I will begin this review of the C118 CLA45S by saying that I have been lucky to have owned two of the previous model (the C117 in both the first generation and the facelifted 2016 versions), so a lot of comparisons will be made. When the C118 model was announced in the middle of last year, I was not completely convinced about giving the CLA a third try. But when the AMG specs came out, my mind changed was changed.
My order was placed in October 2019, the car was built in December 2019 and it took five and a half months to be delivered to the dealer. For that, you can blame seed contamination and the glacial processing of the car at Melbourne docks.
I am still in the "running in" period now, but I have driven it enough to give me a very realistic impression of the car. So, this is the CLA45S with all the possible options - and that is where my main issue is. The base car, while it increased in price in January 2020, wasn't outrageous compared to the previous model - considering the upgraded engine. However, unlike the C117, the C118 doesn't come standard with the AMG seats, the head-up display is an option, and weirdly they have made the AMG sound (amplified exhaust note ported into cabin, and not synthesized as in BMWs) an option as well. With AMG , the sound is one of the pillars of the brand.
I decided to avoid the new yellow as I figured it would look like a taxi, so I went with their new metallic white "Digital White". It looks amazing in sunlight and has a neutral/greyish tinge in artificial light. It does fit nicely with the black body accents and aero kit (which is a $2000+ option). The standard seats are the same seats as in any C118 CLA, while the AMG seats are heated as standard, have lumbar support via display screen and cooling as an option.
Regarding the drive of the car, I will begin by saying, OMG, this car is insane. The only similarities between the C118 and previous C117 models are only in the name, and in minor visual appearance. Coming out of the C117 into the CLA45S is like stepping into a totally different vehicle.
The engine is mental. The 310kW (which is insane for a 2.0-litre car) on paper is a 10 per cent improvement on the outgoing C117 CLA45. But the numbers don’t reveal how tractable the engine really is and how power is delivered. Even in Comfort mode, the car builds up speed in a way the C117 could only dream of. There is minimal lag and the engine feels supercharged rather than turbocharged in the way power is delivered. In the previous C117 the power took a while to build up and it was pretty much done when it went over 6000rpm, whereas the C118 keeps going all the way to redline.
The first 1500 kilometres is considered the run-in period and while there are no electronics limiting things, I had to be very careful with the accelerator, as the revs ramp up very rapidly. Comfort mode in the C118 feels like the Sport+ mode in the C117. It is that dramatic. Sport+ in the new C118 is even more aggressive.
Transmission on the C117 was often criticised for being rough and laggy from standstill. The new 8-speed transmission in the C118 is far better. There is minimal lag from standstill and shifts are rapid in all modes, with the Sport+ being noticeably fast. It still gets a little confused if you are slowing down as you are coming to a stop.
The steering feel is probably the most noticeable difference between old and new. The closest thing to which I can compare the steering feel of the CLA45S is to a go kart. It has very weighty steering but is unbelievably direct. There is minimal shake from rough roads, but that probably has a lot to do with the impressive suspension. The steering wheel is same as lesser A/CLA Class models but is wrapped in alcantara, so it is very comfortable to hold and not slippery.
Suspension is markedly different from the C117. There appears to be three settings with a Comfort mode and two Sport modes. Comfort is much more compliant than the Comfort mode in the facelifted C117, and is far better than the original CLA45. Driving on poor roads/tram tracks is smooth and non-jarring. There is a significant and noticeable difference with suspension in the firmer settings but to be honest, while that would be great on track, for everyday use the Comfort setting is perfectly fine.
Body roll is non-existent and there is better bracing front and rear to keep the car planted. The C118 seems a lot more rear-wheel biased than the C117 (even with a front differential option). Where the C117 behaved like a front-wheel biased car and understeered, the C118 has shown no understeer so far and is in fact a little tail-happy. There is a drifting option but I have not tried it yet. The CLA45S models come with Michelin Pilot 4S tyres, which are the same tyres I had on my C117 after the awful Dunlops the early CLA45 came with. I couldn’t ask for a better street tyre.
