As capable as every other recent A35 model, but with an added dose of style and practicality

The latest Mercedes-AMG hot hatches hardly lack showroom appeal with their muscular power outputs and cyberpunk cabin design, but nothing adds another few notches of desirability to a car like a shooting brake variant.

With the latest Mercedes-AMG CLA35 Shooting Brake, the A-class-based performance range is nearly complete – there’s just the hot GLA soft-roaders left to come. Packing the same drivetrain as the A35 but wrapped in a sleek wagon-style form, its appeal is clear – provided, of course, it delivers on the road.

Engine, transmission and 0-100 time

You know the drill by now with AMG’s ‘35’ models. Sitting a rung below the 45s and above the common-or-garden A-classes, the CLA35 Shooting Brake uses a 2-litre turbocharged in-line four making 225kW at 5800rpm, and 400Nm of torque from 3000 to 4000rpm.

> 2019 Mercedes-AMG A45 S review – a new high water mark?

That places it at the heart of the current hot hatchback market, or at least its estate equivalents – the outgoing Golf R Estate or Leon Cupra R ST return similar numbers. Both do so with all-wheel drive too, another feature that’s standard to the CLA35, with gearchanges handled by a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which you can control via a pair of clicky and tactile aluminium paddles behind the steering wheel. It’s good for 0-100kmh in 4.9sec, and an electronically limited 250kmh.

Technical highlights

While not as serious as the CLA45, there are still several details that separate the CLA35’s technical make-up from that of conventional Mercedes-Benz CLAs. Suspension has been almost completely overhauled at both ends, with new bushes, bearings and lower wishbones at the front end, a new steering rack, solidly mounted subframes and extra body stiffening. CLAs also run a slightly wider track than their A-class hatchback and saloon equivalents.

What’s it like to drive?

Unsurprisingly, much like the CLA35 Coupe. And the A35 Saloon, for that matter. And indeed the A35 hatchback. You weren’t expecting anything else, were you? Beyond practical or aesthetic concerns, there’s no great difference between any of the 35s, and only rigorous side-by-side testing would show up any dynamic quirks of the CLA’s slightly wider track or the larger shooting brake rump.

That being the case, the extra luggage space of the CLA35 Shooting Brake and the shrunken-CLS Shooting Brake styling certainly count in its favour, and while rearward visibility has taken a bit of a hit, there’s no real disadvantage from behind the wheel. The cabin itself is still one of the most appealing in this class, albeit not the best built, with the odd trim rattle to disturb the peace.

The rampant performance and deft chassis tuning of the 45 models hasn’t taken the shine off the CLA35 either. While it’s not as vivid in a straight line and not as nuanced in the corners, the Shooting Brake’s performance and handling is still among the best in this class.

Experience with the 2-litre engine suggests it frees up nicely with the miles – our long-term A35 is slightly happier at the top end than this CLA – but the keen throttle response and sharp gearchanges are present and correct, and once you’ve dialled up one of the sportier driving modes (which aside from anything else make the engine feel and sound even more eager), the steering takes on a weight appropriate to its direct gearing and gentle feedback.

The ride quality can feel a little stiff-legged over certain surfaces, though it’s not excessive for a car of this performance and doesn’t deteriorate to a great degree even in Sport+ mode. You get excellent body control into the bargain anyway, and with strong grip and all-wheel-drive traction there are few cars more reassuring to drive on wet or greasy roads – the CLA35 is one of those cars that feels like nothing will trouble it, yet retains enough driver interaction to make reaching the other end of a twisting road feel like a joint effort. Antony Ingram

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