Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG Review

Rating: 8.0
$86,900 Mrlp
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The CLA45 AMG proves more than just an A45 with a boot, but it also asks for more from your wallet...
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It is claimed the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG feels, sounds and drives differently to the hatchback it shares its fundamentals with.

Essentially the CLA45 AMG packs everything we’ve seen in the A45 AMG into a slinky four-door ‘coupe’ bodystyle, and its $86,900 price tag means an extra $12,000 - including $2660 for luxury-car tax, where the A45 ducks under the $75K threshold for sub-7.0L/100km cars and therefore pays none - for what Mercedes-Benz freely admits is a styling change.

The CLA45 AMG is, however, 332mm longer than the A45 AMG, and most of that length extends past the back wheels. It’s also 30kg heavier, at 1585kg, with that weight lumped primarily in the same place.

Thanks to the enhanced aerodynamic performance of the sedan – 0.23 Cd versus 0.27 Cd – it also means it can claim an identical 4.6 second 0-100km/h to the hatchback, although with a 7.0L/100km claimed combined consumption sticker it is 0.1L thirstier.

Although the CLA45 AMG loses some of the loading practicality of the A45 AMG, because its sedan opening is much smaller than that of a hatchback, more cargo will fit in its rear compartment; the sedan claims 470 litres to its hatchback sibling’s 341L.

Because the CLA45 AMG is as wide and tall as the A45 AMG, and shares its cabin layout, the view from the driver’s seat is identical. There’s the same high level of standard equipment, too, including front Recaro bucket seats with electric adjustment and heating, satellite navigation with 10Gb hard drive, digital radio and voice control, Harman Kardon 12-speaker audio, panoramic electric sunroof, reversing camera, and auto parking, blind spot assistance, active cruise control and lane keeping assistance.

The dashboard looks and feels premium-grade, save for some hard lower dash plastics borrowed from the 45 AMG's A-Class and CLA-Class donor cars that sell from $35-50K.

The seats are supremely comfortable and gripping, the five circular air vents rotate with precision, the stubby Affalterbach-embossed gearlever is cool, and the ‘floating’ screen, while to some looking like an afterthought, boasts excellent graphics and an easy interface. By far the highlight, though, is the leather and Alcantara steering wheel with magnesium shift paddles mounted behind them, which look and feel a million bucks – or at least a quarter-million, because they’re pinched from the E63 AMG S and others.

Further back and the picture is not the same as the A45 AMG, nor as rosy. Thanks to that sloping coupe-like roofline, this sedan delivers poor rear headroom. The head of this 175cm-tall male was wedged firmly into the rooflining, and kept clear of the fixed headrest.

Only last week CarAdvice pressed the A45 AMG into a comparison test with the BMW M135i – results in the next CarAdvice Magazine for iPad, free to download soon – so we can say with certainty that the hatchback affords rear passengers much more headroom, and about the same – decent, average – legroom.

With plenty of kays racked up in the A45 AMG last week, we were also keen to test Mercedes-Benz’s claim that the CLA45 AMG drives differently.

The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine still delivers the 265kW at 6000rpm that maintains its post as the world’s most powerful production four-cylinder in the world, in addition to 450Nm between 2250 and 5000rpm – the same torque as the 3.0-litre turbo six BMW.

The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is too lazy and economy-focused in the Comfort mode it defaults to on start-up, but a press of the transmission tunnel-mounted button to Sport mode keeps gears longer and sharpens both throttle response and shift times.

Press the button again and Manual mode denotes usage of the paddles, but although the gearbox won’t auto-upshift at redline, the gap between second and third gear is sizeable enough to be annoying on hilly mountain terrain.

In combination with the dual-clutcher’s reluctance to deliver aggressive downshifts and the engine’s relatively soft 6600rpm cut-out, it can be difficult to extract the best out of the CLA45 AMG.

The engine itself seems quieter than in its hatchback sibling, and the sweeter for it. It still doesn’t make the nicest noise, being a bit grainy and growly, but thankfully the standard-for-Oz sports exhaust still pops and crackles like a champion.

That said, though, Mercedes-Benz confirmed the different exhaust plumbing and enclosed boot of the CLA45 AMG means it is quieter than the A45 AMG, though it still isn’t what you’d call quiet.

That shut-off boot area and slippery aero of the CLA-Class certainly makes for reduced wind and road noise compared with the A-Class, however.

And so the differences with the two begin – and there are clear dynamic differences.

Where the A45 AMG can deliver a menagerie of cornering attitudes – it will understeer, lift-off oversteer, power oversteer, or sit flat, depending on the situation and driver input – the CLA45 AMG is so much more malleable.

You could swear the sedan runs a longer wheelbase to the hatchback, which typically would enhance on-limit stability, but both bodystyles stretch the same 2699mm between front and rear wheels.

Where in the A45 AMG holding the brake long into a corner to tame understeer results in the rear-end quickly unhinging itself, the CLA45 AMG simply hints at rolling onto its outer boots, allowing the nose to point without hysterics and urging the driver to quickly get back on the throttle.

Big mid-corner throttle lifts don’t provoke the same attitude either, and as fast as the A45 AMG is point-to-point, the CLA45 AMG feels even quicker. The way it points, changes direction and powers out of bends makes it feel more mature, sophisticated, yet no less fun than the A45 AMG.

The CLA45 AMG otherwise shares the same ride quality as its sibling, which on the standard 19-inch wheels can be too firm and occasionally abrupt. The steering, too, is quite tactile and consistent, but also a bit too slow at 2.75 turns lock-to-lock, while the all-wheel-drive system feels largely front-driven except for a noticeable lack of torque steer and occasional rear steer exiting really tight bends.

Minus the government’s absurd car taxing, and the difference between A45 AMG and CLA45 AMG is still $9340, for which buyers get a bigger boot, less rear headroom, and a subjectively a more stylish car, but not much else. It’s difficult to make a value case for this high-performance small sedan, but it’s easy to say that the extra stability has only enhanced its dynamics.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG is a better car than the A45 AMG, but converting nuances of driving improvement into a dollar value is perhaps the toughest call of all. Either way, both are excellent high-performance cars.