Merc’s surprising CLA 35 opens the AMG dream to a broader audience
Here’s an interesting car. The Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4Matic may very well be a compromise, but the more you drive it, the more attractive it becomes.
I know what you’re thinking. ‘Why bother with this when there’s the full-blood 45 S to be had?’ Well, maybe you’ve not yet driven that 45. It’s uncompromising and wild. I love it. But not everyone wants that bareback fight everyday. And this slightly milder and far more compromising 35 version offers a hell of a lot more versatility than its all-or-nothing performance brother.
A FINE COMPROMISE TO WILDER KIN
The top end of AMG’s new entry 35 range, the CLA sits above its A hatch and sedan siblings. The 35s were developed alongside their 45 S kin ‘to expand the AMG portfolio to an even broader audience’. As an attractive transport solution to a young, active and lifestyle conscious target. People who want it all, but may be a little frightened by its far more bareback, never mind more expensive wild stallion AMG 45 big brother.
Those buyers still expect an exciting design, an emotional drive, superior performance and inspiring handling. And most importantly, they want to step into that AMG world. Which makes this AMG CLA 35 a dream maker. It delivers AMG GT 4-door or AMG CLS style for a fraction of the price. Go on — click the links and compare how those car look to this one.
The AMG 35 emphasises the CLA’s sleek waistline and wide wheel arched look with a twin-louvre grille, AMG Line apron and flicked ducts. It borrows nuances from Stirling Moss and Jenks’ ’55 Mille Miglia 300SLR. Never mind those bonnet muscles the original 300 SL gull wing invented. Go ahead – google pictures of those to see what I mean.
CLA 35 PACKS A TOP CLASS CABIN
The cabin is splendid too — packing a blend of sporty design and sophisticated detail, it’s dominated by Merc’s Widescreen Cockpit. Comprising a pair of brilliant maximum-resolution 3D displays, the onboard systems are merged into an imposing central unit to bring clear control and structure.
Slip into the driver’s seat and you’re faced by a latest generation Mercedes multifunction steering. We still consider it to be the best interface between driver and car. Not just compared to the rest of this car’s systems, but versus any interface in any car. Those two little black touch controls backed by sensible buttons and scrollers on each steering stalk, are the most intuitive out there.
The right thumb touch pad controls the fully digital instrument cluster, which offers three AMG display graphics styles. One of them is a striking Supersport mode with a central tachometer and additional info in 3D effect bars to each side. There’s also a neat and legible heads-up display positioned just where you need it, almost in your line of sight.
The left thumb pad meanwhile runs CLA 35’s MBUX multimedia packing Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Bluetooth and the rest. Including those fancy new USB sockets. Which is a bit daft considering most people still use old version big plug USB cables. Why not one of each? There’s also wireless charging, if your mobile is compatible.
A LITTLE TOTO WOOLF IN ITS POCKET
Our tester also had the artificially intelligent ‘hey Mercedes’ system, which is intriguing and interesting to use. But frustrating too — it didn’t always understand my accent, so it sometimes took an effort to communicate. But it’s a cool step we’re sure will keep on improving. If anything, talking to your car is a neat party trick to entertain your less tech savvy passengers!
The AMG CLA 35 also comes with a little Toto Woolf in its pocket. This car packed the optional AMG Track Pace, which displays the ideal trackday lines on race circuits that are recorded on the MBUX system. That info is projected on the multimedia or optional head-up displays, along with your lap and sector times.
But that’s not all — and this is where Toto comes in: A virtual race engineer seamlessly records over 80 on-track performance data points and processes it all to offer advice. And allow you to analyse and hone your driving skills. Just like Lewis!
225 KW 400 NM TURBO 2-LITRE POWER
The AMG 35’s 2-litre turbo four-pot makes 225 kW and 400 Nm. That’s considerably less than the 45’s 310kW and 500Nm, but don’t let that worry you. That output is fed through and AMG Speedshift DCT 7G dual-clutch transmission to CLA 35’s AMG Performance 4Matic variable performance all-wheel drive.
AMG Dynamic Select offers five Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport + and Individual driving programs enable a broad range of engine and transmission responses. The exhaust tone also modulates depending on the program selected, with a gruff and aggressive tone in the friskier settings.
Boasting a low single wishbone, tie rod and spring damper unit front end set-up ‘to reduce the influence of drive on steering stability’, our test unit also had Adaptive Damping. Three comfort, brisk and sporty suspension modes automatically react to the car’s behaviour to adapt each wheel to reigning driving conditions and enhance both ride comfort and agility.
Fixed 4-piston monoblock callipers grip 350 millimetre ventilated and perforated discs up front and single-pot sliding callipers on 330 millimetre rotors at the rear make for most effective fade-free retardation.
SO HOW DOES AMG CLA 35 DRIVE?
So what’s it like to drive? AMG claims a 4.9 seconds 0-100km/h sprint time and we almost matched that in our tests. That compares to 4.7 seconds for the A 35 hatch, 4.8 for the sedan, and 3.9 seconds for the 45 S. There’s a tenth or three lurking in how the car launches. Probably to protect the 45 sovereignty? But five seconds to 100 is plenty quick enough.
CLA 35 has great throttle response once on the move and its upper-range and overtaking acceleration is mighty. Handling is confidence inspiring and road holding solid. The front end, although a tad distant, is sprightly and quick to respond to input; but not too vicious.
The brakes are impressive too. Emergency stopping however outs a degree of bump-steer as the nose pushes down. A compromise in suspension geometry tuned to reduce torque steer, perhaps?
Allin all, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 is a bit of a compromise. But a very necessary compromise to its ballsy 45 S big brother. Not too many people are happy to put up with that car’s uncompromising nature, day in, day out. This slightly slower and significantly more composed and genteel 35 version is also a good 200 grand cheaper and it opens the door to an AMG dream that was never possible at this price break either.
Most importantly, it’s an AMG through and through — it’s fast, handles well and brakes on a tickey. And most importantly it looks like a three million rand AMG when it actually costs a third of that. Now tell me that’s not just a perfect compromise…?
ROAD TESTED: Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 4Matic Engine: 220kW 400Nm 2-litre turbo petrol I4 Drive: 7-speed automatic AWD TESTED: 0-60km/h: 2.41 sec 0-100km/h: 5.05 sec 0-160km/h: 13.51 sec 400m: 13.3 sec @ 159 km/h 80-120km/h: 3.24 sec 120-160km/h: 6.65 sec CLAIMED: VMax: 250 km/h Fuel: 7.2 l/100km CO2: 164 g/km Warranty/Service: 5y unl./5y 100Kkm LIST PRICE: R992K RATED: 9