AMG is hoping younger luxury buyers will get addicted to the CLA35’s performance and try some of its more potent and expensive products.
Corporate press conferences at automotive launches often offer historical perspective. Usually, the new car is presented and acknowledges the past. Sometimes, however, the history lesson takes a different turn. Did the mid-level Mercedes-Benz executive intentionally invoke Ronald Reagan’s drug czar when he described the CLA-class as the gateway to the brand, or was he simply looking for a more credible description than “entry level” for this compact luxury car? If the CLA-class is the candy-flavored vape pen to the S-class’s Marlboro Red, then the 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 is the marijuana to the E63’s heroin.
The CLA35 is the first Mercedes-AMG variant of the second-generation CLA, which is larger in virtually every dimension than the previous model, the better to differentiate itself from the smaller A-class sedan that has joined the Mercedes family in the years since the original CLA’s introduction. Now slotted between the A- and C-class near the bottom of Mercedes’s lineup, the new CLA has an extra 1.1 inches in its wheelbase and 1.9 inches of length overall compared to the first-gen CLA. It’s 5.5 inches longer than the A-class with which it shares a platform and, at $37,645, costs $3850 more to start. The CLA’s extra length, along with design and engineering improvements, have improved our opinion of the CLA-class as a whole, but our attention here is directed at the parts of the car that have been beefed up by the AMG performance division.
A Hefty Fortification
The step up to the CLA35 is more than justified by the car’s 302-hp and 295-lb-ft-of-torque turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, an evolution of 221-hp turbo-four found in both the A-class and the non-AMG CLA. Bolted to the engine is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that delivers torque to a front-biased all-wheel-drive system and is smart enough to always make the right gear choice. Forget the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. You also get an AMG-tuned suspension with optional adaptive dampers. Driving through Arizona’s mountainous Prescott National Forest, the CLA35 never lacked for power, and the accurate steering is matched to the chassis’s quick responses. This is an easy car to drive quickly through meandering roads and long climbs.
Shifts can be jarring in the full-attack Sport Plus driving mode, which also made the ride on the optional adaptive dampers too harsh for our liking, and the MBUX software that underlies the pair of attractive digital infotainment screens was sometimes confounding. How many automotive journalists does it take to disable the chime that sounds every time the CLA exceeds the speed limit? Only two, but it takes them a while to find the setting.
Mind the Amenities
Compared to the what-can-I-get-for-a-$350-lease-payment CLA250, customers of the $47,895 CLA35 will be less price sensitive. Or, at least they’ll have to be. The CLA35 example that we drove, loaded up with nearly $20K in options, rang in at $66,340.