Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 review: A luxury car loaded with tech and safety

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I’ve been reviewing cars from a tech point of view in preparation for the arrival of self-driving vehicles. Those self-driving cars still aren’t here, so I had to settle for a Mercedes-AMG CLA 35.

This Mercedes-Benz model wasn’t an electric car and it didn’t have modern sensors that detected whether I was sleepy. But it was a luxurious vehicle loaded with technology. The CLA 35 is the middle model in the AMG CLA series, with the CLA 250 starting at $36,650, the CLA 35 starting at $46,900, and the high-end CLA going for $54,800. The CLA 35 model that I tried out is the Goldilocks model, which Mercedes-Benz calls a “new point of entry” for the AMG division cars. But this four-door coupe had so many extras that it was $64,755.

If you get all those options, you’ll get a substantially safer car with features such as sensors that detect whether you are drowsy and send you alerts, or a system that will automatically hit the brakes if you don’t see an imminent collision. An interesting fact: if you look at the difference between the base model and the one I drove, you’ll see that technology is the difference. You don’t get a bigger engine.

Most recently, I drove the Subaru Legacy 2020 Limited sedan, which had sensors that could detect whether the driver is drowsy or distracted. I also reviewed a number of tech-laden cars in the past year, including the Jaguar I-Pace, the BMW i3s, the Mini Cooper SE Countryman (hybrid), the Volkswagen e-Golf, the Land Rover Sport HST MHEV, the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, and the Ford Fusion Energi.

Basics of the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35

Above: Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 AMG-enhanced 2.0L inline-4 turbo engine.

Image Credit: Mercedes

Under the hood, it has a 302-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It has standard seven-speed, speed-shift dual-clutch transmission and variable all-wheel drive. The CLA 35 has a 2-liter Inline-4 engine. Mercedes says this produces an “emotional engine” sound. The turbocharger provides responsiveness at low engine speeds with a power increase at higher engine speeds.

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It goes zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds, and it weighs around 3,600 pounds. It comes standard with full LED headlights, and they can swivel. The car has18-inch light-alloy wheels in twin-spoke design (19-inch wheels are optionally available). Thankfully, Mercedes added a standard sun roof. It has unique exhaust holes that are flush with the bumper. And has 11.6 cubic feet of space in the trunk. The rear bumper comes with a diffuser insert, a small spoiler lip on the trunk, and two round tailpipes on the left and right. It gets you on the freeway about twice as fast as the Subaru Legacy 2020 that I tried out earlier this year.

Balancing comfort and control

Above: The car has a lot of zip starting from a cold start or getting on the freeway.

Image Credit: Mercedes

Mercedes strengthened the front section of the bodyshell to enable a precise turn-in ability and the toe and camber stability of the chassis, even when driving at speed. A “shear panel”, a bolted aluminum plate under the engine, also increases the torsional stiffness of the front section of the CLA 35. Two additional diagonal braces at the front of the underbody also reduce torsion and increase rigidity.

The car has five AMG Dynamic Select drive programs: Slippery, comfort, sport, sport plus, and individual to enable a balance between comfort and dynamic. They change relevant parameters, such as the responsiveness of the engine and transmission. For instance, the new “slippery drive” program is optimized for low-grip, icy road conditions, with reduced power and a flat torque curve. Smooth gear changes and earlier upshifts support a more stable driving character.

During dynamic cornering, imperceptible braking intervention on the rear inside wheel creates a defined yawing moment about the vertical axis. The effect: the CLA 35 steers quickly and very precisely. You can select the drive program on the multimedia display, and a AMG Dynamics symbol is displayed with the corresponding additional information.

The optional Adaptive Damping System enables the driver to choose between three different suspension control modes. The spectrum ranges from comfort-focused to sporty. The system operates fully automatically, adapting the damping forces for each wheel according to the driving situation and road conditions. This happens within milliseconds and is infinitely variable, with a wide spread of damping characteristics. The result is that ride comfort and agility are both enhanced. All of these features balance comfort and safety, but you may be hard pressed to feel the difference, other than a vague notion that this car is pretty smooth.

