Mercedes CLA 45 AMG review
The Mercedes CLA 45 AMG four-door coupe uses the same 355bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine as the A45 AMG
Lurking under the Mercedes CLA 45 AMG's bonnet is the first four-cylinder engine AMG has ever built - and what an engine it is. The 2.0-litre turbocharged unit produces 355bhp - that's more power per litre than any other production car - and delivers devastating straight line speed, while permanent four-wheel drive looks after the grip in the bends. Order the optional performance exhaust and upshifts are accompanied by ear-splitting pops, while downshifts are punctuated with crackles. Specific settings for the steering and seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox, plus bigger brakes and firmer suspension make sure the handling is rock solid, while an AMG-specific makeover ups the aggression, inside and out.
Our choice: CLA 45 AMG
With its swooping roofline, sharp creases and pert rear end, even the standard CLA is a feast for the eyes - but the AMG takes things even further. A deeper front bumper, a new twin-bar front grille, and sill extensions in gloss black beef up the front and sides, while a small rear wing and diffuser sit above and below the twin exhausts at the rear. Optional 19-inch wheels can be fitted, although 18-inch alloys are standard. On the inside AMG sports seats hold you tightly in place, while brushed aluminium dash trim, a new multi-function steering wheel and red highlights throughout look and feel expensive. It's a shame then that some harder, scratchy plastics are used around the lower section of the centre console.
A clever four-wheel-drive system can send up to 50 per cent of the power to the rear axle when it senses slip at the front, while the ESP system brakes the inside wheel during cornering. The result is that the CLA sticks to the road like glue and every last horsepower is converted into lag-free acceleration when you squeeze the throttle. The seven-speed gearbox works well in auto and manual modes, with lightning quick upshifts, although there's an annoying pause before downshifts engage. The brakes haul off big speeds with ease, with the fixed-ratio steering is accurate and has a natural feel. The suspension is predictably firmer than the standard CLA, but actually slightly softer than the A45 AMG - so it glides over good surfaces, but crashes over holes in the road. On full-bore gearchanges the exhaust sounds great, but there isn't the same crackles and pops on downshifts that you get with the A45 - a deliberate move to give the CLA a marginally more laid-back character.
Being the most powerful production engine per litre in the world, you might expect some mechanical gremlins, but the engines are actually built on the same line as all four-cylinder Mercedes petrol engines and use proven technology – such as the cooling system from the SLS AMG supercar. The dual-clutch gearbox also uses software originally developed for the SLS. As with all CLAs, stability control and auto-braking up to speeds of 4mph are standard. Attention Assist is also fitted as standard and detects if the driver’s tired and suggests taking a break. Optional safety equipment includes lane departure warning and adaptive headlights that dip automatically to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic.
Not many cars offers both more style and more practicality than the model on which they're based, but the CLA is an exception. Thanks to its extra length, the boot will take up to 471 litres of luggage, that’s 130 litres more than the A-Class, and more even than the C-Class. And if that’s still not enough, there’s split-folding rear seats, too. But that’s not the full story – accessing the space isn’t easy as the opening is small and awkwardly shaped. There’s limited space in the rear, too, which is a major drawback for anyone planning to carry a full compliment of passengers on a regular basis. The sloping roofline means that even short people in the back can find their head rubbing on the roof lining. The small windows in the back also make it feel a little dark and claustrophobic.
Despite weighing 35kg more, the CLA 45 has identical performance figures (0-62mph in 4.5 seconds and a 155mph top speed) and fuel economy to the A45 AMG. Mercedes claims it will return 40.1mpg with CO2 emissions of 161g/km - although if you use the performance on offer and drive it as the engineers intended, you won’t get anywhere near those sorts of figures. A major drawback of the CLA 45 though is its price tag, which at around £41,500 is £4,000 more than the A45 AMG, despite having no extra kit. Add a few choice options to help your resale value and it could end up costing you close to £50,000 for what is essentially an A-Class.