If you fancy the idea of owning one of Mercedes-AMG’s new junior 35-badged performance models but think the A35 hatch and saloon look a bit, well, normal, let me introduce you to the new CLA 35 'Coupé'.
Quite a striking thing, isn’t it? Even in standard guise, the CLA’s swept-back roof and sharp lines mark it out as a bit of a looker. But with the subtle performance paraphernalia added by the crew at Affalterbach, the CLA 35’s additional level of visual assertion makes it all the more alluring. Mercedes is banking on this car’s appearance to be the driving reason why someone might buy one over its more workaday A 35 cousins and, as far as my eyes are concerned, I can see why someone might.
Beyond its rather pretty exterior, however, there isn’t much that differentiates the CLA 35 from the hatch or the saloon - not that that’s in any way a bad thing. Its turbocharged 2.0-litre four-pot, codenamed M260, is carried over directly and produces the same 302bhp and 295lb ft as in its siblings. A seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox sends power to the front wheels under normal driving conditions, but an electromechanically controlled multi-disc clutch housed at the rear can send as much as 50% of the engine’s grunt rearwards.
Suspension is by way of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear, while Mercedes-AMG’s adaptive damping system comes as standard on our Premium Plus-spec test car. Given that the passively damped A35 Saloon we drove recently suffered from a shortage of low-speed compliance, it’ll be interesting to see whether this CLA is any more liveable with.
On Oxfordshire’s sleepy country roads, the CLA 35 makes for an interesting companion. With its AMG Dynamic Select programme configured to its angriest setting, throttle response is very keen indeed and the M260 engine has a fairly healthy appetite for revs.
This is a quick car by regular standards, and despite the fairly obvious amounts of synthetic aural trickery, it’s one that sounds good, too. Lift off the throttle and it pops and bangs on the overrun like a superheated witches’ cauldron. But in a similar fashion to its bigger, badder 416bhp A45 S relative, it doesn’t quite feel as quick when locked in gear as its numbers suggest it should. Which is a bit odd.
That seven-speed gearbox is a bit of a sore point, too. It’s far quicker to react to sudden throttle inputs than the often lethargic, post-WLTP dual-clutch ’boxes fitted to the likes of hot Volkswagens and Audis, but this is about the only instance where the Mercedes comes up trumps. It’s a bit over-eager to engage when pulling away from standstill and, left to its own devices, it can fumble full-throttle upshifts as you approach the redline. Then, in manual mode, it’s easier to bump into the limiter than you might expect - although if you keep the engine spinning around 3000-4000rpm, a tug on one of its rather plastic-feeling paddles will cause it to perform its duties in a much slicker fashion.