Like A Bolt of Lightning
To many of us, the Mercedes-Benz CLA is a step up from the average bread and butter compact. A decently-well equipped four-door, where you can squeeze in the family more or less, with somewhat similar space to say… a Mazda 3 Sedan.
Buyers who have bought this compact four-door coupe (and the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe for that matter) are usually looking to upgrade again to a “real” Mercedes-Benz. You know… the one where the engine is mounted in a north-south orientation, and with the rear wheels being driven.
But the German brand’s performance division had caught on to the potential of this compact-sized premium car, and have decided to have a go at building something that really is quite special.
The Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S 4Matic+ is the premium class cure-all for headaches, lovesickness and the lack of soul. A serious performance vehicle, brimming with badass, in the shell of an “everyman” Mercedes.
But while it shares the same bones as the CLA, and even its body paneling, the AMG-badged car is quite a different animal from its bread-and-butter sibling. Externally, the AMG car has plenty to show, from its blistered intakes up-front, profile-lowering side skirts, a lower apron in gloss black, complete with quad tail pipes, and in the most German of styles, an understated rear spoiler.
Beneath its skin, Mercedes-AMG went through steps to strengthen the CLA, with additions like a lightweight aluminium shearing plate, bolted under the engine, designed to increase torsional rigidity of the front end. The front suspension benefits from a strut tower brace which can be seen when you pop the hood. At the rear, a similar story of strengthening, through added struts in the underbody, resulting in an overall stiffer chassis. All of this is designed to take on the heavier loads that the AMG-badged car is intended for.
The dash design is identical to the regular CLA, which features twin 10.25mm screens, encased in a glass-covered panel. One of the screens functions as the driver’s instrument panel, while the other, a touchscreen which fronts the MBUX infotainment system, can be controlled by a touchpad on the centre console. Apart from touch activation, the latter also responds to the activation phrase ‘Hey Mercedes’.
What is different though from the basic systems that can be found in their premium range of “Mercs”, like the A Class, GLA and GLB, is the addition of sport graphics, and even the opportunity for you to dial in the race track that you are at, so that you can time yourself, and be ready for the turns ahead.
In ensuring that you are able to change drive modes and characteristics on the fly, the steering has AMG buttons, on the left for toggling anything from the AMG DYNAMICS to changing the exhaust note; while on the right a drive mode selector knob, a little similar to what you might find on a Porsche steering wheel, lets you rotate between how mild or how aggressive you would like a whipping.
Aside from the sporty dual-tone seats, the rest of the car’s interior is quite identical to the regular CLA, which means that it carries four in comfort, it has the same sloping roof entry and exit issues. And it is quite practical too, with a 460 litre boot with a flat floor, and the seats fold in 40:20:40 fashion, and can be unlatched from the rear, with the help of two pull tabs.
The AMG 45 gets the full AMG treatment, where the turbocharged two-litre is hand-built in their Affalterbach facility, where they go as far as employing the "One Man, One Engine" principle.
The AMG 45 2.0 is built with plenty of attention; imagine just one person torquing bolts to just the right amount, ensuring that every moving part is properly lubricated and fitting pistons into the cylinders is done with the greatest care… And that one engine is specially built for just you. In our case, one Alexander Kasarez built this car’s engine… thank you for your good work Mr Kasarez.
All that hard work translates to a car that delivers 421hp and 500Nm. There is plenty of power here. With its AWD drivetrain, and some intelligent management, not much is wasted with the tyres biting hard into tarmac.
The sports exhaust, with the flaps open, delivers a fitting-sonorous roar, as you work the engine hard, punching through the 8 gears of the quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission; with each gear change breaking the engine’s angry roar with the thunderous popping of the exhaust. Full-on acceleration is a brutal affair, where there is just a short build-up of the car’s peak 500Nm, and you are at 100km/h in all of 4 seconds… all this while under the hood, fire and brimstone happens, while the 2.0 spins freely to 7,000rpm.
Pitch the CLA 45 S into a corner, and there is just heaps of grip keeping you on to the road, while the front wheels bite hard in the direction you are pointed at with spectacular surgical accuracy. In most cases, you will not be able to exploit all of what the engine can offer, just simply because you will run out of windy road.
Overall, the CLA 45 S is built to be an excellent track weapon, and in the right hands, one can make it look very good slipping around corners at the race track.
That said, on most days, I bet you would drive the CLA 45 S just like any regular CLA out there, sure you can do that. But the CLA 45 S seems to like being driven with aggression, almost like it has an angry corrupted soul… and we absolutely love it…
If you are looking for something small and mental… I mean extra mental, there is pretty much no equivalent at the moment in its class (till there is a new BMW M2 and the Audi RS3).
But if you are looking for a tamer ride, there is the not-so AMG version, the CLA 35, which has a more affordable price tag, with competition coming from the slick BMW M235i Gran Coupe, and from the future, the Audi S3 and the semi-premium Volkswagen Golf R.
Credits: Words and Photos by Clifford Chow