AMG

Review: The $47,895 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG plays the middle ground


It’s a chainsaw in a box, revving behind your right ear. It’s firm, direct, unflappable. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG is a dab of Gorilla Glue applied right to the road. 

With more power, a showy body kit, and a racier interior, the CLA35 plays the middle ground between the new CLA-Class and the even hotter upcoming CLA45 AMG. BMW’s M Sport and Audi’s S cars have sliced lineups more finely, and now Benz gets it too: There’s ample space between its more pedestrian cars and its trackable toys. On a long loop toward snow-sloppy Flagstaff with a boomerang back toward the city, the CLA35 felt charismatic and likeable, and less brittle than the old CLA45 AMG, a car I fondly think of as the best Subaru WRX ever. 

The CLA35 AMG crackles with electricity, though it’s no BEV. Under the CLA35’s hood sits a hotter 2.0-liter turbo-4 with 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. A 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission shuffles power to all four wheels via a system that splits up to half the power to the rear end. Race-start and manual-shift modes wring every last erg from the drivetrain; 0-60 mph takes just 4.8 seconds, and top speed reaches 155 mph.

The CLA35’s essence isn’t in its raucous acceleration or in a three-mode sport exhaust with a sound to match. Traction is its game, and it leans on nearly every electronic and mechanical system to generate scads of it. The CLA’s three-stage electronic stability control allows drivers to decide how far the electronic nannies will let the car step out during cornering, but it’s never a lot. AMG’s drive modes—Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual—give drivers the controls to tailor throttle and suspension and yes, exhaust sounds to the moment. Comfort works best some of the time, but the CLA35 loves to lope in Sport mode, and to sear its way out of Sedona’s aura in Sport+ mode.

A new body and a revamped suspension give it the bedrock it needs to execute its handling prowess. AMG’s team stiffened the structure with an aluminum panel bolted under the engine and two diagonal braces up front to reduce twist while cornering. MacPherson struts and a four-link rear comprise the suspension, and they can be upgraded with three-mode adaptive dampers that tune up and down from comfort to sport. The CLA’s ride quality is no longer abhorrent now, not even in this half-step toward AMG greatness, not even with the 19-inch wheels from the options list. It’s still capable of sending a shudder through the front end when it squares up against deep ruts—but the same ruts would have wreaked havoc on the previous car. 

Big 13.8-inch front brake discs clamped by 4-piston monobloc fixed calipers and rear 13.0-inch discs with single-piston sliding calipers haul things back to reality. I brushed them a few times as the CLA35 threaded through slim cuts in the sandstone, and used them to blend a path through deep-knee bend corners above Payson. 

Over the course of a hundred-ish miles, the CLA35 clipped its apexes neatly, clamped with authority to the tarmac, whistling its turbocharged song like the eighth dwarf, Grippy. With utter stability, the CLA35 AMG vectored south and quaffed the miles as heavy steering effort helped it track perfectly on the interstates. The hot-yellow sedan skimmed south and wrote its own sunset. 

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG

Displays of digital

Park it, and the CLA35 AMG still looks as if it’s cruising at speed. It’s clearly no stock CLA-Class, not with its twin-bar grille and domed hood in front, big 18- or 19-inch wheels, and diffuser and spoiler out back. The new CLA’s roof still gently curves, the window still flows, the Mercedes star still glows on its own, framed by LED headlights.

Inside the CLA35 features the same basic design as the 2020 CLA-Class, with a more sculptured and generally better-quality dash than before, still with plenty of black gloss plastic. The new MBUX infotainment system sports twin 10.25-inch screens here, the optional black synthetic leather seats have microfiber inserts and red piping, and a flat-bottom steering wheel wears perforated leather with red stitching.

Those big digital displays come with some AMG sizzle. The gauge cluster can be changed to distinctive drive modes, one with a prominent tachometer. The CLA35 AMG has a Track Pace data logger, which can record speed, acceleration, and G-forces, and display the results on the infotainment system. With the augmented-reality navigation system, the CLA35 AMG can even trace the quickest path around a racetrack for newbie drivers.

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 AMG

Price up, space up…a little

The new 2020 Benz CLA body stretches a bit to suit four people better. It’s now just under 185 inches long and 75.6 inches wide. The 1.1-inch bump in its wheelbase to 107.4 inches yields a little more rear-seat leg room, but the not so subtle message here is a selfish one. The front passengers, at least, get more elbow and head room, and the trunk now measures 11.6 cubic feet. 

The $47,895 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA35 stocks up with standard automatic emergency braking, twin 10.3-inch screens, drive modes, an AMG sport suspension, 18-inch wheels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a flat-bottom AMG steering wheel, a panoramic roof, LED headlights, keyless ignition, and power front sport seats. On the options list Benz sells leather upholstery, a surround-view camera system, navigation, performance seats, Burmester sound, adaptive dampers, and a head-up display.

Keep spending and it’s easy to blow more than $60,000. No worries, though—no matter how you configure it, at some point the CLA35 AMG guarantees you’ll get a grip.

 

Mercedes-Benz paid for travel and lodging so we could bring you this first drive review.



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