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When I drove the 1st– generation Mercedes-Benz CLA 4-door coupe at its introduction in 2014, I was seriously unimpressed.  This entry-level car meant to attract first-time luxury buyers to the brand fell short – way short – of the standards set by the brand.  Sure, CLA buyers were getting a car with a Mercedes logo, but the car didn’t feel like a Mercedes.  If they wanted to get a real Benz, they’d have to spend more to get the real thing.

The 2nd– generation CLA was introduced for the 2020 model year. It is very different from the first, and now embodies all that the Mercedes-Benz brand has to offer.  Still classified as entry-level into the brand, this CLA looks sharp, and feels and drives like a member of the team; it’s a solid buy.

Last week, I was able to drive a Jupiter Red 2020 AMG CLA 35 4MATIC that came with a $62,855 MSRP price tag.  This car is a step up (maybe several steps up) from the base Mercedes-Benz CLA, which comes with a much more accessible MSRP of $36,650.  Yes, the AMG CLA 35 is double the price, but it’s more than double the vehicle.  The AMG CLA 35 is a credible way to understand the world of luxury performance vehicles and what makes them so much fun to drive.  

There’s so much to like about the new AMG CLA 35, but I’ll start with the powertrain.  The only engine offered is a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder twin-turbocharged engine that the AMG engineers have tuned to get 302 hp at 5800 rpm.  Peak torque of 295 lb-ft is at 3000 rpm, so it’s really lively off the start and will get you from 0-60 in 4.8 seconds.  It’s mated to an AMG seven-speed transmission that’s linked to the AMG 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system to give the CLA 35 wonderful handling characteristics.  Like all AMG vehicles, this car is made to be driven.  

AMG engineered so many different systems into the CLA 35 that it’s difficult for me to fully explain them all.  Many of the various aspects of the car’s character can be modified, depending on either your driving wishes or the outside elements that might make driving more challenging.  The AMG Dynamics toggle located on the center console allows the driver to change relevant parameters, such as the responsiveness of the engine and the transmission.   The driver can select any of five driving modes using the AMG Dynamics as well.  You can choose from Comfort, Slippery, Sport and Sport+.  The fifth mode is Individual, which allows you to set the AMG Dynamics to however you’re feeling at that moment.  

From the driver’s perspective, the AMG interior feels like the inside of a fighter jet.  The instrument panel seamlessly integrates with the infotainment screen to create a widescreen dashboard.  All the controls are designed to be used without taking your eyes off the road, and the AMG steering wheel makes you want to keep your hands glued to it.  Thankfully the old COMAND system has been replaced with the much improved MBUX interior assistant.  Using artificial intelligence, the MBUX system operates the infotainment functions without touching.  Just say ‘Hey, Mercedes’ and the innovative virtual helper does the rest.   

The new CLA 35 is by no means a supercar, blowing the doors off anything else driving down the highway.  It is, however, an affordable alternative for anyone wishing to own a performance vehicle that also ticks most of the luxury boxes.  It looks, drives and performs way above its price point.

Steve Kursar

Steve is a veteran automotive journalist and former head of Ford Public Relations in its South Central region. He’s a native New Yorker who fell in love with a Texan (and Texas) over 20 years ago. Steve’s been living here happily ever since. His current automotive ‘want’ is an early 3-Series convertible, while his daily driver is a 2006 Toyota Tacoma.

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