It’s fair to say that German luxury carmakers are a little obsessed in their quest to out-niche each other by introducing more new models than ever before. Many of these creations are questionable, but some models, like the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG Shooting Brake, make perfect sense.
Mercedes-AMG (embodying Mercedes-Benz’ full ownership of hot-rod tuner, AMG) is clearly in a hurry to produce more high-performance models that wear the prized AMG acronym.
And like all full-blown AMG models, the CLA45 Shooting Brake (read: station wagon) is a special bit of kit, which is clearly reflected in its premium price point. Starting from $89,900 plus on-roads, the Shooting Brake commands a sizeable $14,200 premium over the A45 AMG, and around $9500 more than the GLA45 AMG, both of which share the same drivetrain.
The highlight, of course, is the hand-built 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that employs a beefy twin-scroll turbocharger to generate 265kW and 450Nm of torque. That makes it the most powerful four-cylinder petrol engine in the world. If that's not enough, the 2016 version due here next year will have 280kW/475Nm.
Audi’s contender in this segment is currently the S3 (available as a hatch or sedan - not a wagon), which can only manage 210kW/380Nm from its turbocharged four-pot motor. The RS3 hatch is due in October, though it has a five-cylinder turbo with 270kW/465Nm.
Despite its relatively small displacement, this AMG Shooting Brake is capable of mowing down any and every hot hatch on the market, and by some margin. Put the boot in, and this small wagon will scoot from 0-100km/h in a blistering 4.7 seconds, that’s despite adding 30 kilograms to the four-door Coupe’s 1585kg weight. Top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h.
It’s not only the engine that receives special attention from AMG, either: the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission has been fettled to deliver sharper and faster gearshifts, up and down the ratios. Pop it into the Sport driving mode and get on the right pedal with any degree of enthusiasm, and this gearbox comes alive, belting out perfectly timed downshift throttle blips, with all the crackle and pop of a proper old-school backyard cracker night. It can be inordinately loud at times, so save the rapid-fire downshifts for daylight hours, or you’ll risk waking entire neighbourhoods.
For the ultimate grip and traction, torque is sent to all four wheels, though, if you’re just cruising around, the 4Matic all-wheel drive system will revert to a decidedly front-wheel drive bias in the interests of efficiency.
Fire up the engine and there’s an instant bark, just to let Joe Public know you’re in something special rather than a garden variety Benz. It soon settles down into a less-offensive note - in fact, this AMG is almost docile when driven at suburban pace, especially when Comfort mode is selected.
That’s the setting which automatically triggers the start/stop system, and as seamless as it is, I’d prefer to cop any extra fuel consumption by manually switching it off. In this mode, throttle response is also dumbed down, resulting in smoother take offs and a noticeable improvement in economy.
That said, even in Sport, or the paddle-shifting manual mode, the CLA 45 AMG Shooting Brake is no natural born drag racer off the line – though, there’s a Race Start function for those occasional track-day outings – something we didn’t attempt on public roads.
Where this thing really starts to shine, though, is in the mid range – anywhere from 2250-5000rpm, where all 450 Newton-metres are unleashed and serious pace is on offer. The only downside is the actual shift speed; it’s not quite as crisp as I had hoped for, at least on the upshift. And I found the paddles need a firm tug before responding.
Mercedes-Benz claims combined fuel consumption of 6.9L/100km on a combined cycle, but we couldn’t get close to that, instead recording an average of 11.2L/100km over the weekly test period.
Wiping off speed in the CLA 45 Shooting Brake is just as much fun as getting there is. The big cross-drilled brakes and four-pot pistons are simply superb at bringing this thing to a stop. And like all AMG-built vehicles, the braking is progressive and the pedal feel is just right.
AMG has also got the steering just about right, too. It’s on the heavy side, as you would expect with a performance car, but the weighting is consistent from on-centre right through to lock. There’s a natural feel to this electromechanical system that mashes well with this wagon’s brilliant cornering ability.
Grip is massive, thanks to the bespoke AMG suspension tune and beefier anti-roll bars, so you can get back on the throttle early out of corners with all the confidence in the world. That’s also where the all-wheel drive system comes into play, apportioning torque more evenly and to the wheels with the most traction. There’s also very little body roll to contend with, enabling the CLA45 AMG Shooting Brake to carry decent speed, even through the more challenging bends.
Importantly, the ride is better than expected, given its high-performance credentials and beefed-up suspension. Mind, it is predictably firm, but there’s enough pliancy to soak up most bumps and uneven surfaces, without any jarring felt inside the cabin.
Apart from its sleek, coupe-like profile, the CLA45 Shooting Brake understandably offers better usability than its AMG siblings. Behind the rear seats is an IKEA-friendly 495-litre boot – long enough and wide enough to swallow two 32-inch hard-cased luggage bags, lengthways. Fold the rear seat backs, and boot space grows to almost 1400 litres, which is complimented by a conveniently-low load height.
Up front, it’s an impressive layout, with plenty of twin-stitched leather, metallic accents throughout, and a pair of heavily bolstered Recaro buckets - set nice and low for the ultimate driving position. Initially they feel too firm to be commuter friendly, but give it time and you’ll grow to like the support they provide. Back seat space is adequate, but not amazing - especially for taller adults.
Other highlights include the flat-bottom leather/Alcantara steering wheel and contrasting red seat belts. It’s the right amount of bling for this level of go, and sets it apart from its standard siblings.
Technology on-board the CLA45 AMG Shooting Brake is well-sorted, too, with a large floating screen mated to Benz’s rotary controller between the seats taking centre stage. It’s relatively intuitive, and easy enough to use, but still falls short of the BMW’s benchmark iDrive system, when it comes to overall functionality.
If you’re after pace, grace and space in your family chariot, without breaking the executive bank account, then there is little else to rival this proper AMG wagon.
It’s just as fast to 100km/h as the larger CLS500 Shooting Brake with its monster twin-turbo V8 and $179,900 price tag.
More than that, it's also one of the best looking cars in AMG’s extensive fleet, if not the segment. And, it's great fun to drive.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Mitchell Oke.