Although they live at the small end of the Mercedes-AMG lineup, the 2021 CLA-class models come by their performance-car street cred honestly. Offered in two flavors—medium spicy CLA35 and extra-caliente CLA45—they pair an expertly-tuned chassis with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes either 302- or 382-horsepower. Whether you want to call it a coupe (Mercedes does) or a sedan (as we do), the CLA’s dramatically sloped roofline adds a visual reminder of the car’s performance capabilities. Likewise, the cabin blends traditional Mercedes luxury amenities with a sporty design theme, heavily-bolstered sport seats, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
What’s New for 2021?
Blind-spot monitoring is newly standard for 2021, otherwise the CLA-class models carry over unchanged from last year.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
The CLA45 is the most intense member of the CLA family, but its high base price pushes it into competition with larger, better sports sedans, so we’d stick with the CLA35 and try to have a light hand with the extra-cost options. Heated and ventilated front seats are a bargain at $950 and the $800 Premium package adds keyless passive entry and ignition as well as power-folding exterior mirrors with an auto-dimming function.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
While both models boast the company’s latest turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, the CLA35 makes 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque and the CLA45 develops 382 ponies and 354 lb-ft. The CLA35 drives through a seven-speed automatic transmission while the CLA45 has an eight-speed automatic. They both have standard 4Matic+ all-wheel drive, which can send all of the power to the rear wheels. The 45 can even be equipped with a tail-sliding Drift drive mode. A set of optional adaptive dampers provide adjustable ride quality. At our test track, the 302-hp CLA35 managed a quick 4.4-second zero-to-60-mph time but the 382-hp CLA45 did the deed in 3.7 seconds.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The CLA35 and CLA45 both come standard with all-wheel drive. Mercedes hasn’t released fuel economy estimates for the 45 yet, but the 35 is rated at 23 mph city, 29 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. That represents a 4 mpg penalty on the highway compared to the less-powerful Mercedes-Benz CLA250 with all-wheel drive. The CLA35’s fuel economy, however, is similar to those of competitors such as the Audi S3 and BMW M235i Gran Coupe.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The 2021 CLA45 stands out on the street from the 2021 CLA35 with a flashier grille, wider front fenders, extra aerodynamic bits, and more. However, the two have similar aesthetics on the inside. Both can be outfitted with black faux-suede accents as well as red seatbelts and contrast-stitching. They also have customizable ambient interior lighting that includes illuminated circular air vents in the instrument panel. The front seats are pleasantly spacious, but there’s limited headroom in the second row due to the car’s sloping roofline. This sedan provides 11.6 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s less than in the outgoing model, but it’s still enough to house a couple of overnight bags or an average grocery haul.
Infotainment and Connectivity
The CLA35 and CLA45 are equipped with Mercedes-Benz’s new MBUX infotainment system, which features tiny touchpads on the steering wheel and a console-mounted control pad. Overall, the setup is easy to use and configure. The digital instrument-cluster screen and the standard 7.0-inch infotainment display live under one large horizontal piece of glass that stretches across much of the dashboard. Bluetooth connectivity and an eight-speaker sound system are standard, and all models come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. The options list includes an upgraded Burmester audio system and SiriusXM satellite radio. Upgraded versions of the infotainment system include Mercedes’ Siri-like personal assistant and augmented reality displays to enhance the navigation system.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA35 and CLA45 haven’t been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However, these cars are available with driver-assistance features that can help keep you out of harm’s way during your travels. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking
- Available lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist
- Available adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Mercedes’ warranty coverage doesn’t include complimentary maintenance, which puts it behind some of its luxury competitors. Otherwise, Mercedes’ warranty coverage is largely in line with the coverage offered by comparable brands.
- Limited warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- No complimentary scheduled maintenance
More Features and Specs