USED:Ready for Your First Luxury Performance Car? 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 35 Review

Mercedes-Benz Amg Cla 35 Sedan

You’ve earned it. 

I had to work up my nerve to the first time I walked into a Prada store. I was familiar with luxury shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. I knew well the investment value of a pair of Gucci loafers or an Hermès belt. But I was ready for my first big handbag purchase. I knew exactly the bag, what it offered me and what it would cost.

But being immersed in the Prada space I worried I would out of my league. Would the ambassador-sales people deem me not wealthy enough to afford the Prada life? Would they see me as too American, too young, too bourgeois to waste their time with?

But I drew in my breath and approached the door, which was opened by a doorman, and began my journey. I still have that handbag. I cherish all the memories it holds. And I am so glad I took the plunge. 

I could say the same for the 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 35. 

Related: Mercedes-Benz GLC AMG: Is it for You?

Mercedes-Benz Amg Cla 35 Sedan

The view from the driver’s seat. All controls are easy to reach and easy on the eyes. ? Scotty Reiss

Getting to Know the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 35

Many luxury brands create a starting point for customers to get to know them. Priced “aspirationally,” expensive but not prohibitive, these products are designed for you to fall in love. That is the Mercedes-Benz CLA coupe sedan. It’s lovely design, fine interior details and fun drive experience let you live that Mercedes-Benz life without feeling out of your league. 

And, the AMG CLA 35, a $46,000 sports sedan with a 302 horsepower turbo charged engine, is the entry point to AMG performance-car life and a great place to start. The cockpit is designed to evoke the idea that this car can do a lot. And while it’s not a get-in-and-go car — you really need to learn this car’s key details before you start driving— it delivers both the AMG and Mercedes-Benz lifestyle. 

Related: 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA 250: the Luxury Handbag You Didn’t Know You Needed

This Car is At Your Service with MercedesMe Connected Service

As with any great luxury brand, service is front and center. In the new MBUX, or Mercedes-Benz User Experience infotainment system, it’s practically the point. if you need something while you’re driving, all you need to do is to ask. Just say “Hey, Mercedes,” and the assistant asks how she can help. Tune the radio, turn on the seat heaters or navigate to a destination. I simply asked for directions to “the closest Starbucks” or “Trader Joes at the Arboretum” and Mercedes easily found what I was looking for.

I found the system mostly understood me, was easy to use and rarely got my request wrong. It was great, until it stopped working (which was my fault). I was playing with the vehicle settings and inadvertently turned off the car’s connected services setting and the voice assistant stopped working for certain functions. It turns out there are “on board” information requests that can be found inside the system’s code, while “off-board” requests, like directions to Trader Joe’s, are accessed via the MercedesMe system; this needs to be activated by the dealer and is complimentary with the purchase of the car. MercedesMe connects the voice command and other functions like live traffic, weather and prices at gas stations and allows them to be used in the car, via the MercedesMe phone app or with an Apple or Android smart watch.

Related: The New 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB SUV Mixes Classic Looks with Modern Tech and Luxury

Getting to Know AMG, and the Best $1,000 You’ll Ever Spend

Maybe the place to start is with AMG, which stands for Aufrecht, Melcher Grossaspach, the original engineering outfit that souped up Mercedes models for the track. The AMG system adds oomph to the CLA drive experience with 81 horsepower more than the standard CLA 250 engine. To add to these sport-tuned engines, or at a higher price point, hand-built engines, there are upgrades that enhance the performance even more. Including two features that literally made driving the AMG CLA 35 a joy: the suede steering wheel ($600) and steering wheel drive mode dial and button controls ($400).

These two features put the power of AMG truly in your hands. The suede steering wheel is grippier than its leather counterpart (and cool to the touch even on a 100 degree day) and is simply a lovely thing to hold. And with the performance drive mode buttons right on the steering wheel you never forget to use this car’s best features. You learn to play with them, try out the enhanced exhaust, the sport suspension and you can easily turn off auto stop/start if you find it annoying. And, you can dial down into Sport mode without taking your hands off the wheel. This might be the best $400 you’ll ever spend. Seriously. 

