2017 Subaru WRX vs. 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG: Compare Cars

December 16, 2016

Practicality and a storied performance pedigree don't often go together; but the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG and Subaru WRX are two models that offer an impressive amount of both.

Yet how these two cars get there is very different. The two aren't so much sport sedans as four-door performance cars. Rather than putting the emphasis on balance of function and form, they’re both a little more deliberate—offering high-strung turbocharged engines, all-wheel drive, and some sophisticated chassis engineering to go with it all.

MORE: Read our reviews of the 2017 Subaru WRX and 2017 Mercedes CLA

2017 Subaru WRX STI

2017 Subaru WRX STI

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2017 Subaru WRX

2017 Subaru WRX

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2016 Subaru WRX

2016 Subaru WRX

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It’s actually worth starting here with the wild differences in price. The WRX starts at just about $29,000. Load a WRX Limited up with the navigation package (bringing keyless ignition, Harman Kardon audio, SiriusXM traffic info, and many expanded infotainment features) and the WRX nudges the mid-$30,000s. A base CLA45 AMG, meanwhile, costs at least $50,000, and if you check just a few option boxes—because why not, if you’re buying an AMG model—the bottom line can easily blow past $60,000.

So why are we even comparing these two models? Because they have a surprising amount in common. They’re both quite compact and about the same length (181 inches for the WRX, 182 for the CLA45). And they both have 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engines. In the Subaru, there’s 268 horsepower flat-4 under the hood and 258 pound-feet of torque, adding up to 0-60 times in the low five-second range. The CLA45 AMG's inline-4, on the other hand, makes 375 hp and 332 lb-ft, and it can get this car to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds.

Gas mileage is actually a bit better in the CLA45 AMG, at 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined. In the WRX, the best they get is 20/27/23 mpg.

Get to exactly how these models lay their power to the pavement and you start finding a few more differences. The WRX comes with either a 6-speed manual gearbox or an unusual, performance-tuned continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that lets you manually click between eight simulated gears, while the CLA45 AMG gets a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that’s an especially willing partner, eager to throttle-blip and rev match. All the right sounds are there in the CLA45 as well, and there’s even a Racestart feature to make you get your launch on as quickly as possible.

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

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2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

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2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class

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Handling between the two, and their general feel as they go down the road, is also quite different. The CLA45 AMG doesn’t exactly feel light, but it’s far more flingable than nearly anything else in the Mercedes-Benz lineup. With a beefy suspension and thick anti-roll bars, this is a car that stays flat and composed in corners, while understeer has been dialed out through the all-wheel drive, you get some feel of the road, and any torque steer has been quelled. The WRX on the other hand feels more like a lean and purposeful economical small car that’s been tuned and tweaked to go fast.

The latest WRX is hardly a sexy beast, but it exudes sturdy confidence and shows years of rally-racing influence. It’s a wide-body Impreza in appearance, with some strengthening of its core structure within, to help keep its handling precise at extremes. As for the CLA-Class and the CLA45 AMG in specific, it indeed a glimpse of the sexier, more curvaceous side of Mercedes-Benz that’s been showing in everything from the new C-Class to the S-Class. There’s a fair amount of front overhang to the design, but this is a form that looks good in profile from nearly all angles. The bigger wheels and aero effects you get with the AMG version really make this design pop, too.

Inside, both of these models are compact sedans, but the Mercedes-Benz’s curvaceous roofline brings with it some serious sacrifices in practicality when it comes to back-seat space. Getting in and out of the CLA’s back seat isn’t easy for taller folks, and anyone much over six feet tall will likely be sorely missing headroom. The WRX is much more usable in back, relatively speaking. Both models have plenty of front-seat space, and the CLA45 AMG has especially supportive perches. Trunk space is decent in both, too.

If back-seat space is the CLA45 AMG’s big concession, the WRX’s is twofold: a cheap, plasticky set of interior trims and finishes, and a cabin that’s still too awash with road noise.

Safety-wise, the WRX is the winner between these two, but that’s simply because there’s more depth in its crash-test results. It’s been a top achiever in federal and IIHS crash tests, and with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of active-safety hardware becoming available in the WRX for 2016, it now gets the top IIHS Top Safety Pick+ accolade. The CLA45 AMG doesn’t have any crash-test ratings yet, but it does offer adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, lane-keeping assistance, and parking sensors with parking assist, and when you check the right option boxes it gets the IIHS "Superior" nod for front crash avoidance.

Does that change your mind? Are you realistically considering these two models alongside each other? While any cross-shopping between the two is unlikely, we can see a lot of WRX drivers graduating to the CLA45 AMG and still being very happy.

Summary

6.6
Expert Rating
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is a sharp-looking sedan that washes its hands of back-seat space, and stuns us in CLA45 AMG trim.
7.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Subaru WRX and WRX STI are astonishing all-wheel-drive performers for the price, with good space and all season capability, but their looks and interiors aren't up to the driving engagement.

Styling

8.0
Expert Rating
The Mercedes-Benz CLA lineup continues to show how even compact sedans can be made swoopy and sexy—and a cosmetic revamp makes it even better for 2017.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
Wider and more aggressive than the Impreza upon which it's based, the 2017 Subaru WRX is neither outrageous nor mature.
Read More

Performance

7.0
Expert Rating
The Mercedes CLA 250 is conservatively tuned, while the CLA45 AMG offers quite the go-fast counterpoint for thrill jockeys.
Read More
9.0
Expert Rating
Powerful turbocharged engines, lots of grip, and standard all-wheel drive put the WRX and STI in heady performance territory.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

4.0
Expert Rating
Back-seat space is marginal at best; the Mercedes-Benz CLA is best used by adults as a two-seater.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
There's an excess of black plastic, but the cabin is redeemed by supportive seats and good storage space.
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Safety

No crash-test data exists, but the CLA has a great set of active-safety features for some peace of mind.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
Like the Impreza small-car family, the 2017 Subaru WRX offers plenty of safety equipment and has excellent safety scores.
Read More

Features

7.0
Expert Rating
The Benz CLA skips some features we expect from Mercedes, and prices soar with just a few options.
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7.0
Expert Rating
The features of the 2017 Subaru WRX focus on performance over luxury, but it is still well-equipped.
Read More

Fuel Economy

7.0
Expert Rating
The Mercedes CLA's 30-mpg combined figure is high—and realistic.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
Fuel economy isn't the point, but 4-cylinder power makes this performance sedan fairly efficient, and the CVT in its normal mode is the thriftiest but certainly not the most fun.
Read More

MSRP

from N/A
from $26,695

Invoice

from N/A
from $25,186

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

23

Engine

Intercooled Turbo Premium Unleaded H-4, 2.0 L

Drivetrain

All Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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