Mercedes-AMG CLA45 2019 45 4matic
launch-review

2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S review

International first drive

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Of AMG's small dynamic duo, the A45 hatch might seem like the obvious go-to for performance – but the new 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA45 may just surprise you.
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Believe it or not, the original Mercedes-AMG CLA45 outsold its better-known A45 cousin in Australia. This fact may initially puzzle, but when you really think about it, it makes perfect sense.

Even more so now, with this significantly better-looking second-generation 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S that packs a hell of a punch.

Why would you buy a CLA? The idea behind this offering, of course, is that you feel you’re not old (or boring) enough to buy a regular sedan, and not young enough to still own a hatch.

The regular Mercedes-Benz CLA is a very mature choice for those still young at heart and, as such, remains a hugely popular choice in Australia, having found a sweet spot for our taste.

To give you some idea of the CLA’s popularity, just consider that it outsells the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, so why wouldn’t Mercedes give it to the crazy folk at AMG to make it a bit more special?

To be fair, yours truly found the previous-generation CLA rather vulgar and, well, somewhat unattractive (to be kind). With the new-generation (review here), I feel the design has really matured and become universally appealing. The new rear lights really help make the CLA feel a lot bigger and more substantial than it really is.

Now, the new CLA45 doesn’t arrive in Australia until the first few months of 2020, and as such we also have no local pricing or equipment details yet. So, to check it out in the flesh, we flew all the way to Spain to sample a selection at the Jarama race track.

The first thing you’ll notice when you lay your eyes upon this new AMG is its angry look. The hardcore CLA45 takes an already attractive package and beefs up big time. With a wider track, bigger and wider wheels and massive 360mm six-pot front brakes, it’s hard not to notice it.

Starting from the back, the four 90mm round tail pipes signal the CLA45’s intent. Unfortunately, they are a little limited by how much noise they can make, thanks to new European regulations. And, as a matter of fact, the CLA is quieter than the A 45 due to its shape and underbody design.

There is a very limited number of ‘crackles and pops’ on lift off, and the sound is pumped through the cabin – we're told it's not fake, necessarily, but the actual sound of the exhaust ‘enhanced’. Thankfully, a good aftermarket exhaust system will fix the issue.

Those exhausts are further aided by the noticeably angry rear diffuser. There is an option for an aero pack which adds some tack-on bits and a rear spoiler, plus some air-flow systems to the front, it’s hard to say if you need it or not for aesthetic reasons, but it does look pretty good without it.

The front is quite similar to the A45 thanks to the new Panamericana grille (taken from the AMG GT, which takes it from historic Benzes of days gone by) really bringing it in line with the current state of modern Benz cars.

There is a night-pack that makes a lot of the chrome, gloss black (as is the rage these days), but unlike the A45 – which really lends itself to that ultra-modern boy racer look – the CLA can pass just as well with silver wheels and plenty of chrome. It’s a pretty car from pretty much any angle you look at it and, unlike the previous generation, it’s far better proportioned.

Under the bonnet sits a rather special power unit: the new Mercedes-AMG designed and hand-built M139, a 2.0-litre twin-scroll single turbo four-cylinder petrol engine that delivers a ridiculous 310kW and 500Nm from the factory in flagship 'S' trim – making it the most powerful production four-pot motor in the world, which Mercedes claims has been stress tested to at least 250,000km.

That mill is coupled to a new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission that originally found life in a diesel B-Class, but with some extensive modifications can now handle the might of the 45 twins.

The CLA45 has a similar front:rear weight distribution as the hatch, and thanks to the engine being mounted in a reverse rotation, it helps maintain better front balance.

Nonetheless, it’s roughly 40kg heavier than the A45 and as such, it will take 4.0 seconds to reach 100km/h as opposed to 3.9, which may only be a 100ms difference before the speed camera flashes, but who doesn’t want to own a ‘three-second car’?

Out on the road, we found the CLA strangely more composed and a little better behaved. The ride was similar, in that it was very much acceptable in comfort mode for a daily (at least on Spanish roads – we will leave that final verdict for our Australian road test next year) and then relatively stiff in Sport and Sport+.

Although both cars are nearly identical in terms of hardware, and their new rear axle makes use of two electronically controlled multi-disc clutches (each connected to one rear axle drive shaft to allow torque distribution to either rear wheel), we couldn’t help but feel the CLA 45 seemed to give us a more RWD feel than the A45.

On the race track, though, the CLA45 doesn’t feel as intense. Not necessarily any slower (though the 40kg extra bulk can’t be discounted), but we felt the A45 was more willing to take punishment hard into corners and come out the other end asking for more.

On the plus side, the CLA45 has the same sharp steering and super reactive front suspension that makes tight and fast directional changes feel natural.

Our biggest gripe with the car was the same as the A45: it needs better tyres. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S are a great choice, but with a car that begs to be driven hard at all times, a set of Cup tyres would really help its cause. We are told they will be available as an option in due time, though it would be the second modification we would recommend (after the exhaust).

As for the interior, it’s very much a case of a regular CLA with AMG bits thrown in.

The sport seats, the flat bottom steering wheel with the mode selector dial is a nice touch.

The back seats will take two adults, so long as they are not too tall. I did miss the alcantara and over-the-top interior trimmings that we saw in the A45, but I'm hopeful they'll be available as an option in the CLA.

The latest and greatest in Mercedes-Benz infotainment is available in the CLA45 with MBUX and, although it did its best to get us lost around the outskirts of Madrid by asking us to drive through a forest, we do love a good system and this remains one of, if not the best, in the business. It gains a range of AMG-specific functions, including a track timer that is able to connect to your smartphone as part of being an AMG.

Overall, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is the more mature choice over an A45. It’s a shame that it just misses out on the three-seconds club, because other than that, it would be our pick of the two every day of the week. In red.

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