With the drive mode selectors— if you don’t choose the steering wheel button option there is a mode selector on the center command console—   choose comfort, sport, sport+, individual (to customize your drive) or snow mode. You can also turn on or off different functions like traction control or sport suspension. And you can select M mode which allows you to use only the paddle shifters to shift through the gears as you drive.

Comfort mode is the default setting for the drive mode system, and despite its name, it’s fun. Hit the accelerator and it’s a thrill. But pop it into sport mode and with a clear lane ahead, push the AMG CLA 35 to the speed limit in mere seconds. 

Sport mode in the AMG CLA 35 is easy to fall in love with. I found myself opting for it every time I got in the car, something I typically forget about. And not only does the AMG engine produce a throaty roar, but its seats are designed to hug you; you can adjust the inflation level of the side bolsters so they literally embrace you as you drive. We had fun playing with this.

Mercedes-Benz Amg Cla 35 Sedan

Red seat belts are part of the AMG package in the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 35. ? Scotty Reiss

All That is Mercedes-Benz, With a Sporty Twist 

It didn’t hurt that the model I test drove was red. Jupiter Red, to be exact. Or that it had red and black suede-paneled Recaro seats with red seatbelts. I never once forgot what car I was driving, and neither did my passengers. The seats can be customized to fit your driving style; they have inflatable side bolsters that we were able to set to full inflation or no inflation to accommodate our comfort level (I chose full, my husband didn’t like the inflated bolsters at all). And the test model was equipped with seat kinetics, a system that makes tiny adjustments in the seats as you drive to reduce fatigue. It’s nothing like the famous Mercedes-Benz massage system (which I really love!) but on a long drive I can see how the kinetics system can help keep your back and legs from getting stiff.

But aside of the sport seats and AMG logos inside the car, the CLA is all Mercedes-Benz. The details are sublime, elegant and welcoming. The drive experience was delightful in comfort mode and fun in sport mode. And the panoramic sunroof fills the cabin with an airy feeling that feels even more refined. 

Approaching the AMG CLA 35 in the parking lot you are filled with the feeling of excitement and also, confidence. You know what this experience will deliver. 

You get in, put it in drive and sail away, so glad you took the plunge into the Mercedes-Benz life.

What We Loved 

  • The elegant coupe-like design of a 4-door sedan 
  • The fun and powerful AMG engine
  • Sport and Sport+ drive modes
  • Sport details like the Recaro seats and red brakes
  • Panoramic sunroof
  • AppleCarPlay 
  • MBUX infotainment system with great voice recognition
  • Augmented reality navigation system: turn by turn directions are displayed with both live video and graphics
  • Multiple ways to select everything, from drive mode to radio station to system functions:steering wheel functions, touch screen, command center touch pad and dedicated buttons
  • Keyless entry and handsfree access
  • The suede steering wheel; this might be the best $600 you’ll ever spend
Mercedes-Benz Amg Cla 35 Sedan

The Mercede-Benz badge tucks in to open the trunk. ? Scotty Reiss

What This Car Costs

  • Base Price of the Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 with 221 horsepower: $36,650
  • Base price of the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 35 with a 301 horsepower 4 cylinder turbo engine, panoramic sunroof, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, single screen driver instrument display and infotainment system, pushbutton start, power front seats, AMG-tuned performance including sport suspension, transmission and drive modes, 4Matic all wheel drive and leather interior: $46,900
  • Recaro AMG performance seats, $3,270
  • Performance suede covered steering wheel, $600 
  • AMG steering wheel drive mode dial and button controls, $400
  • Burmester premium sound, $850
  • Wireless phone charging, $200
  • SiriusXM with free trial, $460
  • Driver assistance package with adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitor, lane keep assist, lane chance assist, and stop and go traffic jam assist, $2,250 
  • Park assist with auto park feature, $1,090
  • Mercedes-Benz User Experience infotainment system with augmented reality navigation and voice assistant, $1,150
  • Night Package exterior design details, $750
  • Premium package with keyless entry and hands free access, $720
  • Price of the model we drove, including delivery, $62,885
Mercedes-Benz Amg Cla 35 Sedan

Me with the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 35. ? Scotty Reiss

What We Listened to in the Mercedes Benz AMG CLA 35

Because when you’re not listening to that awesome AMG engine, a great playlist makes this cabin an even happier place.

Disclosure: The Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA 35 was provided for this review. All opinions are my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss