Mid-strength Mercedes sports anyone?

·5-min read

Vindaloo or rogan josh?

Full-strength beer or mid-strength?

Life is full of choices, not all of them difficult. Like choosing between a Mercedes-Benz and ... another Mercedes-Benz. Talk about a win-win.

And it's not always the loudest, fastest or most expensive one that claims the argument.

Anyone familiar with this sporty part of the new vehicle market would be well aware of Mercedes' AMG performance arm, where a wicked band of engineers conjur all manner of souped-up Mercedes.

The smallest but certainly not the least of these is their potent small-car weapon, the A45.

It's a car that takes a regular A-Class and turns it into an automotive version of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde.

It's a vehicle that started life as an unassuming hatchback and arrived on the market as one of the most furious machines to wear the famous German badge, with its four-cylinder engine producing a gargantuan 310 kilowatts of power.

But not everyone craves such extreme performance. And Mercedes, in its wisdom, has begun creating AMG machines for those people, too - watered-down models that look the part but won't frighten the neighbours.

Enter Benz's slightly most recent mild child - the AMG CLA35 4Matic and its hatchback sibling, the A35.

The racy, pacy little machines deliver oodles of engagement but without the ballistic acceleration and razor-sharp handling of the full-blown A45 and CLA45.

A bit less Ginger, a little more Mary-Anne.

As it turns out, Mercedes' German counterparts at BMW and Audi have recently been thinking along the same lines, offering performance-enhanced versions of their compact models for those who want to feel a bit special without worrying the racetrack brigade.

BMW offers four-cylinder, 220-plus kilowatt versions of its 1-Series hatch and 2-Series "gran coupe" while Audi has, for years now, marketed both hatch and coupe variants of its sporty S3 models.

In each case, they sit between the conventional, garden variety models and the full-blown high-performance derivatives.

They tend to be about $30,000 cheaper and for most drivers, still offer more than enough sporty performance and enough additional street cred to satisfy the inner bogan.

No point paying for power and performance you'll rarely, if ever use.

After all, a four-cylinder that can reach the speed limit in 3.9 seconds like the A45's will rarely be used to full advantage on Australia's roads.

So AMG's CLA35 makes more sense, and less unwanted attention.

It's got some snappy aerodynamic bits, big alloy rims and a pimped-up interior but you won't hop out feeling like the whole car park is watching (and waiting for you to scrape one of those rims).

The CLA35 is a pretty thing - using the same "four-door coupe" concept pioneered by Benz's glorious CLS but in a shrunken-down version.

Now into its second-generation, the CLA is much better proportioned than its predecessor. This one has tighter lines, a sleeker profile and massive alloys with wafer-thin low-profile Pirelli tyres.

Inside, the classy Benz design cues that have made the A-class so desirable are on full show.

That stretches from the gorgeous dual-screen setup that displays your infotainment and a complete virtual instruments setup, including tacho and speedo, comprehensive trip computer, telephone and audio access and satellite navigation instructions.

A little surprisingly, the CLA didn't bring with it the head-up display so valuable in cars, such as this one, with a propensity to sneak over the speed limit with inattention.

Like most Benz models, the cockpit setup also boasts brushed alloy turbine-style air vents, ambient LED lighting options when driving after dark and sculpted sports seats for the driver and front-seat passenger.

Rear seat accommodation is surprisingly generous, too, despite the compromised headroom caused by the CLA's sloping C-pillar and roofline.

AMG trickery included in the CLA's $83,400 price includes the same seven-speed, dual-clutch "Speedshift" transmission as on the full-blown CLA45, driving all four wheels via Benz's 4Matic traction system.

There's also a launch control system, a bi-modal exhaust system with quad exhaust pipes, four-piston AMG performance brake calipers and 19-inch wheels.

AMG Ride Control adaptive damping suspension system (with three ride settings and five drive-train modes) helps keep it on the straight and narrow.

And it does that with consummate ease, turning in with assurance and never feeling even slightly perturbed by road imperfections or rapid changes of direction.

The CLA's supposedly dialled-back powerplant still delivers an impressive 225 kilowatts and 400Nm - good for a 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.7 seconds.

That would keep you within sight of the full-blown A45 - at least for a little while.

MERCEDES-BENZ CLA35 AMG

HOW BIG?

Based on the underpinnings of Mercedes' A-Class coupe, the CLA enjoys a slightly elongated body, rivalling the bigger C-Class sedan. That means decent interior space and a generous boot, despite low-slung lines.

HOW FAST?

Living midway up the AMG performance chart, the CLA35 is still no slouch, reaching the speed limit in a brisk 4.7 seconds.

HOW THIRSTY?

An average combined thirst of 7.5L/100km is not particularly outstanding for a car of this size but pretty decent considering its performance.

HOW MUCH?

The CLA35 will set you back $83,400, plus on-road costs - a bit more expensive than its BMW and Audi rivals.