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

Interiors

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 XE is the only one with a 12-way electric seat as standard and, like the A5, it gets adjustable lumbar support as well. The 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 all of our testers agreed that the XE’s seat 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 testers found the 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 displays 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 on the 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 rearview 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 arguably 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 climate controls too hard, for example, and you’ll see the whole panel deflecting.

If you think the A5 looks a bit staid, that’s your call. We can only report on the facts, which are that the action of its switches, finish of its surfaces and integrity of its construction are second to none.

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-facelifted 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

Space and practicality 

Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot

Although it’s unlikely to be a priority for anyone mulling over these swoopy-roofed executive cars, the fact that the A5 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 XE and 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 managed to swallow an impressive eight carry-on suitcases in our tests, compared with the seven we fitted below the A5’s 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, took just five suitcases, and it’s the only one without standard split-folding rear seats.


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