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Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 2020 review

From the front, the CLA 35 exterior oozes style and luxury.
EXPERT RATING
7.8
Mercedes' first CLA was a certified sales success, and its top-spec AMG 45 variant also proved very popular. To capitalise on the appetite for a go-fast CLA, the brand has rolled out its first ever 35 variant with the second-gen stylish sedan, dialling up the sportiness and price. Is the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 worth your money?

Mercedes has long been the leader in niche filling, and we’d argue that no other model encapsulates that more than the CLA four-door coupe.

Now in its second-generation form, the CLA is based on Mercedes’ MFA2 small car platform that also underpins the A-Class small car range, B-Class tallboy hatchback and GLA crossover, but is actually dimensionally longer than the one-size up C-Class.

However, while the C-Class might offer more conventional styling, Mercedes says the CLA is targeted towards a younger demographic that puts more weight on design and aesthetics.

The previous generation CLA was topped by a hardcore 45 version, which makes a return here, but new this time around is the less-potent, but still AMG-badged, 35 variant to plug the gap between mainstream grades and the range-topper.

After living with the car for a week, here are our thoughts on the new baby AMG CLA.

Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2020: CLA35 4Matic
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.5L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$85,500

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

Priced at $85,500 before on-road costs, the CLA 35 sits $15,300 upstream of the CLA 250 but is $25,700 cheaper than the $111,200 CLA 45.

Standard equipment includes leather interior, dual-zone climate control, electronically adjustable front seats with heating and memory function, keyless entry and push-button start, 64-colour ambient lighting, and a wireless smartphone charger.

AMG specific appointments include 19-inch wheels, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, sports exhaust, high-performance brakes with silver-painted calipers, blacked-out exterior highlights, sports suspension, a racy bodykit and speed-sensitive steering.

The CLA 35 scores a sports exhaust and blacked-out exterior highlights. The CLA 35 scores a sports exhaust and blacked-out exterior highlights.

Instrumentation is displayed on a 10.25-inch screen, which can be customised and features AMG readouts.

The multimedia system, which includes satellite navigation, digital radio and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, is also outputted to a 10.25-inch screen, with inputs including touch, voice commands, centre touch pad or steering wheel controls.

The 10.25-inch screen displays the sat nav, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 10.25-inch screen displays the sat nav, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Our test car also came with a ‘Mojave Silver Metallic’ paint finish and 'Vision Package', adding $1190 and $990 to the bottom line each.

The Vision Package adds LED headlights with adaptive high beams, a panoramic glass sunroof and surround-view monitor.

Straddling the lines between a small- and mid-size sedan, the CLA 35 doesn’t really have any direct competitors, which is reflected in its pricing that slots it between the Audi S3 and S4 sedans.

Though the CLA 35 features a long list of equipment, it is still a sizeable chunk of coin, costing more than the C300 sedan and Volvo S60 T8 PHEV, the latter boasting higher engine outputs.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

From the front, the CLA 35 exterior oozes style and luxury.

Up front, the sleek and slender headlights emphasise the width of the fascia, while the large Mercedes logo sits proudly front and centre of the CLA’s nose.

There are subtle hints to the CLA 35’s sportiness too, with a slightly bulging bonnet and chiselled lower chin.

The grille is also unique on the 35, with a dual-horizontal slat design instead of the non-AMG CLA’s diamond pattern or the CLA 45’s Panamericana grille.

There are subtle hints to the CLA 35’s sportiness with a slightly bulging bonnet and chiselled lower chin. There are subtle hints to the CLA 35’s sportiness with a slightly bulging bonnet and chiselled lower chin.

To my eye, the front of the CLA 35 is actually a bit too tame in styling for an AMG model. I prefer the in-your-face aggression of the CLA 45’s widened track and front grille, while the CLA 35 opts for more subtle styling cues. To each their own, though.

The silver paintwork of our test car probably doesn’t help, and if it was my choice I'd pick 'Sun Yellow' or 'Denim Blue' to stand out a bit more from the sea of black, grey and white German cars out there.

