Mercedes’ sport-compact sedan provides all-wheel-drive performance and four-cylinder efficiency.

Dan Carney, Senior Editor

March 20, 2024

5 Min Read
The Mercedes-AMG CLA35 gains LED high-performance headlights for 2024.
The Mercedes-AMG CLA35 gains LED high-performance headlights for 2024.Mercedes-Benz

At a Glance

  • 302 horsepower
  • 4.8-second 0-60 mph
  • $60,000

The most surprising aspect of the refreshed-for-2024 Starling Blue Mercedes-AMG CLA35 4Matic test car might have been its $60,000 price tag. Sure, Mercedes commands a premium and this is especially true of its high-performance AMG models.

But this compact sedan (that’s what the “C” in its nomenclature means) treads on the price territory of the posh and comfortable mid-sized “E” models in the Mercedes line at this price, which might cause some reconsideration in the showroom. Of course, the AMG versions of those E models are much more expensive, so it is not a direct comparison.

Still, $60,000 is a lot for a compact sedan no matter whose badge is on it. This is especially true when that price tag and the inclusion of options like the $1,100 19-inch AMG wheels, $750 AMG Night Package, and $2,150 Exclusive Trim package don’t include a heated steering wheel. Once you’ve had a heated steering wheel on 32-degree mornings, there is no going back, so this is a pretty significant oversight, as no Mercedes customer hasn’t already had one.

New for 2024, the CLA35 does have a slew of other noteworthy tech features. The LED High-Performance headlights are cool, and their light pattern does a dance on start-up that is attention-grabbing. The tail lights are LED too and look great. The test car’s Starling Blue paint, along with the optional Hyper Blue, are new options for 2024.

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Mercedes uses recycled materials in its MB-Tex/microfiber seat upholstery material that incorporates 65 percent recycled materials in the middle section of the seats and 85 percent recycled material in the bottom fabric.

Standard electronic gadgetry does not include the much-wanted heated steering wheel, but it does the Parking Package and Mirror Package as standard equipment now. The MBUX infotainment system boasts improved performance and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. They’ve thoughtfully illuminated the USB ports to make them easy to find at night.

The Burmester audio system is optional, but it was included in my test car. This system gained Dolby Atmos immersive sound for 2024, adding space, clarity, and depth to the music played in the car. Atmos allows discrete audio elements to be placed in a three-dimensional sound field that is adapted to the car’s interior environment. Without a before-and-after comparison with suitably high-quality audio source material, it is impossible to judge the value of this upgrade, but the Burmester audio systems in Mercedes vehicles are unfailingly excellent so there wasn’t much room for improvement here.

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Mercedes applies changing multi-color ambient lighting to all of its cars which motivates me to choose a single, less garish color and dial the brightness down to minimal levels to reduce the slot machine-like effect at night. However, the CLA35’s circular HVAC vents have light emitted from the center adjuster knob that illuminates the shiny spokes and rim of the vent face in a way that makes it look like the light comes from those surfaces. It is a cool effect and one worth putting up with the other ambient lights to enjoy.

Another gadget is the tiny display screen inside a knob that is mounted to the lower left and lower right side of the steering wheel. This provides controls for the car’s drive modes. This function could be done through the infotainment display, but these controls look interesting and fun and save the driver from dealing with menu layers to change these settings.

They will, however, have to deal with the touch screen on the dash for navigating the sound system, which is frustrating. There is a scroll wheel for volume on the center console, which isn’t where people are used to looking for it. Steering wheel volume control is by capacitive touch sliders that never deliver quite the volume adjustment the driver seeks.

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At least there are still physical controls for the climate control system, so the cabin air temperature is easy to manage.

The CLA35’s drivetrain incorporates a 48-volt mild hybrid stop/start system that restarts the engine imperceptibly when the driver steps on the gas pedal. This provides a huge improvement in driver comfort, as the vehicle’s occupants are spared the coarse start-up of the previous system.

The turbocharged 2.0-liter engine produces 302 horsepower, driving all four wheels through an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. The 13-horsepower belt alternator/starter also contributes its muscle. This combination accelerates the car to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds.

Unfortunately, the low-speed calibration of the clutches in this system needs refinement, as engagement is abrupt, making it difficult to place the car precisely when parking. Ask for another couple inches forward and the CLA is apt to try to ram the car or wall in front rather than creeping forward just a little bit.

The clutch is also slow to engage when shifting from Reverse to Drive, as when backing out of a parking space. Drive engages after a couple-second delay, leaving the driver revving the motor in the expectation of driving away. That motor is also growly and unrefined, which is unremarkable among sport compact cars but is not expected from Mercedes-Benz. Such is the price of AMG performance, apparently.

That drivetrain delivers good efficiency, with EPA ratings of 22 mpg in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway. After a week in the car, my mileage was at the high end of that range. That efficiency might provide a long driving range between fuel stops, but the firm sport seats might discourage long runs for front seat occupants, while the lack of legroom and headroom in the cramped rear seat will have those passengers preferring short jaunts over road trips in the CLA35.

It makes sense for Mercedes to diversify its product portfolio beyond its traditional conservative limousines, and a sport compact model like the CLA35 is tailor-made to fend off challenges from the likes of Audi’s A4 when vying for customers looking to move up from vehicles like the Honda Civic or Subaru WRX.

It seems like that task could be made easier with a slightly more approachable price tag and the ability to provide those customers with a noticeably better ride than they experienced in their old cars. And the CLA35 should also keep their fingers warm in the winter with standard steering wheel heat to help convince those customers that Mercedes lives up to its “The best or nothing” motto.

About the Author(s)

Dan Carney

Senior Editor, Design News

Dan’s coverage of the auto industry over three decades has taken him to the racetracks, automotive engineering centers, vehicle simulators, wind tunnels, and crash-test labs of the world.

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