New Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 2020 review

Mercedes’ A-Class based CLA four-door coupe has performance option. How does the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 stack up?

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

The CLA 35’s biggest problem is its A 35 Saloon relative. The two feel much the same to drive and have the same great engine, but the A 35 is cheaper and is a little more practical despite its marginally smaller boot. As with so many premium four-door coupes, the appeal of the CLA 35 Coupe over its more flexible siblings lies almost exclusively in its swoopier styling.

The Mercedes CLA rounds off the wider A-Class line-up as a stylish four-door coupe or Shooting Brake estate that takes more than a little inspiration from the larger CLS

The fact that the A-Class Saloon exists at the same time as the CLA is testament to Mercedes’ fondness for niche-filling – as is the fact that both can be had in AMG-fettled 35 and 45 versions. These two performance-orientated models cross over on remit and even share rivals in the market; only the forthcoming BMW M235i Gran Coupe will square-up to the CLA 35 directly, while the Shooting Brake version stands in a class of one.

• Best sports cars to buy now

The CLA 35 is more expensive and slightly better-equipped as standard than its A 35 counterpart but mechanical differences are marginal; the pair share identical engines, gearboxes, four-wheel drive systems and wheelbases, but the CLA is ever-so-slightly longer and boasts a wider track that, according to Mercedes, makes it sharper to drive.

Driving both back-to-back, these small differences are very hard to detect. A bigger change is clear on our top-flight Premium Plus test car, however; its adaptive suspension is a much better match for the CLA’s character, offering a smoother and more controlled ride than the standard passive system, even in its stiffest setting. The system helps to tame some road noise too, eliminating some of the standard set-up’s excessive tyre roar. 

It’s a must-pick option regardless of which 35 you choose but only comes as part of the £6,000 Premium Plus pack; spec the Saloon and CLA version like this and there’s a £1,355 difference in total price between them.

In use the 306bhp 2.0-litre engine is just as effective as in other applications – the CLA 35 feels hugely quick in everyday driving. Light, accurate steering gives just enough feedback to keep the driver engaged and the four-wheel drive system is flattering rather than intrusive. The highly strung four-cylinder’s jarring clatter at idle and low speeds is not very becoming of a Mercedes, however. 

Elsewhere, entry-level CLA 35 buyers benefit from a small amount of extra equipment. Where the A 35 Saloon opposite gets two seven-inch infotainment screens as standard, the CLA 35 replaces the central media screen with a 10.25-inch item; other differences include the CLA’s standard, more comfortable fixed-headrest sports seats and a set of stainless steel pedals. You’ll still need to climb the trim levels to get all the best equipment.

That dramatic roofline lends a look that’s certain to sell but the trade-off is reduced headroom and hampered access to the rear seats thanks to a low, thick C-pillar – a potential problem for those regularly fitting child seats.

Most Popular

New 2021 Volkswagen T7 Multivan replaces Caravelle
Volkswagen T7 Multivan - front
Volkswagen Caravelle

New 2021 Volkswagen T7 Multivan replaces Caravelle

The Volkswagen T7 Multivan MPV switches to the MQB platform and adds plug-in hybrid technology
10 Jun 2021
LEC launches affordable EV conversion for classic Mini
LEC MINI Electric
MINI

LEC launches affordable EV conversion for classic Mini

The conversion sees the Mini’s A-Series engine replaced with a dinky electric motor and a 20kWh battery for a range of 70 miles in the city
10 Jun 2021
New Toyota Land Cruiser 300 revealed with six-cylinder petrol and diesel power
Toyota Land Cruiser - front
Toyota Land Cruiser

New Toyota Land Cruiser 300 revealed with six-cylinder petrol and diesel power

Six-cylinder engine line-up and clever new suspension tech for the new large Toyota Land Cruiser, but it’s not destined for the UK
9 Jun 2021
New 2021 Vauxhall Astra teased for the first time
Vauxhall Astra teaser 1
Vauxhall Astra

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra teased for the first time

The new Vauxhall Astra will get electrified powertrains and a more premium image
8 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021
New 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid launched with 1,006bhp
Tesla Model S facelift - front
Tesla Model S

New 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid launched with 1,006bhp

Range-topping version of the Tesla Model S officially unveiled, with a sprint time of 0-60mph in less than two seconds
10 Jun 2021
‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'
Gearknob
Opinion

‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'

Want to drive a manual car? You need to take your test in a manual car. So what happens once all driving-school cars are automatic EVs?
8 Jun 2021
New Genesis G80 2021 review
Genesis G80
Genesis G80

New Genesis G80 2021 review

Is the new Genesis G80 a worthy competitor in the executive saloon segment?
9 Jun 2021
New Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet 2021 review
Mercedes E 300 Cabriolet - front
Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet

New Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet 2021 review

The soft-top Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet gets the same updates as the saloon and estate variants
10 Jun 2021
'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'
Car manufacturing
Opinion

'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'

Steve Fowler points out the fresh issues facing global car manufacturing
9 Jun 2021
New 2021 BMW X4 facelift arrives with new look inside and out
BMW X4 - front tracking
BMW X4

New 2021 BMW X4 facelift arrives with new look inside and out

The updated BMW X4 line-up gets a new look and now comes with hot petrol and diesel options
8 Jun 2021
New 2021 BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe breaks cover
BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe - front
BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe

New 2021 BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe breaks cover

The new second-generation BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe adds four-door coupe style to the 4 Series range
8 Jun 2021
Audi updates line-up for 2022 with new tech and trim features
Audi S5
Audi

Audi updates line-up for 2022 with new tech and trim features

Almost every car in Audi’s line-up has received a tweak, with major updates including Amazon Alexa integration and a Sonos stereo
11 Jun 2021
New Vauxhall Grandland SUV unveiled with fresh design and tech boost
Vauxhall Grandland - front action
Vauxhall Grandland X

New Vauxhall Grandland SUV unveiled with fresh design and tech boost

The heavily facelifted Vauxhall Grandland family SUV gets Visor design cues and plug-in hybrid power
8 Jun 2021