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5 Reasons Audi is Winning the Budget Luxury War Against Mercedes

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The Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA have been at loggerheads in the booming subcompact luxury segment since the very beginning, but Audi is quietly pulling ahead. 

The Audi A3 sold 31,538 units last year in the U.S. alone, compared to the CLA, which sold 25,792. Here’s why we think Audi is winning at the budget luxury game.

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The base 2018 Audi A3 offers a ton of standard equipment and the same high-quality interior at all trim levels. Features like a panoramic sunroof, LED daytime running lights, premium leather seats, and front heated seats are standard right out of the gate in the Audi, which starts at $31,950. The CLA packs all these features into expensive option groups all while having a slightly higher starting price of $32,700. Many owners and automotive journalists (including our own) complain that the CLA’s interior feels and looks cheap, which is true even for higher trim models. The CLA’s standard halogen headlights and synthetic leather seats at base level just can’t match Audi’s attention to detail, even in its most affordable model.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 4Matic Review


More Refined Driving Dynamics

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Both cars perform similarly in a straight line and both are powered by 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The Audi gets to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, while the Mercedes is a bit faster at 6.8 seconds. The Audi is rated at 186 horsepower and 221 pound-feet while the Mercedes has a higher 208 hp and 258 lb-ft.

The dual clutch transmissions in both cars usually shift with unquestionable precision, but the execution is where the differences lie. The CLA tends to be more erratic in its drivetrain behavior; city speeds can bring about a combination of occasionally clunky transmission shifts. But drop the hammer on that same engine and the car performs more consistently. The A3’s behavior is much more consistent and refined. There are no noticeable abrupt shifts in power delivery and the A3 always seems eager to play when driven hard but still remains composed when less aggression is required from it.


Design is Clean and Timeless

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The swoopy lines that make the Mercedes such an obvious stunner might not age as gracefully as Audi’s more conservative, toned-down design. The Mercedes elicits such a high emotional response initially and that same emotion can potentially taper off with equal intensity as the years of ownership pass by. By adding an air of maturity to its design, the A3’s appeal has been steadily extending outside the confines of young professionals.


It Costs Less

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The value for money quotient falls in the A3’s favor. With the ability to option up the A3 to a respectable level of luxury at $38,200 ($40,900 in Canada), getting the Mercedes up to an identical level of luxury costs over $40,000 ($49,887 in Canada). But, like we mentioned before, the Audi feels more expensive than the Mercedes, even though it costs less. The Audi always manages to squeeze in that extra oomph with its approach that edges out the Mercedes in the value for money argument.


Showy Technological Prowess

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Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available in both vehicles, but the interface in the A3 manages to look much more vibrant. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay function seamlessly in both vehicles but, in the A3, it just looks more dramatic with a screen that retracts into the dashboard. Seamless functionality is great, but it’s that extra showmanship that gets the attention of consumers these days.

At the end, there is no real loser here. Both these vehicles are bonafide hits, but Audi A3’s star is just shining a little more brightly than the Mercedes CLA’s, and we’re sure Mercedes will address these shortcomings in its next CLA.