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What’s the difference between these two Mercedes-Benzes? S$70,000, for starters

Put side-by-side, you probably won’t be able to tell the Mercedes-AMG A35 Saloon and the CLA45 Coupe apart, but your wallet certainly will.

What’s the difference between these two Mercedes-Benzes? S$70,000, for starters

For all intents and purposes, both cars are identical, with the CLA45 Coupe being the (very slightly) longer, wider and lower of the pair. And also sleeker-looking of the two, with the A35 Saloon being the (again, very slightly) boxier model. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

Mercedes-Benz is a master of many things. Its ability to make best-in-class, cutting edge limousines in the form of the S-Class have seen them have a virtual stranglehold on the segment for well over half a century.

It is also the master of sub-dividing vehicle classes, as can be seen in its current model lineup, which is, to say the least, bewilderingly large. Take the A-badged family, making up the base of the vast Mercedes-Benz product pyramid (well, actually, its topography resembles more a sprawling metropolis), for example.

You can have an entry-level Mercedes-Benz in no less than five flavours, ranging from hatchbacks, saloons, crossovers and even a slinky little station wagon, known in automotive circles as a shooting brake.

Even more confusingly, there are a pair of saloons within that, badged the A-Class Saloon and the CLA-Class Coupe respectively. The latter being a bit of a misnomer, since it has four doors and not two, as is traditional.

The A35 Saloon. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)
The CLA45 Coupe. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

For all intents and purposes, both cars are identical, with the CLA being the (very slightly) longer, wider and lower of the pair. And also sleeker-looking of the two, with the A-Class being the (again, very slightly) boxier model.

But that’s not all, because it gets even more baffling when you get to the AMG-badged models. As you know, those three magic letters are only applied to the three-pointed star’s most rapid cars.

The odd thing being that the top-tier “45” model is only available on the CLA-Class, with the A-Class Saloon only being available with the second-rung “35” variant. On the plus side, you do get a little more headroom (thanks to the taller roofline) and you’ll be saving yourself some S$70,000 in the process…

The fact that the A-Class Saloon is not available in full-fat, fire-breathing “45” guise is a mystery to us all as well. Perhaps for the same reason Mercedes-Benz maintains the CLS-Class and GT 4-Door Coupe further up the range.

You can, however, get the CLA-Class as a “35”, though you’ll be paying some S$9,000 extra for the privilege of those curvier lines. On the plus side, the CLA’s boot is 40 litres larger at 460 litres, though you’ll be trading off some rear bench headroom with its sloping roofline.

(Photo: Mercedes-Benz)
(Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

Both the A35 and CLA45 come with 2-litre turbocharged engines hooked up to an all-wheel-drive system, but that’s about where the similarities end.

To be sure, the A35 isn’t a slouch in the power department, with 306hp at its disposal and a century sprint time of 4.8 seconds. But the CLA45 is a beast in every sense of the word, pumping out a thumping 421hp, giving it even more horsepower per litre of engine displacement than its big brother, the GT63 4-Door Coupe.

Out in the real world, the difference between the A35 and the CLA45’s power output truly is, as with their dimensions and styling, splitting hairs. Unless you’re armed with a stopwatch, it’s rather difficult to tell the pair apart.

That being said, the CLA45’s motor is a marvel of modern automotive engineering. Where the A35 can feel a little strained and short of breath if pushed too hard, with the CLA45 there’s a certain inexhaustibility of thrust, along with some old-school turbocharged charm.

Interior of the A35 Saloon. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)
Interior of the CLA45 Coupe. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

In a modern turbocharged car, one almost expects linearity, but there’s a distinct dead zone in the CLA45’s rev range under about 3,000rpm, and after that the engine explodes to life. This may sound like a bad thing, but the surge is simply addictive, intoxicating and is key to the CLA45’s (considerable) appeal.  

In the case of the A35, its engine is far more linear, with no dead spots in the rev range unless you get to its upper registers. It pulls strongly and cleanly, like a strong, insistent push against the kidney-punch brutality of the CLA45.

As for which one is more usable daily, there’s honestly not much difference out in the real world. The A35’s 306hp will get you in trouble in no time flat, and with the CLA45’s 421hp, you can only imagine. Suffice it to say, both cars have more power than you’ll ever need, but where you will find a perceptible difference between the A35 and CLA45 is in its interiors.

Apart from the engine and the (numerous, too many to list here) chassis tweaks the CLA45 has, where it really has a leg up over the A35 is in its interior. To be fair, though, you are paying some 70 grand more, so it’d better be.

Both cars get a monolithic freestanding screen that virtually covers the entirety of the dashboard. This comprises both the infotainment display and instrument cluster, though with the CLA45, you get some displays and telemetry data only available to top-shelf AMG products.

The CLA45 also has a model-specific steering wheel with configurable “ears” (to turn off the stability control, open up the exhaust flaps, among other things) and a rotary dial to control the driving modes. In the A35, you’ll have to make do with the controls mounted on the centre console next to the infotainment system’s touchpad.

In addition to that, the A35 also has “regular” seats (albeit ones with contrast stitching and upholstered in Alcantara), as opposed to the deep, thin-backed bucket seats on the CLA45.

Is there a real difference? Well, if we’re being honest, yes. Along with the above, there’s a tangible sense of the CLA45’s cabin being a more upmarket place to be. You know what they say, you get what you pay for.

Under the bonnet of the A35 Saloon. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)
Under the bonnet of the CLA45 Coupe. (Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

Oh, no doubt. It certainly is. The CLA45’s current price tag of S$337,888 is huge, money you could well use to get yourself a slinky little two-door sports car, or a mid-sized SUV, like Mercedes-Benz’s own GLC.

On that note, the A35 isn’t exactly what you’d call a bargain-basement buy either, with its S$260,888 price tag just S$2,000 less than a GLC200. Of course, the GLC200 has far less performance potential than the A35, let alone the CLA45.

Both the A35 and CLA45 are clearly not cars you’d buy with your head. Fast though they may be, there will always be a nagging thought in the back of your head that you just paid top dollar for cars that nominally sit at the foot of the vast Mercedes-Benz family tree.

Then again, that’s why they’re so alluring. There’s a certain sort of hilarity in small cars with hugely powerful engines, in that these are vehicles that could conceivably run rings around “proper” sports cars.

Source: CNA/ds