by Deiondre van der Merwe
We fondly refer to the CLA35 as the "marijuana" of the AMG range, as it's the gateway to bigger, more dangerous AMGs, and this model, in particular, is the most affordable way into the performance world of Mercedes-AMG. It's also the least powerful of Merc's sports-focused lineup and is more expensive than well-respected rivals that include the Audi S3 and the BMW M235i Gran Coupe, so bear that in mind if you're in the market for a four-door performance car on a relative budget. The 2020 CLA35 is an all-new model for the AMG range, offers a new engine and is completely redesigned from the previous generation CLA. But, it's up against some pretty notable names in the segment, so let's see if Merc's latest approach to its entry-level AMG will be successful enough to outshine its hallowed German counterparts.
The CLA35 gets an all-new engine for 2020, and a bigger, completely redesigned body with a wheelbase that's about one inch longer than the previous generation. The whole CLA range now comes with full-LED lighting and a fully-digital cabin with aggressively bolstered sport seats. The 2020 model also sees the addition of Slippery Mode for some added assistance on icy roads. If we continue to list what's new and hot for the coupe under one category, given that it's a total redesign, we'd all be here for days - so keep reading, we'll cover it all.
See trim levels and configurations:
|AMG CLA 35 4MATIC||
2.0L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The CLA35 is a newly designed model for 2020 and Mercedes has channeled aggression into the exterior design of the CLA. The signature twin-blade pin star grille remains but is now flanked by angrier full-LED headlights, while the rear sees a new diffuser that houses two chrome exhaust tips. The rear has narrower LED taillights with an understated spoiler as an umbrella and the relocation of the number plate to a lower place on the bumper allows for a wider appearance for the AMG's back end. 18-inch wheels come standard with the AMG, though 19-inch options are available and a panoramic sunroof forms part of the exterior features.
Sharing a platform with the A-Class, the 2020 CLA35 extends its total length by 1.9 inches in comparison to the previous generation at a measurement of 184.8 inches, and is also longer than the A-Class by 5.5 inches. A slightly longer 107.4-inch wheelbase is also part of the new package and is 1.1 inches longer than its antecedent, while the shapely coupe has a width of 73.1 inches - wider than its predecessor by 2.2 inches. Though all measurements are up from the older generation, the new CLA manages to be lower than it was previously, at a height of 55.4 inches. With a curb weight of 3,505 pounds, the CLA35 manages to be slightly lighter than the M235i Gran Coupe, but is on par with the Audi S3.
Mercedes-AMG makes a choice of eleven colors available for the CLA35, three of which are standard. Polar White and Night Black are no-cost options along with the more adventurous Sun Yellow. Seven metallic hues are additionally available for $720, mostly consisting of different shades of grey and silver, starting with Mountain Grey, Iridium Silver, Mojave Silver, and Digital White, and ending off with two adventurous shades of Cosmos Black and Patagonia Red. The most premium designo Mountain Grey Magno option will cost an additional $2,500 and will wreathe the CLA35 in a velvety matte finish. Opting for the AMG Night Package will add sporty black finishes to the exterior, inclusive of black wheels and a high-gloss black grille.
The AMG-fettled 2.0-liter turbo found in the CLA will get from 0-60 mph in 4.8-seconds, slightly slower than the Audi S3 (4.6-seconds) and way off the BMW 240i xDrive's time of 4.2-seconds. Standard all-wheel drive must be thanked for the CLA35's eagerness off the line, and the 4MATIC system relentlessly grips the road without any complaints. If the CLA35 isn't enough to tickle your performance fancy, the more powerful 2020 CLA45 will launch you from 0-60 in 4.1-seconds, though you'll have to wait until later on in the year to get your hands on on the more powerful CLA. The well-bolstered German does well in the performance category for this segment and will reach a top speed of 155 mph, and could be faster, but Mercedes adds an electronic limiter to save its targeted younger market from their invincibility syndrome in the CLA35. Aside from looking the part, it brings forth an athletic experience to its driver and doesn't disappoint in real-life testing. It gets going with the kind of mastery that we have come to expect from a Mercedes-AMG derivative but considering that it's slightly slower than rivals with lower price tags, it's in for a bit of a fight.