Automated safety

Above: Active brake assist will stop your car if a collision is imminent.

Image Credit: Mercedes

The standard driver assistance package has active brake assist with cross-traffic awareness. If you don’t react quickly enough, it helps you avoid an impending collision when it comes to vehicles that are ahead, stationary, or crossing your path.

The optional driver assistance package ($2,250) has active distance assist, dubbed Distronic, which is an adaptive cruise control system that is able to automatically adjust your set speed for traffic ahead. It also has route-based speed adaptation, which means the vehicle is able to reduce the speed in anticipatory mode by referencing the Comand map data ahead of curves, junctions, roundabouts, toll booths, and exit roads.

And it has active steering assist, which generates steering torque which helps the driver to stay in the center of the lane on straight roads and slight bends, taking its guidance from vehicles ahead and lane markings. It also has active emergency stop assist, which brakes the vehicle to a stop in a controlled manner when the system recognizes that the driver is distracted for a longer period or cannot intervene in vehicle control.

The car also tell when you are changing lanes and it assists you when you are doing so. Mercedes has also added active speed limit assist, which automatically adapts the vehicle’s speed to identified speed limits. (For a $1,100 option, you can have a heads-up display, which projects a hologram on the windshield, showing you the speed limit in white; if you go over it, your speed indicator turns orange). The car has active blind spot assist, which has a visual alert in the form of a light near your rear-view mirrors to tell you that a car is in your blind spot on either side. It also gives you an audible alarm when your turning signal is on. It can also hit the brakes if you attempt a lane change with an obstacle in the blind spot.

Above: Attention assist will send alerts if it detects a drowsy driver.

Image Credit: Mercedes

If you’re drowsy, the active lane-keeping assist will warn you with vibrations on the steering wheel. This alert happens if the vehicle is unintentionally drifting out of its lane. If the vehicle passes over a solid line or a dashed line when opposing traffic is detected, this system can pull the vehicle back into lane by applying the brakes on one side. The “attention assist” senses 70 parameters of driving behavior, and it can alert the driver with visual and audible warnings if it detects signs of drowsiness on long trips, and it can also detect drivers who begin their trips while drowsy.

Lastly, it has a pre-safe sound, or a short interference signal if an imminent collision is detected, triggering a protective reflex in the human ear referred to as the “stapedius reflex,” which can help reduce hearing loss in the event of an accident. And it has pre-safe plus, which activates safety measures when a collision from behind is imminent as well as applying the brakes when the vehicle is at a standstill in order to prevent subsequent accidents.

The car also had a $970 option dubbed Parktronic. This tells you about parking spaces if you pass them, but only alerts you if they are suitable for the size of your car. Once it finds one, the system will tell you the correct steering positions onscreen to make it easier to back into the open spot.

Infotainment

Above: The Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 has an infotainment screen that responds to voice commands.

Image Credit: Mercedes

The car comes with an intelligent interior assistant, dubbed the MBUX infotainment system, which replaces the predecessor Comand system. Two displays, one for instruments and one for infotainment, stretch across under a shared glass cover in a kind of widescreen cockpit design. The infortainment screen is 10.25 inches, diagonal, while the instrument cluster is seven inches.

You can choose between three AMG display styles for the instrument cluster: classic, sport, and supersport. The latter has a central round rev counter and additional info represented in bars to the left and right. Via the AMG menu, the driver can call up various special displays such as warm-up, set-up, G-Force, and engine data.

You can operate the screens by touching them. But they also offer selection functions that can be operated without touch. The assistant differentiates between driver and passenger interaction and recognizes certain hand positions and movements. The interaction area for the MBUX interior assistant is in front of the media display up to the center console. On the middle console between the seats, the car has a touchpad that you can use to control the MBUX screen interface.

Above: The steering wheel view of the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35.

