similarities between the 2015 Audi A3 and the 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA, and only a few crucial differences. As a result, the winner here depends on exactly what you prioritize. Drivers who are looking for the best deal will go with the Audi because it's cheaper than the CLA. Shoppers interested in the best fuel economy will want the CLA250 -- unless they're willing to pay extra for the turbodiesel A3 TDI. The CLA also has an edge in performance, but we like the A3's safety credentials better since the CLA has not yet undergone the key crash tests that the A3 has aced. And only the A3 offers a convertible variant.

The winner, therefore, is a toss-up. We strongly suggest taking test drives in both models in order to figure out which one you like better. You should also spend some time on the online configurator for each vehicle to see which one has more features you like within your budget.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2015 Audi A3 vs. 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class: Which Is Better? - Autotrader