Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class VS Mercedes-Benz E63
- Quick pace
- Engaging dynamics
- Premium interior
- Harsh ride
- Limited rear-seat room
- Divisive styling
- Superb dynamics
- Ballistic acceleration
- Fiddly steering wheel controllers
- Tight rear door apertures
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.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Feels like lately all the Mercedes-AMG buzz has been at the smaller end of the scale.
But here, we're doubling the cylinder count to eight, arranging them in a vee, and lighting the wick on AMG's powerhouse mid-size sedan, the recently upgraded E 63 S.
While the ferocious twin-turbo V8 and the rest of this beast's powertrain are unchanged, the car has been brought up to speed with some aero-focused styling tweaks, Merc's latest 'Widescreen' digital cockpit, as well as the MBUX multimedia system, and a tricky new multi-function sports steering wheel.
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
The E 63 S fills its niche in AMG's Australian line-up perfectly. More mature than the brand's four-cylinder hatches and SUVs, but not as overbearing as some of its bigger sedan, GT and SUV stablemates. And its ability to seamlessly switch between serene comfort and dynamic performance has nailed the objective for this 2021 update.
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.
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.
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.
The E 63 S has been massaged for 2021 starting with flatter headlights, AMG's now signature 'Panamericana' grille, and a high gloss black flap across the top of the curved 'Jet Wing' section defining the lower part of the nose.
At the same time, the vents on either end of it are larger and feature twin transverse louvers to guide cooling air to wherever it's needed.
It's all about what AMG calls 'optimised aerobalance' but the form is just as appealing as the function. The characteristic 'Power Domes' in the bonnet dial up the muscle, as do the fat wheel arches (+27mm each side), and 20-inch rims with distinctive aero inserts.
This car's optional exterior carbon package consists of a front splitter, side sills, a flash near the fender badges, the exterior mirror covers, the boot lid lip spoiler, as well as the lower apron around the redesigned diffuser and quad tailpipes.
New, intricately styled LED tail-lights are also flatter, but there's even more going on inside.
A new AMG sports steering wheel features three rounded twin-spokes with new switches on the bottom to control the car's dynamic set-up.
It also picks up a new take on the small touch-sensitive controllers used to adjust the instrumentation and manage other functions like phone calls, audio and the cruise control.
Not sure I'm in love with them at this stage. In fact, the words fiddly, imprecise, and frustrating come to mind.
Nappa leather covering the superb AMG sports seats, upper dash, and door beltlines remains standard, but the show-stopper is the 'Widescreen Cockpit' - twin 12.25-inch digital screens for the MBUX multimedia interface on the left and instruments on the right.
The instrument cluster can be set to 'Modern Classic', 'Sport' and 'Supersport' displays, with specific AMG read-outs such as engine data, gear speed indicator, warm-up status, car set-up, as well as a G-meter and 'RaceTimer.'
To borrow an official automotive design term, it looks schmick. Overall, with touches like open-pore black ash wood trim, and brushed metal highlights, the interior looks efficient but classy, with an obvious attention to detail in the layout and its execution.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At just under 5.0m end-to-end the E-Class sits in the upper range of the mid-size luxury spectrum. And almost 3.0m of that is accounted for by the distance between the axles, so there's plenty of space inside.
The driver and front passenger are provided with heaps of room to breathe, and there's a surprising amount of space for those in the back as well.
Sitting behind the driver's seat set for my 183cm (6'0”) position I had more than adequate head and legroom. But access to and from the back is a struggle for full-size adults.
The rear doors open out a long way, but the limiting factor is the size of the aperture, necessitating excessive contortion of the head and limbs to fold in and out of the car.
Connectivity runs to two (power-only) USB-C sockets in the front centre storage bin, as well as another USB-C (for power and multimedia) and 12-volt power outlet in the centre console.
Speaking of the front centre storage bin, it's a decent size and has a padded split lid so it can double as an armrest. There are two cupholders in the front console, a generous glove box, as well as long door compartments with recesses for large bottles provided.
There's a pair of USB-Cs along with another 12-volt socket in the back, sitting under the climate control panel with adjustable vents in the rear of the front centre console. Nice.
The fold down centre armrest incorporates a lidded (and lined) storage box as well as two pop-out cupholders. Again, there are bins in the doors with room for smaller bottles.
