What comes to mind if I told you to think about Mercedes-AMG 10 years ago? Is it images of big, powerful, ruthless beasts? Or high displacement, naturally aspirated V8s that sound snarlier and raspier than the cough of a man that has been smoking all his life? Perhaps what immediately came to mind was an AMG effortlessly painting a set of skids along the road?
Well, if what came to mind is similar to what I just wrote about, you’d be right on the money.
Fast-forward 10 years and much has changed for the folk over at Affalterbach. Every hand-built engine that proudly wears an AMG badge nowadays has an exhaust-sound-sucking turbocharger strapped to it, and the infamous naturally aspirated 6.2-litre M156 V8 replaced by a downsized 4.0-litre turbo unit. However, they still sound great, have heaps of tyre-destroying ability, and enough power and torque to rotate the earth.
Although AMG has modernised its 'classic' line-up very well (C Class, E Class and S Class), it has also ventured into a new segment aimed at more youthful buyers – cue the '45' moniker cars. People approach these cars with scepticism and argue they are not worthy of the prestigious AMG badge, and rightly so.
It is the complete opposite of the image that came to mind at the start of this review, right? They aren’t naturally aspirated, don't have the ability to do doughnuts all day, and don't have the V8 rumble we have all come to know and love.
But one thing remains within these 45 cars – and that is AMG DNA. This DNA makes these baby AMGs damn worthy of the badge their bigger siblings proudly wear. They are still racy, snarly, fast and crazy little beasts.
The car in question today is the CLA45, which is clearly the most style-focussed of the MFA-based AMG products. Its design polarises many, however I am quite partial to the mini-CLS theme going on. An aggressive front end, swoopy lines, and a gorgeous rear end make the CLA45 a head-turner. I will let you be the judge whether that is for the wrong or right reasons. For me, it is undoubtedly the latter!
This is my dad’s boss’s car (his name is Marty), and he was enticed by the subtle yet aggressive design of the baby AMG, which he has named Dolly. Being the owner of a 4 Series, he was looking for a four-door that didn't skimp out on any style. The CLA also caught his eye because of the bang-for-your-buck equation that it has going on.
The asking price is very steep, but considering this car has the same straight-line pace as a regular BMW M4, which costs a good $30K more, the value equation swings back in favour of the AMG. The BMW M2 is also dearer, breaking the $90K barrier in newest LCI form. The host of industry-leading Mercedes-Benz technology that the CLA comes with, along with the ultimate bragging rights of being the world’s quickest factory four-cylinder ever, also helped in sealing the deal for him.
Sliding into the sleek and sporty cockpit of the CLA45 for the first time, the thing that immediately stood out to me were the Recaro racing seats. They offer excellent bolstering and comfort, plus they look damn cool too. The rest of the cabin is finished well, with high-quality leather covering all surfaces aside from a few low-down plastics borrowed from the A-Class. The steering wheel is attractive and partially finished in Alcantara with a racy flat-bottomed design.
The floating screen may look like an afterthought to some, but boasts superb graphics and a somewhat easy to use interface. Marty finds the system very fiddly to use in comparison to the superb iDrive system in his 4 Series, which I concur with. The Benz does win points back, though, with a great voice-recognition system that Marty says he uses quite often, and saves him having to navigate through countless sub-menus to enter a destination or to call someone.
As we set off, the feisty four-cylinder came to life with a loud 'rawrr!' as we were in Sport mode. Offering 265kW and 450Nm sent through Mercedes’s excellent 4Matic system, the CLA45 hooked up and took off like a rocket – despite the heavens opening up on the normally hot and sunny roads of Brisbane.
The ride is notably firm, but not too dissimilar to our A250, which corners poorly in comparison – despite being just as firm. You can really see where your money is going in an AMG. The CLA45 handles like it is on rails, with excellent front-end bite from a taut chassis and a well-calibrated AWD system.
The AMG brakes are very strong and offered no fade on the way up and down the twisty roads of Mt Coot-tha. As I mentioned before, the weather was less than ideal on the day I went for the test drive, but the CLA didn't seem flustered at all. Whereas an M2 would be struggling for traction, the AMG hooks up and rockets out of corners, behaving exactly as it would in dry weather.
So, the CLA45 more than lives up to the AMG badge in terms of handling, but is it fun? Yes, it sure is. Saying it is an absolute hoot is an understatement!
The obnoxious pops and crackles on downshift could make the saddest person on earth smile from ear to ear, and the awesome induction noise is to die for. Whenever we took off from a set of lights and Marty buried his right foot, the AMG would snarl and bark to the 6600rpm redline, before letting out a thunderous crack as the speedy DCT upshifted. By this point, I was hysterical with laughter.
Another factor that contributes to the fun factor – likewise the performance factor – is the straight-line oomph and speed. The 450Nm of torque does a great job of shoving you into the back of your seats, and I have no doubt this car can match, or beat, the claimed 4.3-second sprint to 100km/h. It will beat any car at the lights – anytime, anywhere. Maybe not the stonking new RS3, but I can’t think of another car that will do it below $100K. It is quick. Damn quick.
As I mentioned earlier, Marty is very impressed with the technology in the CLA45. The Distronic Plus system was faultless despite the mist and heavy deluge that was affecting it, keeping a safe distance between the car in front. Adding further to the safety equation is an AEB system, driver and passenger airbags (driver also has knee protection), side airbags for front and rear passengers, side airbags for front and rear passengers, blind-spot monitoring and a lane-departure warning system.
An aspect of the car Marty is not too impressed with is the suspension. He says he loves the sporty, crisp handling the set-up brings, but it rides too firm for daily use. His 4 Series is much better in that regard, he says. He also says there is a small hint of turbo lag when you catch the car off-guard, but this is nitpicking.
With regard to servicing and reliability, the CLA has been excellent. The only issues so far have been with the front tyres needing to be replaced after 7000km and the outrageous cost of servicing – something I can strongly agree with being a fellow Mercedes owner (well, my parents!).
As my time in the CLA45 drew to an unfortunate close, I asked Marty if he would consider any of the rivals to his car, if he had to do it all over again. This is purely based on the fact that neither the RS3 sedan or BMW M2 was on sale at the time of his purchase. He said that he likes the sound of the M2, but it is a two-door and he already has one in the form of his 4 Series. The RS3 he would rule out based on the somewhat conservative design compared to the shouty and funky styling of the CLA.
So, there you have it. The Mercedes-AMG CLA45. What a car! The speed, the sound, the handling, the style and the technology all make it worthy of the AMG badge. Get up with it people – this is the new way AMG is going… And it is the right way.