Sound is something that a few professional reviewers and people with early cars have complained about. Whereas the C117 had a lot of pops and bangs and sounded louder (because you had to push the engine get performance) the C118 is slightly quieter. And I mean slightly, because when hearing it in the garage the CLA45S is still damn loud, and there is always the “emotion” on start-up. While driving along and when pulling on a transmission paddle, the car is loud. Some of that would be due to the AMG sound option, but even with that off and with the windows down, the car is loud on acceleration. It seems more mature in its sound, and while it does still pop and crackle, it occurs higher in the rev range or when it's on down-shift. The turbo whistle can be clearly heard on boost. I prefer the sound on the C118 overall as it doesn’t seem to try as hard to sound angry.
Interior room is fine for front seat passengers. The AMG seats are amazing and far more supportive and comfortable than the AMG seats in the C117. They look similar but are totally different. They can be raised or lowered and lumbar support is adjusted on the screen. The seat heating works fine, and the cooling option is better than the cooling seats in the X5, which I can barely feel. Rear room is only marginally better than the previous C117. My 5-foot-10 kids have headroom but someone over six-foot will struggle. Also, if you lower the front seats all the way, the room for passenger's feet in behind is significantly compromised.
AMG seats are leather and come in a few colours, including black with red or yellow stitching, red and black like in my car, and grey and black. The rear seats and doors are trimmed in the same colour as the front seats
Audio is okay but probably could do with a few more watts. It has much clearer and defined sound than the C117 and its HK setup, but realistically I prefer to hear the engine.
Technology is heads above the C117. While the previous CLA45 tech was great in 2013, it looks quite dated now. In the C118, the dual-screens are sharp, very configurable and a lot more advanced than anything BMW has. You could spend hours fiddling with all the tech options. There is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay by cable connection. There's also wireless charging and a phone app that tells you if you left the door/window/sunroof open, collision detection, and information on low battery, petrol level and range, brakes, and coolant. The app allows you to send your destination to car as well.
The Mercedes assistant, summoned by saying “Hey, Mercedes” is not as functional as the BMW equivalent. Apparently, there are some issues with full connectivity at the moment so I hope this can be improved upon. LED lighting inside the cabin is very well done and there is an infinite amount of configurability, including brightness and colours. This makes the cabin feel much more inviting. The HUD is also configurable, very bright and is a feature that I feel should be standard on this type of car.
Lighting is all LED (multibeam LED) and while I have not done a lot of night driving yet, I tend to find the LED lights “shine” on country roads.
Fuel consumption is bad, but it is still being run-in. My average for a predominantly city-driven CLA45 has been 12.5 litres per 100 kilometres, but in this new one I am getting consumption that is worse.
Brakes are significantly up-sized in the front and the pedal feel is very strong. I haven't had to test out their resolve yet, but from reports I've read they are far better on track. They do squeal a little but that might be because they are new.
Accessibility to the boot is also improved. A wider opening means that getting items in is easier, and the boot seems taller. Overall the size may only be slightly bigger than the C117. Rear seats are split and can be folded down individually.
So far, the car has been reliable, had no weird warning messages and generally seems to be rattle free, which is something that couldn't be said about the C117. Obviously, this is still very early days. Warranty on cars delivered after the 1st of March 2020 is now 5 years, which is great but it is obvious that MB is playing catch-up with other manufacturers.
In summary, the CLA45S is an extraordinary car in its own right and even more impressive in comparison with the car it replaced. It has improved in every aspect and not just incrementally - in massive leaps and bounds. It feels far more mature and the engine and transmission along with the 4Matic+ now work together, rather than feeling each is doing their own thing. I get the feeling that AMG has really worked hard to make the engine far more driveable and linear in its power delivery, resulting in a car that is far more relaxing to drive at normal speeds but has a massive sting in its tail when pushed.
If there is interest, I am happy to provide a three and six-month update on the car to see if my initial impressions hold.
NOTE: We have used CarAdvice review photos for this story.