The latest creation from AMG may surprise you. Let’s just say that it demands your attention!
Some of my favourite cars in the world contain three lovely letters – an A, an M, and a G. After the first time I drove the C63, I was up for nights with the exhaust note ringing in my ears! More recently, the E63 AMG won a place in my heart over my long-time favourite, the BMW M5. The SLS AMG has people quivering when they get into the drivers seat, but I absolutely love it. So, what of the latest creation from Affalterbach then – the CLA 45 AMG?
The first engine that AMG ever built went into the Red Pig. The motorized one that is – a 300 SEL that set the track alight with its 6.8 litre V8 that put out 420 horsepower way back in 1971. Well, more recently, AMG has produced the 6.0 litre bi-turbo V12 that churns out a not inconsiderable 720 horses in the Pagani Huayra. So, naturally, you would expect the CLA 45 to be sporting the next gazillion-cylinder powerhouse from AMG. But it actually has a 2.0 litre, in-line 4 instead!
What – surely, that can’t be right? But delve a little deeper and you realize that this 1,991cc four-cylinder petrol motor is quite clever indeed. Courtesy of a twin-scroll turbocharger, and direct fuel injection at 200 bar of pressure, it manages to extract a sizable 450Nm of torque and over 180 horsepower per litre – which is almost twice the norm! And that brings the grand total to 360 horsepower – allowing a 0 to 100km/h time of just 4.6 seconds. All this, in fact, makes this AMG unit the most powerful four-cylinder production engine in the world. Plus, this power is channelled onto the road via a 4MATIC all-wheel drive system.
So, all is not lost then? Nope, far from it! Then, there’s the slight question of how the car actually looks – which is to say pretty phenomenal. To me it looks every bit the mini-CLS. In fact, when I first pulled up behind one at a traffic light in the States last year, I was wondering how a CLS had shrunk to three-quarters of its size. From the front, the CLA looks aggressive with a furrowed brow. In profile, it’s got two sharp creases that converge towards one another. It is a bit fussy at the rear, but quite aggressive all the same.
Step into the cabin, and it feels like a regular Mercedes that’s made a trip to the nearest tech megastore. There’s a massive tablet that takes centre stage, and the cabin just feels funky and youthful in a way that most Mercs don’t. It’s even got bright red seatbelts! It feels like a proper performance car too – the seats are firm and hold you tightly in place. There are some nice touches as well – there’s a smattering of red stitching and a nice helping of carbon fibre. The air vents are beautiful and look like propellers from the Howard Hues developed H-4 Hercules – better known as the ‘Spruce Goose.’ It is quite cosy in the cabin though, especially in the rear. This is not a large car after all.
But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. So, there was only one thing left to do – fire it up and take it for a quick burst around the country roads not far from Affalterbach. The engine, by the way, is produced in the proper ‘One Man, One Engine’ AMG tradition – but it isn’t done at Affalterbach. They’re obviously kept too busy by Pagani and the like, so it’s produced by AMG engineers at the Mercedes production facility in Hungary where the car is assembled.
The four-cylinder engine starts with an urgent rumble. Get going and, at first, it can be quite underwhelming. You go in expecting massive torque at any rpm and massive reserves of power – a la your favourite AMG motor. But you’re forced to shed your preconceived notions of what an AMG should be. And if you can do that, it’s brilliant. You step on the accelerator with some intent, and the engine propels the CLA like a bull terrier pulling at the leash. There’s very slight turbo lag, followed by extremely urgent power delivery. In fact, this four-cylinder turbocharged unit seems to want to rev to 6,000rpm in every gear – at which point the exhaust belches out a characterful crackle. And the AMG Speedshift 7-speed transmission is absolutely spot-on – as are the metal paddles behind the steering wheel.
It takes just a few minutes behind the wheel to really get into a rhythm – and that’s a sign of a really good sports sedan. The CLA is based on the Mercedes A Class, and that’s one of the best handling front-wheel drive chassis that we’ve ever tested. The CLA is four-wheel drive of course, but only when needed. While driving down a straight road at everyday speeds, power is channelled solely through the front wheels. But, when you get a move on, the variable 4MATIC system can transfer up to 50% of the torque from the engine rearwards. The best bit of the CLA, though, is the steering – which responds absolutely instantly to any input from the driver. Turn-in is telepathic, and you never get the sense that the front end will wash wide.
In fact, the CLA is one of those cars that responds better the more you push it. Immediately, it gives the driver immense confidence to push to the limit. You just feel the need to bury your right foot deeper into the footwell in order to hear the exhaust note get more menacing. It almost growls at you. The whole car, in fact, seems to respond quicker. It’s very engaging, and very entertaining! But I’m not sure how long you can keep driving at ten-tenths. At some point, you have put the hooligan to bed – and then the CLA could get a little tiring. The exhaust and wind noise can be a little intrusive. The seats can be a little firm, and the ride can be a little harsh. Plus, it would be nicer if the engine revved a little higher and sounded a bit better too. But then it would be nice if I were taller and more muscular as well. But, you can’t have everything – can you?
The key to the CLA is that, like a proper AMG, it gives you everything you need when you put your foot down. Unlike the typical AMG, you do have to dig deep into the rev range though. But when you do, it creates an impressive cocktail of buzzing engine, growling exhaust, and whirring turbo. It comes alive when you wring its neck. It responds instantly, but it’s not so stiff that you can’t use it everyday.
AMG has set out to create a car that’s a daily driver after all – one that appeals to a much wider audience than they’ve typically catered to. In that respect, Mercedes India has to be realistic when they price this car. Yes, it does have that AMG badge on the deck lid – it has a pair on the front fenders as well for that matter – but this is an opportunity to dramatically widen the appeal of the three-pointed star.
The question, though, is whether the CLA 45 is a proper AMG for the people? You bet it is!
- CLA 45 AMG
Engine: 1,991cc / in-line 4 / 16 valves / direct injection / twin-scroll Turbocharger
Transmission: 7-Speed Automatic / All-wheel drive
Power: 355bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque: 450nm @ 2250-5000rpm
Acceleration: 0-100km/h - 4.6 secs