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Used test: Audi A5 Sportback vs Jaguar XE vs Mercedes CLA: interiors

The Audi A5 Sportback, Jaguar XE and Mercedes CLA all combine rakish good looks with surprising practicality, but which is the best used buy?...

Audi A5 interior


Driving position, visibility, build quality, practicality

All of our contenders provide enough adjustment to fit most body shapes easily, with steering wheels that adjust for reach and rake to go with height-adjustable driver’s seats. The Jaguar XE is the only one with a 12-way electric seat as standard and, like the Audi A5 Sportback, it gets adjustable lumbar support as well. The Mercedes CLA doesn’t, but even without it, its seat is the best for comfort on a long journey, moulding to the contours of your back and cushioning your rump amiably.

The A5’s seat is flatter and less cosseting but still better than the XE’s, which is the least agreeably shaped.

In every other respect, though, the driving position in the XE is top-drawer, with the pedals perfectly in line with the wheel and seat for the most natural posture. The A5 impresses, too, apart from a noticeable bulge in the footwell that impedes your left leg. The CLA is also fine, but some drivers will find that they need to set the wheel unnaturally high in order to see the top of the instrument dials.

Jaguar XE interior

Speaking of which, all three cars could be specced with sharply rendered digital instrument panels from new, enabling you to view sat-nav and media information, among other things, without tipping your view far from the road ahead. Only the CLA comes with these as standard, though (at least in tested Premium Pack form); digital dials were optional extras on both the XE and A5, with the latter available as part of the Technology Pack – something to look out for when searching the classified ads. 

Our XE also had what Jaguar calls Touch Pro Duo. This is essentially a multitasking 5.5in touchscreen below the main infotainment touchscreen with two additional rotary controls. It allows you to keep the upper display for one task – sat-nav, for example – while adjusting things like the temperature or media via the smaller screen below.

Both the CLA and XE have a full suite of visibility aids: front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and LED headlights. They’re both a little tricky to see out of, though; the XE has the fattest windscreen pillars and CLA the most obscuring central pillar, being right next to your head if you have your seat positioned quite far back.

Mercedes CLA interior

The A5 comes with the full complement of parking sensors but no rear-view camera and makes do with xenon headlights – relatively old-school, although they still perform well at night.

Which of our contenders is the most premium inside? Let’s begin by crediting Jaguar. When the XE first arrived in 2015, its interior was about as upmarket as supermarket jewellery. Since the refresh – which included a classier steering wheel, lovely aluminium gearshift paddles and a general upswing in material quality – it’s a far nicer place to be. It seems pretty well built, too, even if some of the switches are still a bit flimsy.

The CLA’s interior looks the most captivating, especially in the dark, thanks to its palette of 64 ambient lighting colours. But beyond this veneer of class, the materials lower down aren’t as appealing as the XE’s, and some things aren’t as solid as they ought to be; press the air-con controls too hard, for example, and you’ll see the whole panel deflecting.

You might think that the A5 looks a bit staid, but the action of its switches, the quality of its materials and the integrity of its construction are unrivalled in this company.

Audi A5 Sportback MMI rotary controller

The A5 has a rotary controller interface that Audi is gradually phasing out in favour of touchscreens. But if you think that means you’re getting an outdated, inferior system, you needn’t worry. Touchscreens are actually more distracting to use while driving, so we think Audi’s move is a backward step. True, the A5 does have a fairly small (7.0in) display by modern standards, but a bigger, 8.3in screen came as part of the aforementioned Technology Pack.

The 10.0in touchscreen in the XE is a big improvement on the system found in pre-facelift examples, but it's still a bit fiddly to use while driving and the screen resolution could be better. As with all three cars, you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring as standard. If you love listening to music while driving, look for an XE fitted with the optional Meridian sound system.

Mercedes’ latest system can be controlled either by prodding the 10.3in screen or by using a touchpad mounted between the front seats. The latter method is easier and safer when you’re driving; you simply swipe left and right to scroll through the icons on the screen and then press down to make a selection. There’s even haptic feedback so that you know your commands have been registered. The CLA is the only car here with standard wireless charging.

Audi A5 Sportback rear seats

Although it’s unlikely to be a priority for anyone mulling over these sleek executive cars, the fact that the Audi A5 Sportback caters best for rear passengers is definitely a bonus. True, head room is still marginal for six-footers (as it is in the other two), but it has the most knee, shoulder and foot space, plus it’s the easiest to get into.

The Jaguar XE and Mercedes CLA are harder to split. The latter is the trickiest to clamber into and has the least leg room, but then the CLA has the biggest boot; it can swallow an impressive eight carry-on suitcases, compared with the seven that fit into the A5's boot below the parcel shelf. Mind you, the fact that the A5 is a hatchback, rather than a saloon, is a big advantage when it comes to loading and unloading. It’s also the only car with a powered tailgate.

The XE, meanwhile, can hold just five suitcases, and it’s the only one without standard split-folding rear seats.

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