CLA 35

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 35. Image: Lance Branquinho

Road test: Merc AMG’s CLA 35 is a small but potent German sedan

Is the 2021 Mercedes-Benz CLA 35 proof that with AMG’s smaller cars less is more?

CLA 35

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 35. Image: Lance Branquinho

Since its launch in the early 1990s, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class defined aspiration sedan motoring.

Unlike the larger Mercedes-Benz limousines, the C-Class was unintimidating to park and pilot in traffic, or chaotically crowded city streets.

And then, of course, there were the AMG versions. The original C36  was a car that did much to establish AMG’s reputation. It was followed by the C43, C32, C55 and of course, the seminal C63 AMG.

‘Fast, capable and comfortable’ compact sedans

Mercedes-Benz and AMG have a proven history of building very fast, capable and comfortable compact sedans. This brings us to the CLA35 AMG. Here is a car developed from the German company’s front-wheel drive A-Class hatchback platform. How can it truly be classified as an AMG compact sedan?

There is no questioning the CLA 35’s visual presence. With that sloping roofline and steeply raked rear windscreen, not to mention the tapered tail section, it has a shape unlike any other. Audi and BMW simply don’t build any rivals that look remotely like the CLA.

Image: Lance Branquinho


You do sacrifice a touch of rear headroom with that sloping roof, but the CLA 35 is already a small car, so the expectation for comfortably seating 1.9m adults in the rear, are marginal.

The CLA occupies an interesting place in the product portfolio which spans from Mercedes-Benz to AMG. With its two-litre engine boosting 225kW and 400Nm, it is vastly more powerful than any CLA 200, but not quite of the potency available in an AMG 45-series car. And that is not a bad thing, truth be told.

Driven docilely, the CLA35 does not feel much different from a CLA 200. But if you turn the steering wheel mounted function dial to “Sport” or “Sport+”, CLA 35’s engine note hardens, the throttle response becomes more active and you’ll feel weightier steering.

The car’s adaptive dampers could never provide the blend of ride comfort and cornering balance of a true air-suspension system (found on larger AMGs), but the CLA35 feels adequately nimble and unbothered, even by mid-corner bumps.

There is a very real diminishing return curve with a compact car and engine power. With all the sound deadening and luxury trim one expects from an AMG, even something of the CLA 35’s size, is no longer a lightweight. And there is only so much tyre you can fit to provide traction.

AMG’s has done amazing things with the power output of its 45-series vehicles, but there is a possibility that they are a bit too much, on public roads. South Africa has unpredictable road user behaviour and the risk of fluid spills or potholed, as you round a high-speed corner.

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35: ‘Impressively rapid’ performance

The CLA 35’s performance is impressively rapid, but it never feels ridiculous. This is a small German luxury car, that has an enormously safe margin of overtaking acceleration and predictably rewarding throttle response, without requiring stupendous driving skill and judgment, to control.


Dislikes? I find the mood lighting a touch bizarre, and something which might age poorly. The presence of chrome colour plastic, masquerading as brushed aluminium, is also troubling. It simply does not play on the heritage theme of Mercedes-Benz.

I don’t quite fathom what you’d ever use the race timer or g-force meter for. But these are features that the wealthy youthful customers, with an automotive frame of reference from the gaming world, desire.

A worthy AMG junior sedan? Absolutely. If you need to load bulky items, the A35 hatchback is always going to be better, with a much larger loading aperture.

But then again, the CLA 35 sedan has a locking metal boot, to stow laptops and valuables, which means something in a South African parking scenario. Mercedes-Benz prices the CLA 35 AMG at R984 000.