The boot offers 540 litres (VDA) of volume, and is able to swallow our three-piece hard suitcase set (124L, 95L, 36L) with room to spare, or the substantial CarsGuide pram, or the largest suitcase and pram combined! There are tie-down hooks to help secure loads, too.
Don't bother looking for a spare of any description, a repair/inflator kit is your only option. And the E 63 S is a no-tow zone.
Price and features
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, first of all, let's get the price out of the way. At $253,900, before on-road costs, this car's competitive set is a bruising, all-German trio comprising the Audi RS 7 Sportback ($224,000), BMW M5 Competition ($244,900), and Porsche Panamera GTS ($309,500).
And no surprise, it's loaded with all the luxury features you'd expect in this part of the market. Here are the highlights.
On top of the standard performance tech and safety equipment fitted to the E 63 S (covered later in this review), you'll also find: Nappa leather trim (seats, upper dash, upper door cards, and steering wheel), MBUX multimedia (with touchscreen, touchpad, and 'Hey Mercedes' voice control), 20-inch alloys, three-zone climate-control, interior ambient lighting, auto LED headlights (with 'Active High Beam Assist Plus'), eight “energising comfort programs” (with 'Energising Coach'), an 'Active Multicontour' front seat package, the 'Air Balance' package (including ionisation), and keyless entry and start.
Also included are the the 'Widescreen' digital cockpit (twin 12.25-inch digital screens), 13-speaker Burmester audio with digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, augmented reality satellite navigation, 'Parktronic' self-parking, electric front seats, seat cooling and heating front (heated rear), heated front centre armrest, a power-adjustable steering column, auto rain-sensing wipers, a wireless device charger, illuminated door sills, as well Amazon Alexa, etc, etc, etc.
And our test car also featured a couple of tasty options. An exterior carbon package ($7500), and AMG's professional grade ceramic composite brakes ($15,900), for an as-tested price of $277,300.
Engine & trans
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.
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.
Thanks in no small part to direct injection and a pair of twin-scroll turbos (located in the engine's 'hot vee' to optimise throttle response), this all-alloy unit produces 450kW (that's 612hp) from 5750-6500rpm, and 850Nm from 2500-4500rpm.
And as per standard AMG practice for its Vee engines, this car's powerplant was built from scratch by a single engineer in Affalterbach. Thank you Robin Jäger.
AMG calls the nine-speed transmission used in the E 63 S an MCT, which stands for Multi-Clutch Technology. But it's not a dual-clutch, rather a normal auto transmission using a wet clutch as opposed to a conventional torque converter, to connect it to the engine on take-off.
Drive goes to all four wheels via Merc's '4Matic+' AWD system, built around an electromechanically controlled clutch connecting the permanently driven rear axle (with locking diff) variably to the front axle.
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.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 12.3L/100km, the E 63 S emitting 280g/km of CO2 in the process.
That's a pretty hefty number, but in line with this car's proportions and performance potential.
And Merc-AMG has gone to great lengths to minimise fuel use. As well as the standard 'Eco' stop-start function, in the 'Comfort' drive program cylinder deactivation becomes active, the system able to drop four cylinders anywhere between 1000 to 3250rpm.
There's no physical hint of half the cylinders leaving the party. The only clue is a blue icon on the dash indicating a temporary shift to V4 operation.
Despite all that effort, however, we saw a dash-indicated 17.9L/100km over a mix of urban trundling, highway cruising, and some spirited dynamic assessment.
Recommended fuel is 98 RON premium unleaded (although it'll run on 95 at a pinch), and you'll need 80 litres of it to fill the tank. That capacity translates to a range of 650km according to the factory claim, and 447km using our real world result.
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 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.
AMG's major goal with this upgrade of the E 63 S was to maintain its dynamic response and ferocious performance, but dial in the extra comfort customers had said they wanted.
So, the 4Matic+ AWD system has been fine-tuned for more smoothness as has the Comfort option in the dynamic set-up. But we'll investigate that shortly.
First, that 4.0-litre turbo V8 in the nose is claimed to slingshot this roughly 2.0-tonne sedan from 0-100km/h in just 3.4 seconds, and it feels every bit that fast.