Move to the rear of the car though, and a large rear diffuser, big dual-exhaust outlets and a bootlid spoiler are much more befitting an AMG model.

The CLA 35 is actually a bit too tame in terms of styling for an AMG model. The CLA 35 is actually a bit too tame in terms of styling for an AMG model.

Step inside the CLA and you will see it adopts the same dashboard design as all new-generation Mercedes vehicles built on the MFA2 platform, with the 'MBUX' dual-screen layout, large air-vents and central touchpad.

Our car was specced out with red-leather interior, which is a bit too loud for my tastes, but a two-tone black leather/titanium grey combo can also be had at no extra cost.

Sitting inside the CLA 35, you can tell it’s a modern car thanks to the clean layout of all the controls, while the screen-heavy dashboard definitely makes it feel tech-focused.

Step inside the CLA and you will see it adopts the same dashboard design as all new-generation Mercedes vehicles. Step inside the CLA and you will see it adopts the same dashboard design as all new-generation Mercedes vehicles.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

Measuring 4695mm long, 1834mm wide, 1399mm tall and with a 2729mm wheelbase, the CLA 35 is definitely a sizeable sedan in the metal.

This actually makes the CLA 35 slightly longer and wider than a non-AMG C-Class sedan that measures 4686 and 1810mm respectively, but don’t expect the same level of practical interior space.

With a heavily sloped roofline, rear-seat comfort takes a hit. My 183cm (6.0ft) frame could not sit upright behind my driving position without tilting my head, while legroom was also slightly lacking.

The second-row feels a little claustrophobic for adults. The second-row feels a little claustrophobic for adults.

With such large C-pillars and a small rear window, the second-row can actually feel a little claustrophobic for full-sized adults, but will seat children quite comfortably.

Second-row amenities include air-vents, two USB-C ports, back-of-seat storage nets, bottle holders in the doors, and two cupholders in the fold-down arm rest.

Rear passengers score air-vents and two USB-C ports. Rear passengers score air-vents and two USB-C ports.

Just like at a music concert though, the best seats in the CLA 35 are up front, with plenty of room for heads, shoulders and legs.

The cabin is also much more light-filled up front, making for a more pleasant experience.

The front seats are electronically adjustable, as is the steering column, but the headrests are fixed.

Our car was specced out with red-leather interior. Our car was specced out with red-leather interior.

Storage options include sizeable door bins, a centre console cubby, glove box, two cupholders and a wireless smartphone charger.

Boot space is 460 litres, but can expand with the rear split-fold 40/20/40 rear seats stowed.

Though the boot looks small and shallow on the outside, the aperture is actually quite large, and can easily accommodate a large suitcase with plenty of room to spare.

  • Boot space is rated at 460 litres. Boot space is rated at 460 litres.
  • Though the boot looks small it can easily accommodate a large suitcase. Though the boot looks small it can easily accommodate a large suitcase.
  • The CLA 35 features rear split-fold 40/20/40 seats. The CLA 35 features rear split-fold 40/20/40 seats.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

Powered by a 2.0-litre, turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine, the CLA 35 punches out 225kW/400Nm.

Drive is sent through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions to the road via Mercedes’ '4Matic' all-wheel-drive system, enabling a 0-100km/h sprint in the 1603kg sedan in just 4.7 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h.

The 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine punches out 225kW/400Nm. The 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine punches out 225kW/400Nm.

Though I didn’t get a chance to test the latter, the former certainly feels accurate when taking off from a freeway on ramp, however, there is some hesitation from the turbo in getting on boost.

Peak power comes in at 5800rpm, while maximum torque is available from 3000-4000rpm.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

Officially, the CLA 35 sips 7.5 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, but we managed a 9.9L/100km figure in our week with the car.

The majority of our driving was done in inner-city environments, with the two trips down the freeway to seek out twisty country rounds.

Minimum fuel grade in the CLA 35 is 98 RON.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

The CLA 35 has not been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but the standard CLA range was awarded a five-star rating in September 2019.

