You may argue its 'coupe' designation, but the 2020 AMG CLA35 is stunning

By Paul Borden

(April 17, 2020) It is a widely accepted idea that an automotive coupe is a two-door vehicle that can seat two or four people (including the driver) or, if among close friends, three in the backseat. But that concept has been challenged in recent years with the introduction of “four-door coupes” that feature sleeker styling than the typical sedan and other coupe-like touches.

I once had a friend who simply wouldn’t accept this, insisting that a four-door car was a sedan, a two-door car a coupe, and that was that!

Mercedes-Benz muddied the waters when it marketed the CLS as a “four-door coupe” when it hit showrooms as a 2004 model. A few years later the 2014 CLA also was introduced as a “four-door” coupe and so it persists today.

By any designation — you say “tomato,” Larry the Cable Guy’s mentally challenged ex-girl friend says “bowling shoes” — the AMG CLA35 serves as a spectacular introduction to the Mercedes-Benz family of luxury vehicles.

Designers and engineers have given it a complete makeover for 2020 after the first generation CLA received a rather tepid reception as an entry-level luxury car with an initial price tag of under $30,000.

It looked the part of a Mercedes, but its cramped backseat, stiff ride, front-wheel drive configuration, and unimaginative performance resulted in a rather lackluster reception.

That’s not the case any more. Though the ride remains on the stiff side, perhaps too taut for some, my only real complaint with the AMG CLA35 that served as my test vehicle recently had to do with the operation of features in the new MBUX infotainment system via a touchpad on the center console.

The theory is that as we are getting so used to using computers and other technology with a touchpad instead of a mouse that this should be a natural transition to our car’s system. It is not. I found it demanded too much attention to change a radio station, for example, by swiping my finger across the pad.

Fortunately, reactions to voice commands are more responsive, but why complicate things to begin with? It is also easy to give the system input accidentally if your hand drifts unintentionally across the pad.

The other oddity — but not really annoying — is the gear selection lever. Mounted on the steering column, it sticks out to the right and is no bigger than a popsicle stick.

The CLA is available in three different versions. The base is the CLA 250 that sort of lives up to its “entry-class luxury” designation with a starting MSRP of under $37,000. Two AMG models up that ante there with the AMG CLA35 starting at $45,900 and the more powerful AMG CLA45 starting at $54,800.

If you are even vaguely familiar with the AMG designation you know that this is German-speak for “more power and performance,” and indeed the AMG CLA35 lives up to that billing.

The 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in the AMG CLA35 (the words “Mercedes-Benz” do not appear on the sticker label heading) is rated at 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, which results in an estimated zero-to-60 mph clocking of 4.8 seconds according to the company.

That’s not quite as quick as the CLA45 (382 hp, 354 lb.-ft., 4.0 seconds) but is a significant boost over the numbers for the base CLA250 (221 hp, 258 lb.-ft., 6.3 seconds).

A 7-speed automatic transmission with manual mode is standard on the CLA250 and CLA35 while the CLA45 gets an 8-speed. AMG models also get the company’s 4MATC all-wheel-drive system as standard.

EPA figures on the AMG CLA35 are not great, but it is probably not as thirsty as you might think. Even with all that performance, the AMG CLA35 drinks premium fuel at the rate of 23 miles-per-gallon city, 29 highway, and 25 combined.

The cabin is high class and resplendent with leather and comfort features.

Standard equipment on the CLA35 includes a panoramic sunroof, 10.25-inch touchscreen display, 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, Apple Carplay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless start, rain-sensing windshield wipers, Mercedes UConnect services, LED headlamps and taillights, active brake assist and stop/start technology that can be turned off by pushing a button

Options on my test car included a Driver Assistance Package, Multimedia Package (navigation and speed limit assist), an AMG Performance Seat Package, and numerous options that ran the final tab to $62,855 with the $995 destination and deliver charge included.

That pretty much takes the AMG CLA35 out of the “entry-level” discussion, but it is oh so much fun!

Now, I wonder what car maker is going to bring back a two-door sedan?

What I liked about the 2020 AMG CLA35 4MATIC: It is a visually stunning vehicle, especially in red, and the interior oozes the sophistication and quality you have come to expect from Mercedes-Benz. The performance, too, is what you expect from AMG. This may be considered “entry level” for the marque, but it is still a high class vehicle.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 AMG CLA35 4MATIC: The touchpad on the console is extremely sensitive. You can change radio station by accidentally hitting it when you are reaching for loose change in the cupholder. Guess you can get used to it, but to me it is another example of German engineers overthinking technology. The backseat is on the crowded size. The sweeping roofline that gives the CLA its coupe-like profile infringes on headroom back there.

Would I buy the 2020 AMG CLA35 4MATIC? Probably, but that touchpad is nearly a deal breaker for me. But the looks and overall performance of the 2020 AMG CLA35 4MATIC are breathtaking.