Fancy an Affalterbach stamp without quite so much of the financial outlay? Step this way, towards the Mercedes AMG CLA 35. Essentially a stretched, version of the A 35 hatch, it slots in towards the bottom of the AMG family and shares the same four-cylinder powerplant as the hatch. Despite the list price, it aims to provide some of the drama, performance and style of its larger V8 – or four- and six-cylindered – siblings. Does it deliver? Read the full CAR review to find out.
Pros: Butch AMG styling, flash interior, mechanical grip
Cons: Low driver engagement, artificial engine noise
Mercedes has given its entry-level coupe a slight retouch, with the biggest changes being the new restyled LED lights and reworked bumpers. There are also a few extra boxes to tick on the interior options list, and three fresh alloy wheel designs.
The CLA 35 retains its 2.0-litre turbo, but it now benefits from hybrid technology; a second-gen 48V system gives a temporary power boost of 14bhp, and means this AMG is technically a mild-hybrid.
Finally, the interior also gets the latest, most intelligent version of Mercedes’ MBUX infotainment software.
What are the specs?
This 35-spec car might be one of the cheapest ways to get a full-fat AMG badge, but it’s still no slouch. Mercedes’ super-compact four-cylinder turbo managed to squeeze out 302bhp and 295lb ft of torque, with power than diverted to all four wheels via an eight-speed 4matic transmission.
Those wanting to use AMG’s Torque control software will need to stretch for the more expensive and more powerful AMG CLA 45 S. And the 35 S also gets a standard exhaust turbocharger, rather than the 45’s twin-scroll system.
Put everything together and the CLA can hit 62mph from a standstill in 4.9 seconds, an impressive figure for an ‘entry-level’ car.
How does it drive?
Much like its hot-hatch cousin, the AMG CLA seems to handle whatever you throw at it, and approaches most roads with the enthusiasm of an executive go kart. In a straight line, it feels every bit as quick as its sub-5.0 second launch stats suggest, and on anything squigglier, the AMG seems to dig into the road; there are masses of mechanical grip here, just like the hatch.
However, those wanting something a little more tactile will be disappointed. Despite relatively informative feedback from the relatively light wheel, you never quite know where you are in relation to the CLA’s limits. Its four-wheel drive system seems to extract every ounce of grip from the road surface – but it often leaves you with very little to do or react to.
As you’d expect from a four-wheel-drive car with just north of 300 bhp, it always feels fast from point to point – but doesn’t have enough torque or power to fishtail or get out of shape like more traditional AMGs. This is the entry-level model after all.
What’s the interior like?
You’ll either be delighted by the sci-fi come nightclub interior, or you’ll hate it. Full of shiny switches and bathed in customisable lights at night, the CLA’s interior doesn’t reach the spectacle of MBUX Hyperscreen cars – but it comes close. Two decent-sized high-definition touchscreens show you everything you need to know, and on whole it’s easy to use.
MBUX’s voice assistant is here and, although somewhat ‘intelligent,’ it still relies on a list of specific commands to function. Tell the car you’re cold and it’ll warm up, tell it you want to change the colour of the interior lights and it’ll do that too. Expect things to get considerably more interesting than a party piece once Mercedes rolls out the latest Chat GPT-supercharged MBUX to its cars, though. After that, you won’t need to memorise key phrases.
The new CLA also ‘benefits’ from Mercedes’ latest five stalk steering wheel, which is just as frustrating here as on the rest of the range. Stuttgart is sticking with touch capacitive buttons, and the result is an extremely hit-and-miss experience. Annoying when you’re messing with music playback, and incredibly sub-optimal when you’re dealing with the cruise control. There are also intricate rotary switches at the bottom steering wheel, with screens that display everything from the traction mode, driving mode or exhaust noise. Tacky or futuristic? You decide.
Before you buy
If you’re after something that’s good from point to point, you’ll have to look at Ingolstadt’s Audi S3. Like the CLA AMG 35 it’s available in saloon form and sits a respectable distance underneath the sillier RS3. It’s slightly better at straight-line performance (0.62mph in 4.6 seconds) and in-corner confidence as the CLA 35 but suffers from the same lack of engagement. Styling is objective, and the interior will be too; if you’re keen on something that’s clean and uncluttered, you’ll prefer the Audi’s. If you want something with a hint of Batmobile, stick with the three-pointed star.
The CLA also has competition from within, as both the hot-hatch A-class and faster CLA can also be seen as solid alternatives. The jump in power the 45 cars is substantial, with the 45 clocking in with 421hp and a 0-62mph sprint of 4.1 seconds, but in most cases the entry-level AMGs are enough. The 45 costs around £20,000 more too.
If you want something executive looking the CLA works, though if you’re okay with something a little more brutish, we’d go for the A 35.
If you’re after something that delivers a bit of the performance and sophistication of the more ‘thoroughbred’ AMGs, then the CLA 35 should be at the top of your list. Featuring just enough performance with good looks and executive comfort inside, it gives you a taste of the full Affalterbach life. However, if you’re after the drama and engagement of the hottest Mercedes’ cars you’ll leave disappointed. Like the more brutish A 35 or even the Audi S3 – the CLA 35 can feel a little flat at times, and the cool dials and artificial engine noises don’t always make up the difference.
It may be the entry-level AMG, but it’s not exactly cheap either. Sure, it’s less than the CLA 45 S, but you pay a premium for its saloon-shape compared to the hatch, and the costs just get higher when you start to indulge on the options list.