With 850Nm available from 2500-4500rpm and nine gear ratios to help keep you operating in that Goldilocks band, mid-range thrust is monumental. And thanks to the bi-modal sports exhaust it sounds beautifully brutal.
The nine-speed auto's wet clutch, as opposed to a conventional torque converter, is designed to save weight and optimise response. And while some will tell you an auto with one input shaft is never going to be as fast as a dual-clutch with two, shifts are rapid and direct. The wheel-mounted shift paddles are larger and set lower, as well.
The AMG 'Ride Control+' suspension with multi-chamber air suspension and adaptive damping is amazingly good. The underlying set-up is by multi-links front and rear, and despite riding on big 20-inch rims wrapped with low-profile, high-performance Pirelli P Zero rubber (265/35 fr - 295/30 rr) the Comfort setting is incredibly... comfortable.
Slip into 'Sport' or 'Sport+' and the car immediately feels tauter but far less compliant and forgiving. An impression reinforced by the engine, transmission, and steering shifting to a more buttoned-down mode at the same time.
The standard dynamic engine mounts play a big part here. Able to make a soft connection for maximum comfort, but switch to a rigid link when required.
But no matter which mode you're in, the car is well damped and feels beautifully balanced in quick cornering. And the E 63 S's electro-mechanically-assisted variable-rate steering is progressive, feelsome, and accurate.
The 4Matic+ AWD system is built around an electromechanically controlled clutch connecting the permanently driven rear axle (with locking diff) variably to the front axle.
Torque distribution happens imperceptibly, the big V8 putting its power down emphatically, with various electronic systems tieing up the loose ends as you aim up for the next corner.
There's even a 100 per cent RWD Drift mode available in the Race setting, but without a race circuit at our disposal this time around that'll have to wait for another time.
The optional ceramic brakes feature huge rotors and six-piston front calipers, and stopping power is immense. And the good news is they operate quickly but progressively at normal pottering around town speeds. No warming up required to get them in an optimal temperature zone (as can be the case with other ceramic set-ups).
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.
The three-pointed star's white-coated boffins have gone to town on the E 63 S, and the car is as good as it currently gets in terms of active and passive safety technology.
You could argue this car's dynamic ability is its strongest contributor to crash-avoidance. But a broad suite of features, specifically designed to keep you out of trouble includes, forward and reverse AEB (with pedestrian, cyclist, and cross-traffic detection), traffic sign recognition, 'Attention Assist', 'Active Blind Spot Assist', 'Active Distance Assist', 'Active High Beam Assist Plus', 'Active Lane Change Assist', 'Active Lane Keeping Assist', and 'Evasive Steering Assist.' That's a lot of assists.
There's also a tyre pressure monitoring and pressure loss warning system, as well as a brake priming function (monitors release speed on the accelerator pedal, moving pads factionally closer to the discs when required), and brake drying (when the windscreen wipers are active the system periodically applies just enough brake pressure to wipe water off the brake rotors to optimise wet weather efficiency).
But if an impact is unavoidable the 'Pre-Safe Plus' system is able to recognise an imminent rear-end collision and fire up the rear hazard lights (at high frequency) to warn following traffic. It will also firmly apply the brakes once the vehicle is stationary to minimise the risk of whiplash injuries if the car's then hit from behind.
If the potential crash is coming from the side, 'Pre-Safe Impulse' inflates air chambers in the side bolsters of the front seat backrest (within a fraction of a second) moving the occupant to the side towards the centre of the car, away from the impact area. Amazing.
As well as that, there's an active bonnet to minimise pedestrian injuries, an auto emergency call function, 'Crash Response Emergency Lighting', even a first aid kit and hi-vis vests for all occupants.
For the record, the current E-Class received a maximum five-star ANCAP assessment in 2016.
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.
All AMG models sold in Australia are covered by Mercedes-Benz's five year/unlimited km warranty, with 24-hour roadside and accident assistance included for the duration.
Recommended service interval is 12 months or 20,000km, with pricing for a three-year (pre-paid) plan set at $4300, a $950 saving overall relative to its three year, pay-as-you-go 'Service Solutions' capped price program.
And if you're happy to fork over a little more up-front, there's a four-year service deal at $6300, and five years coming in at $7050.