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2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 Performance Review

The Mercedes-AMG CLA35 may not be the perfect car for all out track day performance, but it is more than capable of some fast laps on a circuit.

1 month ago
Comments
Chris Atkinson
Performance Editor
PROS
  • Great cockpit, with a lot of thought put into it
  • Excellent suspension control for both road and track
  • Nice responsive engine, that fits well with the chassis
CONS
  • Standard seats don't cut it on the track
  • Chassis puts too much energy into front tyres
  • Steering is a bit light and lacks feedback

Overall Road Performance

For a car that’s just missing the last bit of performance on the track, the CLA35 fits really nicely as a fast road car. It’s smooth and controlled, but with enough edginess to be exciting.

It offers a really stable platform, with a progressive chassis and electronic aids that aren’t intrusive. It really carries speed without too much effort, and you won’t be disappointed.

Overall Track Performance

The Mercedes-AMG CLA35 offers a performance package that’s responsive and has the ability to achieve good lap times.

This may not be the perfect car for all-out track day performance, but it is more than capable of some fast laps on a circuit.

The engine and transmission actually feel more at home in this car compared to the AMG CLA45 S, which is almost overkill for the chassis but still hard to beat.

Engine

With 225kW and 400Nm, the 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine offers a decent amount of performance with really good throttle response and a very reactive feel. It’s hard not to compare it against the performance of the 310kW AMG CLA45 S, which shows the crazy potential of a modern 2.0-litre engine.

It does, however, fit in a nice balance of useful everyday performance and smooth driveability, and matches well with the chassis.

We achieved a 0-100 time of 5.28 seconds compared the manufacturer’s claim of 4.9 seconds, which is pretty close considering the ambient temperatures we tested it in.

Braking

The brakes were okay, but I noticed the performance dropping away after a few laps. The chassis support was excellent during braking, but the pedal travel was a little bit longer than I’d like.

Chassis

I was actually pretty impressed with the chassis. It’s really close to being balanced across all corner speeds, and only just misses out by occasionally inducing some oversteer on corner entry and some understeer mid-corner.

It is just missing the suppleness to control any over-enthusiasm, which would have actually made the car feel more balanced.

Basically, if the AMG CLA35 could catch some of the weight transfer for a longer period, it wouldn’t have caused any issues. I’ll elaborate more later, but the ESC was actually controlling some of these issues rather than the car doing it naturally.

Although my general feeling with the chassis was positive, I did notice that it put a lot of energy into the front tyres and even though it could handle it on a short outing, over a longer run you would see more understeer because of tyre temperature and pressure increasing relative to the rear.

Transmission and Differentials

The gearbox works well with nice sharp shifts, and it definitely encourages you to use the paddles as they are intended.

I did feel like the lower gear ratios were very close together and sometimes would hit the limiter exiting the corners, and I’d run out of revs too quickly. It’s what makes the car feel so responsive, so you’d probably get used to it with time.

I had absolutely no traction issues with the 4Matic all-wheel drive system. There was no wheel spin, slip, or no sudden steps or reactions.

The car was very free on entry and gave me the ability to attack the beginning of a corner without getting massive understeer. You don’t have the excessive power to cause traction issues and if there were any, I didn’t notice it.

The only critique here? A more oversteer-biased differential would help mitigate the load being placed on the front tyres and balance out the wear.

Suspension

I did my best laps with the suspension in Sport mode, not Sport+. Because the track is a little bit bumpy and I use the kerbs a bit, I found the sport setting offered a bit more compliance rather than reaction.

In this setting it’s firm without being harsh and has really good support when you’re leaning on the car mid-corner

As with the AMG A45 S, I was really impressed with the dampers on-road. They offer really good support without being harsh, and the car always felt in control and in contact with the road.

Steering

The steering is very light and lacking the feedback that I would like at the limit of grip.

I found it hard to know exactly was going to happen to the car next and whether I was at the limit or could push a little more.

Working on this area a bit would really improve driver engagement particularly on track.

Wheels and Tyres

The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber is a good match for this car. You get plenty of lateral grip and support, with a reasonable amount of progression.

I did see a noticeable amount of drop-off in performance from the front tyres, but this was more chassis-related than a tyre issue.

Driver Aids (Electronics)

I tried doing laps with both traction control and ESC on and off, but I did my best laps with everything switched off and was able to manipulate the car a bit more.

With the ESC on the car tended to understeer, and it was interesting how subtle the interference was.

You could have easily been confused that it was a chassis issue rather than the electronics controlling it, which in a way is good because you don’t get the sudden interventions of some other systems.

Cockpit (Ergonomics)

I was really disappointed in the standard seat option in the CLA35, I was moving around a lot in the seat during flying laps and found it hard to focus on the driving.

I would really recommend the High Performance Seat option if you’re into driving fast and attend the odd track day. The seat position is a little high too, but the performance seats will help solve this problem as well.

I did like the dash and the number of options available for the display, you can tailor it to show whatever information you like.

Once again, I also loved the ability to adjust the performance settings on the wheel, this is one of the easiest and most functional systems to use in that respect. It is so easy to alternate settings on the go without taking your attention away from driving.

The steering wheel is a really nice size and shape, and fits with the performance styling of the car. It’s also very easy to find good position with the level of adjustment available.

The shift light is a great touch, it’s really useful and in a great position for track use.

Lap Time

The lap time for the CLA35 fits in exactly where I would expect. The best lap of 60.31 seconds is almost identical to that of the Audi S3, with the Audi winning slightly in the weight department and the AMG nudging slightly ahead with power and torque, it’s no surprise to see them so close.

For me this is not an ideal track car. It’s just missing out in a few areas, but when driven hard it is still more than capable on a circuit and great on the road.

Atko’s 3:

  1. Upgrade to the Performance Seat Package
  2. Be smooth on corner entry, it’s easy to lose time by pushing too hard
  3. Take care when switching the ESC off, it’s helping more than you think

MORE: Mercedes-AMG CLA news and reviews
MORE: Mercedes-AMG news and reviews


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7.5L
225kW
169g
View full specifications