Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 review

Category: Performance car

Performance car is seriously quick point-to-point, yet not especially exciting to drive

Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 front right driving
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 front right driving
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 rear cornering
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior dashboard
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior back seats
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior driver display
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 right driving
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 front driving
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 front cornering
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 rear driving
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 front right static
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 rear left static
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 alloy wheel detail
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior front seats
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior steering wheel
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior steering wheel detail
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior infotainment
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior detail
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 kickplate detail
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 AMG badge detail
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 front right driving
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 rear cornering
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior dashboard
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior back seats
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior driver display
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 right driving
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 front driving
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 front cornering
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 rear driving
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 front right static
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 rear left static
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 alloy wheel detail
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior front seats
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior steering wheel
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior steering wheel detail
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior infotainment
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior detail
  • Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 kickplate detail
  • Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 AMG badge detail
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by
Lawrence Cheung
Published13 October 2023
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Introduction

What Car? says...

The Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 provides the entry point into the AMG-tuned performance versions of the Mercedes CLA four-door coupé.

And while the CLA 35 comes with a more aggressive appearance than the regular car, it's not TOO aggressive. Mercedes seems to be hoping its more demure looks will win over buyers looking for a powerful car, but not wanting to go as far as living with the rather brutish vibes of the Mercedes-AMG A35 hot hatchback.

Still, underneath its body-kitted exterior, there's not a whole lot that differentiates the CLA 35 from the A35, so you get a very potent engine delivering power to all four wheels. You can also mix performance and practicality by going for the estate-car version, based on the CLA Shooting Brake.

Read on to get our in-depth impressions of all aspects of the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35. We'll tell you what it's like to drive, how it handles and more, plus how it compares with its main rivals – namely the M235i version of the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé and the Honda Civic Type R.

Overview

Point-to-point, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 is a seriously quick car, yet it's not particularly exciting to drive. It’s not the most refined cruiser, either, so it’s not the best choice for long-distance driving.

  • Rapid acceleration
  • Reasonably comfortable
  • Brilliant traction regardless of conditions
  • Expensive list price
  • Too much road noise
  • Not very exciting to drive
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

The Mercedes-AMG CLA 35's 2.0-litre petrol engine is fitted with a mild-hybrid system that bolsters performance and efficiency, resulting in 302bhp and 295lb ft of torque.

Even on cold, wet roads, its official 0-62mph time of just 4.9 seconds never feels in doubt, and matches its closest performance car rival – the BMW M235i Gran Coupé – for pace. When you put your foot down, the CLA 35 simply digs in and goes, transferring all of the power to the road without a hint of wheelspin.

With its neutral, predictable cornering balance and superb body control, this is a car that can cover ground extremely rapidly, regardless of conditions. However, in terms of pure driving thrills, it suffers from a similar problem to the M235i: its ‘safe’ front-biased all-wheel-drive system restricts the amount of fun you can have in the corners. 

Put simply, if you want a four-door, five-seat vehicle that feels truly thrilling, we’d recommend the Honda Civic Type R – a car that involves you in the driving process, with its slick manual gearbox, well-weighted steering and nimble chassis. 

And while we’re nit-picking, the CLA 35’s engine sounds rather tuneless even when you rev it really hard – although you do get a few cracks and pops from the exhaust when one of the sportier drive modes is engaged.

The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox isn’t as obedient as we’d like in manual mode, either (there are paddles behind the steering wheel so you can make manual shifts).

Mercedes CLA-Class image
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More positively, in Comfort driving mode the engine settles into a distant hum while you’re cruising, the gearbox swaps ratios smoothly, and ride comfort is perfectly acceptable for something this sporty. There is an awful lot of tyre roar though, especially on a motorway.

For an even more potent CLA variant, see our Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S review.

Driving overview 

Strengths Potent performance; highly competent four-wheel drive system

Weaknesses Lots of road noise; not as much fun as a Honda Civic Type R

Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 rear cornering

Interior

The interior layout, fit and finish

The regular Mercedes CLA has a spectacular-looking interior already, and AMG's CLA 35 version gets plenty of racy extra touches, including sports front seats, AMG-specific graphics for the digital instrument dials and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with aluminium paddles.