The essence of the CLA35 AMG is a twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot that shares much of the same DNA as the previous-gen CLA45 AMG, and drives power to a seven-speed automatic. It delegates power to all four wheels thanks to standard-equipped 4MATIC, and turbo lag only makes itself known if you're really looking for it. The baby AMG is only slightly more powerful than the S3, with 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque at the Merc's disposal rivaling the Audi's 288 hp and 280 lb-ft. BMW's M240i xDrive, however, beats the CLA35 in terms of power and torque, boasting 335 hp and 369 lb-ft. The transmission employed by the Merc doesn't fall short by many measures, though downshifting can be a little clunky. It can be flipped into manual for extra shifting control in any of the CLA35's driving modes. Acceleration is generally effortless for the coupe, though rivals provide similar performance for a lower price. Some may view the engine's soundtrack as a little disappointing, as a Merc usually has a distinctive engine sound, but the CLA's exhaust sounds a little like a Honda at times.
As a whole, the CLA35 handles most situations confidently, but it isn't without any imperfections. Starting off with the niggly bits, quite a lot of driving noise makes it into the cabin and on rough terrain, it's sometimes so loud that you'll have to raise your voice while speaking to your passengers. Then, there's that little downshift issue we mentioned earlier, and there's a little delay present when you're trying to get to lower gears quickly. When we take its driver-focus into consideration, it pales slightly in comparison to the A45's aggressiveness, but it has still got its kicks to offer and isn't exactly boring - it just sort of feels like a Golf 7R with an AMG badge. Another bothersome factor would be the amount of fake engine noise emanated by the speakers, but that's about it for the negatives. The suspension is on the firmer side, but not by enough to result in real discomfort, though if you're venturing onto particularly rough surfaces, the CLA35 will be sure to let you know.
No outshining or besting can be seen in this category for the CLA35, and the Merc is either on par with, or slightly behind, its main rivals. With EPA estimates of 23/29/25 mpg, the AMG compares well with the Audi S3's EPA estimates sitting at 22/29/25 mpg. The BMW M240i xDrive also posts similar EPA estimates of 22/30/25 mpg. When the CLA35's 13.5-gallon fuel tank is at full capacity, you can go for around 340 miles before you'd need to stop for another fill-up.
The CLA35 shares its interior with the new CLA45 that's due to launch soon, meaning that from the inside, you get nearly the exact same experience in the entry-level AMG as you do in the pricer 2020 CLA45. Mercedes-AMG approaches the entry-level AMG with very little frugality and delivers an extraordinary interior for the CLA35. The iconic Merc interior is carried by the CLA along with plenty of features - tech and safety-focused of course - with no penny-pinching to be seen in terms of convenience either. A hint of cheaper materials can be found if you're determined to find them, but the CLA35 does extremely well at using them in places that aren't easily spotted or used often.
Six-footers shouldn't dismiss this particular AMG completely unless they plan on spending their entire journey in the back. The CLA35 doesn't do terribly enough in terms of space to completely discredit it, but it does fall behind its two main rivals, and this is most obvious in the back of the coupe, thanks to its extra sloped roofline. The M235i Gran Coupe's front legroom offering is slightly less spacious than the Merc with 41.8 inches against 41.4, and the Audi also falls behind the Merc with a similar measurement to the M235i, however, things get smaller for the Merc in the back seat, with the BMW offering 34.4 inches of rear legroom in comparison to the Merc's 33.9-inch measurement.
Aggressively bolstered sport seats only come when optioned at a price of $3,270, while the standard ones are comfortable enough, but not particularly exciting. Multiway power-adjustable seats allow the driver to find a comfortable seating position with good visibility, while ingress and egress are as simple and pain-free as a coupe in this segment can manage.
Mostly premium materials can be seen throughout the Merc, and the inside of the coupe exudes luxury and comfort. Two standard MB-Tex leatherette colors can be chosen from for upholstery and include a Neva Grey and Black combination or Black BM-Tex Dinamica with red stitching. Merc makes four additional $1,450 genuine leather upholstery options available, inclusive of Black, Bahia Brown, and two combinations of either Classic Red and Black, or Titanium Grey and Black. For trim inserts, five options are available, though only three of them are standard. No-cost choices include either Aluminum with either linear or longitudinal grain, or the Aluminum AMG design. Two additional wood trims are available for an extra $325, which are Black Linden wood or Brown Walnut wood.
