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Driven: Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

Driven: Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG
More time behind the wheel of AMG's pseudo-coupé reveals plenty of character to go with the rabid performance.

 



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| Test drive | Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG |

Overall rating: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: astonishing single-turbo engine, great noise, stunning looks, all-weather grip, excellent gearbox and brakes.
Not so good: £3,000 premium over the Mercedes A 45 AMG, minimal rear space, slightly inert on-the-limit handling

Key Facts

Model tested: Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG
Pricing: £42,265 basic; £52,905 as tested
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: AMG Speedshift seven-speed DCT automatic, four-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
Rivals: Audi S3 Saloon, BMW M235i Coupé, Volkswagen Golf R
CO2 emissions: 165g/km
Combined economy: 39.8mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Power: 360hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 2,250- to 5,000rpm

Our view:

There's nothing quite like the Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG on the market. It might be this individuality that allows the oddball Benz to slowly worm its way into your affections; because, while initial drives have impressed but not stunned us, as the test car disappeared after seven days in our company, there was a real pang of disappointment at seeing it leave.

On initial impressions, the AMG CLA comes across as aloof. In Eco mode, the throttle response is extremely woolly, meaning you need to depress the accelerator a lot earlier and further than you might imagine to wake the four-cylinder engine from its low-revs slumber. There's no lag, but this fuel-saving measure could fool you into thinking otherwise.

Then there's the steering. It's well weighted and you can elicit feel when you're going quicker, but at lesser speeds there's a tiny bit too much numbness for comfort. It couples with the 4Matic all-wheel drive system to create the preconception quite a few RS Audis have over the years - which is that it will be monstrously quick in all conditions, but it won't put a smile on your face while going about its business.

That opinion is soon rescinded, however, and the CLA 45 proves to be a well-resolved machine. Inside and out, it's a fantastic looking creation. Despite its rear doors giving the pretence of practicality, the rear seats are tight and have limited headroom. You want big back seats, buy an old Viano. The front seats, by contrast, are exceptional. You can adjust them to within an inch of perfection and then cling on to the excellent, sculpted steering wheel, which also has shift paddles with spot-on weighting.

The engine, though, dominates. It is the most tuneful four-cylinder turbo engine we've ever heard and its brutal deployment of 360hp is mind-boggling when you factor in the solitary turbo. Pace is abundant and its hand-built charisma shines through constantly. Furthermore, cruise on a motorway at around 70mph and the flawless DCT automatic shuffles into seventh - the CLA AMG then gets very close to the quoted combined economy figure, which for a car of this ilk is incredible.

One option that should be made mandatory is the £460 AMG Performance exhaust system. It's a total riot. It offers a loud blare on cold start-up that alerts everyone within a 300-yard radius that the CLA is about to move off, but yet is never intrusive on part-throttle applications. The loud pops on full-bore upshifts and general burbling it emits are also laugh-out-loud brilliant.

When it comes to ride and handling, it's like Marmite, which, for £52,000 as specified here (the carbon fibre clinging to the exterior is £3,780, Comand with satnav £2,100 and the panoramic roof the best part of a grand, among other additions), might be an unforgiveable transgression for those who want to hate the CLA. But I loved it. It will ultimately understeer, but only when ham-fistedly provoked. You can feel the all-wheel drive moving power to the rear axle when required, but it's a fluent transition and you soon learn to work with it. And in the wet it is utterly, utterly peerless. It's so stable through standing water that the only criticism I can think of is that it could instil a false air of invincibility on its driver.

The ride is firm but yet bizarrely comfy on the majority of surfaces, even on bigger wheels. And the brakes are epic. So, slight steering gripe aside, unless you absolutely must execute lurid great power slides through every curve, the CLA 45 AMG has all the major dynamic weaponry required to entertain.

Even the price isn't an issue as, apparently, most top-line CLAs in the UK are specified up to and beyond £50,000. Its only comparable rival is the recently launched Audi S3 Saloon - which is cheaper and nearly as entertaining, if not as powerful. On reflection, though, the CLA remains the more engaging car. Whether it's worth £10,000 or £20,000 more than the Audi will purely come down to a buyer's personal preference, no matter what our thoughts are.

Overall, the CLA gains an extra half a star from us because it proved a genuinely involving driver's car on this longer acquaintance. It also felt special enough, despite any small capacity/limited cylinder prejudice, to truly warrant that hallowed AMG badge, perhaps the biggest hurdle it needs to clear. Only those final few motes of interactivity it lacks prevent it getting full marks - but it's a massively charismatic car nonetheless, and we love it.

Alternatives:

Audi S3 Saloon: the only real alternative, it's cheaper and almost as quick, but overall not quite as scintillating as the AMG.

BMW M235i: rear-drive will win kudos from driving purists. Poor weather will leave it trailing in the Merc's rooster tail of spray.

Volkswagen Golf R: über-hatch is more of an A 45 AMG rival.


Matt Robinson - 20 Mar 2014









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2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.



2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 






 

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