Image Credit: Mercedes

The center console in piano black finish with standard touchpad has additional buttons that control the functions such as manual transmission mode and the Adaptive Damping System. You can use it like a touchpad on a laptop.

As for automated detection of your intentions, the operator’s seat is enlarged on the media display if you move your hand toward the touchscreen. The most suitable operating elements are automatically pre-selected. In the radio and media menu, the MBUX interior assistant reduces the number of operating steps. In the navigation menu, the system fades in the display as soon as the hand moves to operate the touchscreen or touchpad, so that a symbol is selected directly.

When displaying the camera image, as soon as your hand moves toward the touchscreen the MBUX interior assistant enables the four camera operating symbols from the 360-degree camera to be faded in. This means that the front, rear, right or left camera view can be selected directly.

Voice controls and connected access

Above: You can initiate calls or voice commands from your steering wheel.

Image Credit: Mercedes

You can also control the CLA 35 with your voice. You activate that with the words “Hey Mercedes.” Using artificial intelligence, MBUX recognizes and understands nearly all sentences from the fields of infotainment and vehicle operation, even if they are expressed indirectly, according to Mercedes-Benz. I didn’t have enough time to fully put this to the test.

The AMG Track Pace option on the CLA 35 is a virtual race engineer. It permanently records more than 80 vehicle-specific data measures (e.g. speed, acceleration). On top of this, lap and sector times are displayed, as well as the respective difference to a reference time. Because specific display elements are shown in green or red, the driver can see at a glance without reading numbers whether they are currently faster or slower than the best time. You can analyze this data later.

The navigation map display can be switched from 2D to 3D and be updated online (for a fee).

The MBUX Augmented Reality function also allows the ideal line of a stored racetrack to be displayed on the multimedia display or on the optional heads-up display, allowing the driver to improve lap times with a virtual instructor on board.

The car has Bluetooth connectivity for your phone, so you can play your songs from your Spotify list via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration. You can also use Waze to display navigation on the infotainment screen if you prefer. It has five USB-C ports for charging.

You can pay to add Wi-Fi Hotspot service for $20 a month, with 1 gigabyte of data included in the trail. It also has the option of SiriusXM satellite radio. You can also add a Burmester 12-speaker, 590-watt surround sound system for $850.

Interior functions

Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior shot.

Above: Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 interior shot.

Image Credit: Mercedes

When you step into the car, it feels a bit like getting into the race car, especially if you have the option of $3,000 sports seats. They’re heated and cooled. There are 10 ways to adjust the seats. You can turn on the engine with the press of a button just to the right of the steering wheel, so long as you have your key fob in your pocket.

You can turn on your heated or ventilated seating with buttons on the left-side door ($1,030 option). You can tailor the cabin lighting with LED lights that comes as a standard part of the car. The multicolor ambient lighting on various trims within the cabin can be lit with 64 colors.

Above: The rear cabin of the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35.

Image Credit: Mercedes

The distinctive interior design has microfibers that can draw out contrasts across things like the stitching and seat belts. The steering wheel rim has a flat bottom, perforated leather in the grip area, and red contrasting topstitching. The galvanized steering wheel gearshift paddles give it a sporty style, and you can do manual gear shifting with the paddles.

The steering wheel also has built-in touch control buttons, familiar from some of our other models, are a new feature. The Active Distance Assist Distronic and the cruise control can be adjusted on the control panels on the left. The control panels on the right activate the voice control and your smartphone, and regulate the sound volume, music selection, and other functions of the infotainment system.

Worth the price?

It’s worth checking out the CLA 250 and CLA 45 models when evaluating the CLA 35. But this one has a lot of the features of the more expensive CLA 45, like the interior look of the car. I enjoyed the car’s speed when getting on the freeway, and it made me feel a bit like a race driver, with details like the sporty seats. As I mentioned, the safety features make this car a lot safer, and I only wish I could get that on the cheapest cars too. Sure, $64,755 is like the down payment on a house. But if you’ve got that kind of cash, this is one of those dream cars that could be calling your name.

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