The performance coupe segment doesn't generally offer a lot of trunk space as a rule, and the Merc manages to fall behind its rival from BMW in this department. The CLA35 is home to an 11.6 cubic foot trunk, while the M235i Gran Coupe has 15.2 cu-ft on offer. Smaller still, the Audi S3 offers ten cubes of space, so if you're known to carry a lot of unnecessary stuff in the trunk for weeks, the M235i would prove to be the better choice, at least in terms of rear-most real estate.
The cargo space on offer by the Merc is average by the segment's standards; the coupe boasts relatively deep door pockets for phone or wallet storage, and maybe a water bottle if you're not overly thirsty on the day. The cubby hole is also generously sized and can fit a glasses case or two, or two roast chickens, if they were caught early.
It might be the cheapest AMG-badged coupe that money can buy, but this isn't shown in the features list and the CLA35 shares many of the same features as its much more mature and luxurious siblings, like the E Class. For the exterior, the Merc boasts a panoramic sunroof, full-LED lighting, and 18-inch AMG wheels. Moving to the inside, we're graced with a multifunctional leather-clad steering wheel, push-button start, three-zone climate control, and cruise control, along with eight-way power-adjustable front seats with memory while 64-color ambient lighting sets the tone. Standard safety features on the AMG are inclusive of adaptive braking technology with active brake assist, crosswind assist, driver attention warning and Merc's emergency call service.
The digital nucleus of the CLA35 is a new multimedia system that Merc has dubbed Mercedes-Benz User Experience", and this particular AMG enjoys it as a standard feature. MBUX can be operated via voice control or the touchpad found in the center console and comes with a virtual assistant. Two 10.25-inch digital screens are found in the AMG, one being used for the digital instrument cluster and one being used as the central infotainment hub. The latter offers full smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as Bluetooth streaming, and HD Radio. Five USB ports can be found throughout the coupe and your playlists are executed with crisp clarity thanks to a premium sound system.
Being a near-total redesign for 2020, the CLA35 AMG has not been the subject of any recalls as yet, but its less powerful sibling, the CLA 250 has, and it was for an issue relating to the driver's airbag not being properly secured. Also, last year, Merc played the leading role in a recall scandal and was fined to the tune of $20 million for not adhering to recalls processes. Nevertheless, Mercedes offers a four-year or 50,000-mile basic, corrosion, and drivetrain warranty, and roadside assistance is standard for the same period.
Neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA had performed any crash tests on the CLA35 at the time of writing, given its new status.
A commendable number of standard features can be found in the CLA35, but safety features only become notable when the Driver's Assistance package is opted for. Standard safety features boasted by the coupe are inclusive of eight airbags (dual-front, pelvic, knee, side curtain, and side impact airbags), a rearview camera, brake assist, crosswind assist and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Opting for the Driver Assistance package will add a few must-haves, including steering assist, active brake assist with cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, lane change assist, blind-spot monitoring and route-based speed adaptation.
Business as usual for any Mercedes-badged coupe, the CLA35 delivers a stunning exterior design, fantastic interior and plenty of power for the segment, though it's slightly slower than both of its main rivals. Given that it's slightly more expensive too, it has a bit more to prove, and it does just that - in certain aspects at least. For one, the interior of the coupe is absolutely stunning, and the marriage between the digital instrument cluster and infotainment system sits well in a car that transforms its cabin into a modern mecca of tech. A downside for the Merc is its cramped back seats, and with that being the case, the Merc also offers less trunk space than the BMW, though its trunk is bigger than that of the Audi S3. In terms of infotainment, the MBUX system can be a little inept at times, and the voice control isn't always up to scratch, but that's our only gripe in the ways of tech. The Merc is a great choice if you're doing some four-door performance coupe shopping. It offers plenty of power, on-par fuel economy, and many standard features. However, if you're on a budget, the Audi S3 is worth taking another look at.
