Mercedes CLA 45 AMG Review

DrivingTalk road tests the CLA 45 AMG. But is a four-pot AMG an AMG?

By Tim Kendall | 14th January 2014

Vital Statistics

  • Model: CLA 45 AMG
  • Engine: 2.0 4-cyl turbo (355hp)
  • Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch, 4wd
  • Price: £42,265 (£52,365 as tested)
  • 0-60: 4.6 secs
  • Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
  • Economy: 39.8 mpg (combined)
  • Options fitted to test car:
    See Text

DrivingTalk Roadtest: 2014 Mercedes CLA 45 AMG

AMG. Apparently no longer the preserve of rear-wheel drive V8 bahn-stormers, those three letters have recently found their way onto a humble A-Class. Now it’s the turn of the CLA, its coupé sibling.

Regardless of whether you think that fun-sizing a CLS is a bit naff, there’s no denying the seriousness of the underpinnings. In CLA 45 guise, the junior AMG packs a 355hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo and four-wheel drive. That drivetrain brings some pretty AMG-like performance to the Merc’s little coupé upstart. A 0-62mph time of 4.6 seconds might sound faintly excessive for a car in this class, but the German horsepower war has downsized along with the rest of the car industry and Mercedes had to find an answer for the BMW M135i.

So here we have it, the Mercedes CLA 45 AMG.

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG

No V8 rumble here….

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG: is it really an AMG?

That’s a moot point. Having long had a penchant for the V8 end of the AMG product line, I wanted to dislike the CLA 45 AMG and everything it stands for. Which in my estimation is the dilution of a powerful brand and a move downmarket. Four cylinders in an AMG? Just not the done thing.

Well actually, if AMG is about going very fast in that time-honoured, iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove way, then the CLA is a win for the brand. The exterior isn’t too shouty, although the sculpted bumpers and quad exhausts tell a story. So far, so AMG, leaving aside the CLA’s inherently over-wrought shape. But what’s conspicuously lacking from the traditional AMG recipe is the glorious V8 burble, that Nascar symphony that becomes so addictive. In its place is a slightly uncouth four-pot boominess. It’s hardly unpleasant and mostly quiet. But back off the throttle or rifle through the seven-speed ‘box with a few full throttle up-shifts, and you’d better like Rice Crispies.

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG

The underpinnings are pretty serious even if you don’t like the face..

There’s no cultured burble, but plenty of snap, crackle and pop. More so in the test car which came with £460-worth of AMG performance exhaust. It doesn’t play a rousing tune, but it is purposeful and befitting of the junior AMGs urgent demeanour. The problem is the bark – think yappy Jack Russell rather than Alsation.

2014 Mercedes CLA 45 AMG: How does it drive?

Shed any AMG preconceptions, approach the CLA 45 as a standalone small performance car and it shines. More specifically, the ballistic drivetrain does.

With a large, twin-scroll turbocharger and 450Nm of torque, on paper the CLA 45 AMG could be quite laggy. Happily, it never feels short on neck-straining punch. Labour it by mashing the right pedal in sixth gear from sleepily low revs and it will wake up quickly. But in the right gear for the road speed, it’s exceedingly rapid when the turbo fills its lungs. And it doesn’t let up, revving freely to 6000 rpm without being a thrashy four-cylinder headache. Still not very AMG though.

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG

What the CLA 45 does have in common with its bigger brothers is unrelenting grunt. In any gear at almost any revs. But that’s where the similarities end, the junior AMG feeling more reminiscent of something rally-bred. Indeed there’s something old-school, almost Impreza-like about its character when giving it some hoof – although the spread of power is far wider and the manner of delivery night and day superior to the rally-hero Japs.

That the engine is fully Euro 6 compliant and capable of a claimed 39.8mpg is testament to the depth of engineering which has gone into the 2.0-litre engine. The boffins at Affalterbach used forged pistons and special cylinder liner coatings which help reduce frictional losses and create a highly efficient but powerful four-pot motor.

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG

Great steering is a highlight of the CLA 45 AMG

What about the CLA 45 AMG’s handling? Pudding or soufflé?

The first thing to remember is the CLA 45 AMG isn’t four-wheel drive most of the time. The default torque split is to send all the power to the front axle and up to 50 per cent to the rear wheels in extremis. Press on and it feels like a front-driver much of the time, washing into mild understeer if you get abusive with the throttle on tight bends. And you really need to provoke it to overcome the limits of adhesion, even on the smaller (no-cost option) 18″ 235/40 section winter rubber that the test car rode on. The CLA 45 rolls on 19-inch multi-spoke wheels as standard, which judging by the ride quality of the CLA 220 CDi DrivingTalk tested previously, aren’t the wisest option for UK roads.

Interestingly, the test car’s ride wasn’t half bad, and far less unsettled than the aforementioned denture rattling AMG sports suspended CLA 220.

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG

The CLA45 rides slightly better than expected

What else does the 2014 CLA 45 AMG do well?

The steering is in kilter with the current crop of AMG products – that is to say, very good indeed. For an electric rack it’s full of feel, accuracy and also blessed with a nicely tactile steering wheel. Worthy of mention too is the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which has ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ modes. The former does a good job of slurring between seven ratios unobtrusively for the urban grind, whilst the latter is surprisingly aggressive and very deserving of the Sport tag. There’s also a manual mode which does what it says on the tin, but gets flustered if you ask it to hop down several ratios at once.

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG interior

AMG Performance seats standard fit. Red stitching optional…

What’s the interior like on the CLA45 AMG?

The first thing that grabs you are those natty looking AMG Performance seats. They hug in the right places and are almost as good to sit in as they are to look at – although the red on black detailing is part of the £1,640 AMG Exclusive Package, which adds red stitching to the leather on seats and dash. The AMG treatment seems to have notched up the quality in the CLA too – everything feels tactile and tightly screwed together, although the basic interior architecture featuring the faux-iPad display still jars.

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG

How much does the CLA45 AMG cost?

As ever, get carried away with the dark temptations of the Mercedes options list and your wallet will suffer. The test car weighed in at an eye-watering £52,365 (base price £42,265) so clearly the first rung on the AMG ladder isn’t a cheap one. Although this is actually the second rung on the AMG ladder – the first being the £3k cheaper and mechanically identical A45 AMG. Is the cheaper A-Class über-hatch a slightly more honest car than an aspirational mini-CLS? Possibly, but when it comes to niches, Mercedes has form.

Options fitted to test car:

COMAND online system with media interface (£2,100), Harman Kardon sound system (£680), red brake calipers (£380), Distronic Plus (radar cruise control – £880), AMG Exclusive Package (Heated front seats.  Leather upholstery – Lava Black with red perforations- £1,640), AMG Performance exhaust system (£460), Electric driver and passeneger seats (£1,040), reversing camera (£300).

 

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG Review

  • Performance: 9/10
  • Ride & Handling: 8/10
  • Economy: 7/10
  • Equipment: 7/10
  • Want one factor: 7/10

The Verdict

Should you buy a Mercedes CLA45 AMG? Nope. Plump for the cheaper A45 AMG and enjoy the same rapid fire adrenaline rush. It doesn't feel anything like an AMG, but it does feel like a blisteringly rapid performance car. The push into a new market sector also hasn't harmed the AMG brand, thanks to the CLA45's distinct character. Does it justify the premium over the almost-as-searing BMW M135i - possibly not. That price will guarantee it'll be a more exclusive car than the Beemer though.

Summary

  • Neck-snapping grunt, four-wheel drive grip
  • Looks divide opinion. Eye-watering price

By Tim Kendall
14th January 2014

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