Mercedes CLA 45 AMG

We take to the passenger seat of the new 355bhp Mercedes CLA 45 AMG to see if it delivers

We'll be happier when we can finally get behind the wheel ourselves, but everything we experienced in this early ride points to the Mercedes CLA 45 AMG being a seriously impressive car. It delivers strong, flexible performance from low down in the rev range, with all the character and noisy drama of some of AMG’s larger-engined and far more expensive models. In addition, it feels refined and comfortable enough to live with every day – which also bodes incredibly well for the A45 AMG hatchback which shares the same platform and powertrain.

The Mercedes CLA 45 AMG has been unveiled to the public at this week’s New York Motor Show, but it’s not quite ready for customers just yet. It’s set to hit showrooms in September, and we hitched a ride with AMG’s development boss, Tobias Moers, as he looked to put the final touches to this 355bhp four-wheel-drive supersaloon.

One of our biggest reservations about the CLA 45 AMG has been the four-cylinder turbo. How on earth could AMG recreate some of its legendary aural drama with such a small engine?

Turns out there was absolutely no reason to worry, with plenty of noisy highlights coming from the exhaust. Our car featured the louder Sports system, and with Sport mode selected it pops and crackles during every gearchange, and has a woofly burble on the over-run and every time you lift off.

It’s a deeply muscular-sounding four-cylinder, reminiscent of some of early Subaru Impreza STi boxers, but with a whole lot more refinement.

The engine provides blistering performance. too. The 4.6-second 0-62mph time is impressive, but you really need to experience how it feels from inside the car to get the full effect. The acceleration has a crushing intensity, building inexorably from 1,800rpm right through to 3,000rpm and beyond. This engine is also really flexible, never stuttering even when labouring at 1,000rpm in fifth or sixth.

In fact, the car seems to have a split personality in the way it performs; it’s a hooligan one minute and a refined, comfortable executive car the next. If you keep it at low revs, the engine remains quiet and smooth enough to fool you into thinking this is any other CLA.

Then there’s the suspension set-up, which has superb balance between comfort and agility. It grips hard through long, sweeping bends but feels equally at home on narrow, twisty roads.

If Mercedes was looking to build a performance saloon that you could live with every day, then this feels as though it’s succeeded. It’s worth noting that our car uses the standard suspension, though, and a firmer Sports option will be available.

One area that Tobias Moers and his 270-strong development team are busy perfecting is the steering. As Moers throws the CLA around a twisting hillside route, he clearly has some reservations about how it feels – he likes it, but doesn’t love it. Yet that’s why we’re here, and Moers tells us that with each drive, including this one, the team moves one step closer to getting the steering spot-on.

From what we could tell, there’s very little else that Mercedes needs to change on the CLA 45 AMG. And it’s promising that development is still underway to get every single aspect of the car just so.

If you were worried that the four-wheel-drive CLA 45 AMG wouldn’t be worthy of the famous badge, let us tell you this: it’s every inch an AMG, with the added benefit of 40.9mpg fuel economy. The expected £40,000 price tag may be steep, but with an AMG logo on the boot that seems like an absolute bargain.

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