The standard manually adjustable driver’s seat combines with plenty of steering-wheel reach and rake adjustment to enable drivers of all shapes and sizes to find a comfy seating position. If you go for the Premium Plus model, you get electric front seats with adjustable lumbar support and a memory function.

The CLA 35 comes with a 10.3in infotainment screen as standard, and a digital instrument display behind the steering wheel of equal size. Sitting side by side, the two screens give the appearance of one giant widescreen that stretches across more than half of the dashboard. It's quite a sight – especially at night.

Whichever infotainment screen you choose, you can control it by touch or using another, much smaller touchpad on the steering wheel. Overall, it’s a good system, with logical menus that are relatively easy to use, although it can't quite match the iDrive system of the rival BMW M235i Gran Coupé for usability. 

Interior overview

Strengths AMG additions make it feel even more special than a standard CLA 

Weaknesses Still doesn’t feel as robust as some rivals

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior dashboard

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

Put simply, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 is no different to a standard CLA in the practicality stakes. That means plenty of space up front for a couple of 6ft-plus adults, especially if you avoid the head room-stealing optional panoramic sunroof. There's decent oddment storage too.

A pair of 6ft tall mates will find the rear seats a bit of a squeeze in the coupé version, with their heads brushing the roof. Leg room is plentiful though, if not quite as generous as in the BMW M235i Gran Coupé.

If you need to carry adults in the rear regularly, we’d recommend looking at the Mercedes-AMG A35 or indeed the estate-car version of the CLA 35 (based on the Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake), which has a bit more rear head room.

The CLA 35's boot has a useful capacity of 460 litres (similar to the regular CLA's, depending on engine choice), and the rear seats split in a handy 40/20/40 configuration. The M235i has a slightly smaller boot and seats that split 60/40.

The Shooting Brake version has 505 litres of boot space and a hatchback opening.

Practicality overview

Strengths Plenty of storage space; generous boot capacity; more practical Shooting Brake option available

Weaknesses Limited head room

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior back seats

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

With its sharper coupé looks, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 is priced slightly higher than the hatchback Mercedes-AMG A35. However, it’s worth noting that both cars sit towards the expensive end of the compact performance car spectrum – although the Honda Civic Type R is pricier still.

As standard, you get 19in alloy wheels, leather seats (heated in the front), two-zone climate control, privacy glass and keyless start.

You can upgrade to a Premium Plus version that adds a panoramic sunroof, adaptive LED headlights and a 360-degree parking camera.

The official CO2 output is slightly higher than from its rivals, while its 33.2mpg fuel economy figure will take a considerable nosedive if you use the CLA 35's full 302bhp very often.

Safety is one of the CLA 35’s strong points, and it achieved the full five-star rating in Euro NCAP safety tests in 2019. To help you to avoid testing its crash-worthiness credentials, it comes with automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance and a driver attention monitor as standard.

The model did well in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey coming second out of 15 coupés, convertibles and sports cars ranked. Mercedes didn't do so well though, finishing in 24th place out of 32 manufacturers. Audi came in 26th place, BMW came 12th and VW came in 22nd place.

Costs overview

Strengths Well equipped; holds on to its value well

Weaknesses High entry-level price

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Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior driver display

FAQs

  • The Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S is even more powerful and comes with a more sophisticated four-wheel drive system than the 35 – but they're both based on the Mercedes CLA

  • The entry-level CLA 35 costs from around £50,000. To check the latest prices, see our New Car Deals pages.

At a glance
New car deals
Save up to £4,250
Target Price from £45,365
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RRP price range £49,615 - £54,230
Number of trims (see all)1
Number of engines (see all)1
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)petrol
MPG range across all versions 33.2 - 33.6
Available doors options 4
Warranty 3 years / No mileage cap
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £634 / £4,925
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £1,269 / £9,850
Available colours