With just one trim level available, pricing is quite simple - but if you venture into the dangerous land of optional packages, your CLA35 can quickly climb to much pricier heights. A starting MSRP of $46,900 accompanies the AMG along with a $995 destination fee applicable to your purchase. Adding must-haves like the Driver Assistance Package for $2,250 requires the addition of the Multimedia Package and the Premium Package for a combined $2,420. The Parking Assistance Package for $1,090 is worth adding, but needs to be opted for in conjunction with the $550 Blind Spot Assist option. The $1,100 head-up display and AMG Ride Control for $850 will drive the final asking price up to $53,185, including the destination fee.
The 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 range comprises just one trim level, and it employs a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that drives a seven-speed automatic transmission. The 4MATIC-badged coupe boasts a standard all-wheel-drive system and AMG Sport suspension and gets from 0-60 in 4.8 seconds.
The exterior boasts standard 18-inch AMG wheels, along with a panoramic sunroof and full LED lighting in the front and rear. Inside you get eight-way power-adjustable seats, three-zone climate control, push-button start, and cruise control. 64-color ambient lighting sets the tone and infotainment sees a host of standard features like the MBUX system with voice control. Two 10.25-inch screens are found in the Merc, one being a digital instrument cluster, and the other being the central infotainment screen that enables Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming, and HD Radio. There are five USB ports in the front and rear of the coupe, and a high-quality sound system is standard.
Standard safety features are inclusive of adaptive braking technology, brake-assist, driver-attention assist, crosswind assist and a rearview camera.
Many additional packages have been made available for the CLA35 to allow for high levels of customization. Most notably, the $2,250 Driver Assistance Package adds must-have safety features including active distance assist, steering assist, brake assist with cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, lane change assist and blind-spot monitoring, as well as route-based speed adaptation. Notably, this package relies on whether the Multimedia and Premium package has been specced before it becomes available.
The AMG Performance Seat Package adds aggressively sport-focused AMG Performance front seats with heating for $3,270, while the Multimedia Package adds navigation and speed-limit assist for an additional $1,150, though the Premium Package must be added to allow for this.
Individual add-ons include a $1,100 head-up display, wireless charging for $200, and a premium 12-speaker Burmester surround-sound system for $850
We'd recommend sticking with Polar White and opting for the $750 AMG Night Package that adds black exterior styling - the contrast makes for an attractive CLA35, at least from the outside. Opting for the $1,100 head-up display is also recommended, and adds a nicer touch to an already excellent interior. An absolute necessity would be the Driver Assistance Package ($2,250), as it adds on some safety features that will be missed otherwise (and automatically requires the Multimedia package and Premium to be added, too); and if you're feeling generous, adding the Parking Assistance Package takes the convenience up a notch, especially for those tough parking spaces. This would bring the total cost in just under $55k.
Both of these Merc-badged choices share the same engine, but the A35 is more stylish and more exciting behind the wheel; additionally, the A35 is slightly more affordable. Notably, the A35 will only launch in Spring this year, so if you're not particularly patient, you'll have to go with the CLA35. The CLA35 does exude some extra luxury, and its interior is slightly better than that of the A-Class-derivative. It's a tough one between these two, because the A35 seems like a more driver-oriented car, while the CLA provides the same amount of power but in a more refined manner. If you're after a sizzling performance experience, the A35 would be the one to shoot for, but if refined power and luxury are points you're concerned about, the CLA35 is the better choice.
As very closely related siblings, these two CLA models share a lot of the same DNA, and a lot of it is where it matters for the CLA35. The 2020 CLA45 will be officially available later this year, and although official pricing hasn't been released as yet, you can expect a difference of around $7,000 between the two. The 2020 CLA45 also employs a turbocharged four-pot, but thwacks out 382 hp in comparison to the 35's 302 hp. The interesting thing is, if you blindfolded someone and put them in a CLA35, there would be a lot of difficulty in guessing if you were in that or the CLA45 as the interior setup is almost identical. This means, all the extra $8,000 is for, really, is some extra power and small added bits. The 2020 CLA45 also offers more in the ways of additional packages and the like, given its mission to be the more premium and powerful sibling of the CLA35. If you're after extra power and you have the budget, the CLA45 would be the choice to go with, but in a lot of categories, the CLA35 does more than excellently, and shares obvious similarities to the CLA45.
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