Standard safety equipment in the CLA 35 includes autonomous emergency braking, automatic high beams, nine airbags, drive attention alert, blind-spot monitoring with exit warning, lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition and tyre pressure monitoring.

The standard CLA also comes with these features, and was awarded 96 and 92 per cent respectively in ANCAP adult occupant and child occupant protection tests.

For the vulnerable road user and safety assist examinations, the standard CLA scored 91 and 76 per cent respectively.

ANCAP says the AEB system works from seven-200km/h.

Of note, adaptive cruise control is not standard in the CLA 35 like it is in the CLA 45. Instead, buyers will have to tick the 'Driving Assistance Package' box for the feature, which also comes bundled with cross-traffic alert and lane change assist.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   9/10

As with all new Mercedes-Benz models, the CLA 35 comes with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is one of the best assurance periods offered by a premium carmaker.

It also comes with five years of roadside assist.

Scheduled service intervals are every 25,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.

A three-year service plan is available for $2150 for new CLA 35 buyers, saving $500 when priced individually.

Four- and five-year plans are also available, and are priced at $4200 and $4950 respectively.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

The CLA 35 might not offer the outright thrills or breadth of capability of the CLA 45, but don’t think the cut-price AMG offers up a cut-rate driving experience.

From the driver’s seat, one of the cool things about the CLA 35 is that it doesn’t actually look any different from its more expensive sibling.

The drive-mode selector that is now embedded on the steering wheel is fantastic, a feature first seen on the Mercedes-AMG GT 4-door, and makes changing the driving dynamics on the fly an absolute breeze.

In fact, we think all cars where you can select drive modes should have a selector on the steering wheel like this, which lets you quickly and easily dial it up or down while keeping your hands on the wheel.

'Comfort', 'Sport', 'Sport+' and 'Individual' modes are available, while the transmission can also be put into manual mode independently for those that prefer to use the flappy paddles.

Suspension settings can also be tweaked regardless of which drive mode you are in, and it’s this level of customisability that we appreciate.

You want loud exhaust pops and the engine in full attack with manual shifting and the softest suspension? Sure, that’s doable here in the CLA 35. And toning it down to its most comfortable settings is just a flick of the wrist away.

The steering feels a little numb on centre and at slower speeds, though feedback picks right up with speed and is communicative enough when the road starts to get twisty.

Fitted with wide and sticky Michelin rubber, as well as the aforementioned all-wheel drive system, the CLA 35 is certainly not lacking in grip.

The CLA 35 wears AMG 19-inch alloy wheels. The CLA 35 wears AMG 19-inch alloy wheels.

The suspension does an okay job of absorbing bumps, but uneven surfaces, like Melbourne’s tram tracks, can send uncomfortable jolts into the cabin if travelling quickly.

In fact, we think the ride comfort of the CLA 35 is probably its weakest aspect, offering not enough variability in its Comfort and Sport settings, and instead settling somewhere in between, regardless of drive mode.

The CLA 35 is ultimately still a fun and engaging sports sedan, though there are some sacrifices made to get it there.

Verdict

Is the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 the perfect choice in the sleek sedan’s line-up?

Well, if you are after outright performance, then the answer still clearly lies with the CLA 45. But for those that just want a little more pep compared to the standard CLA range, the 35 is undoubtedly the one to get.

It’s not without its flaws, though, commanding a $15,000 price premium over the CLA 250 and a tougher-than-we’d-like ride, but if you value a more engaging drive and a brisk 0-100km/h time, the CLA 35 should definitely be on your shopping list.

Pricing guides

$83,100
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$55,000
Highest Price
$111,200

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
CLA200 1.3L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $59,500 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2020 CLA200 Pricing and Specs
CLA 200 1.3L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $60,700 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2020 CLA 200 Pricing and Specs
CLA 250 4Matic 2.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $70,200 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2020 CLA 250 4Matic Pricing and Specs
CLA250 4Matic 2.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $68,800 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class 2020 CLA250 4Matic Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.8
Price and features7
Design8
Practicality7
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption8
Safety7
Ownership9
Driving8
Tung Nguyen
News Editor

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